How to create a flash sale that catches fire (with examples)
This post was last updated on November 21, 2022.
Many sellers have a love-hate relationship with flash sales.
When done well, a flash sale can serve as a powerful eCommerce marketing tool, with the ability to attract new customers, strengthen existing relationships, and bring a surge of revenue in a short period of time.
On the flip side, a poorly executed flash sale can be costly. It can erode brand loyalty, attract the wrong kind of customers, and cheapen your brand.
The difference between a failed campaign and a job-well-done often comes down to the planning. This step-by-step guide will help you develop a flash sale strategy that works for your business. Learn how to run a flash sale, avoid common pitfalls, and view a real-life example of a successful flash sale.
What is a flash sale in eCommerce?
By definition, a flash sale runs for a limited amount of time—usually between two to three hours, all the way up to 72 hours. A flash sale offers specific products at a can’t-miss price and taps into your buyers’ sense of FOMO to prompt impulse buying.
Some of the most famous flash sale events include Amazon Prime Day(s) and Cyber Monday. These events rake in billions of sales annually, with Amazon Prime topping $12 billion in July 2022 and Cyber Monday expected to reach a record-breaking $11.2 billion. Buyers eagerly await these events, some hoping to nab items that they’ve been eyeing for months prior.
The pros and cons of running a flash sale
Before you jump right into running your first flash sale, here are the benefits and potential risks that you need to be aware of.
Boost revenue quickly - The greatest appeal of a flash sale is that it can drive tons of purchases. We’ve found that, on average, online stores increase monthly gross merchandise value (GMV) by 64,000% when they run a flash sale.
Attract new customers - Drive traffic to your online store, plus nudge new shoppers to try your products for the first time. Win them over and you could have a customer for life.
Earn repeat customers - A solid discount is a great way to show some love to your best customers. When customers love your brand and feel appreciated, they’re more likely to buy from you in the future.
Get customers who are on the fence to take action - The average abandoned cart rate in eCommerce is inching towards 70%, according to the latest data by Baymard Institute. A flash sale is one way to bring people back to their carts and retain shoppers.
Clear excess inventory - Unload out-of-season or excess products via a flash sale. This ultimately helps to reduce operating and inventory costs, plus make room for newer, in-demand products.
Erode your profits - Poorly calculated flash sales can end up killing your profit margin, or worse—cost you money. This could hurt your business in both the short-term and long-term.
Attract the wrong customers - If you bring in too many one-and-done shoppers, you won’t see much of an increase in brand loyalty.
Fatigue your shoppers - If you’re pushing flash sales too hard or too often, you risk “flash sale fatigue.” Customers can become numb to your marketing tactics and promotions, making it very hard to re-engage them.
Damage your reputation - Customers could be deeply disappointed if you’re not set up to deliver on fast shipping or an outstanding customer experience. This could then prompt a series of poor online reviews. In addition to this, relying too much on deep discounts may wrongly position your brand as a discount merchant.
3 mistakes to avoid with your flash sale strategy
The eCommerce space is littered with flash sales, and many businesses have paid the price for failed flash sales. The most common reasons for this include:
01. Website crashes
A website crash can bring your sale to a dead stop. Crashes often happen due to server overloads and not having the right amount of capacity to handle the surge in traffic. To avoid this, find an eCommerce platform that can handle the extra load. For example, Wix’s autoscale infrastructure allows for limitless scalability and is built to prevent an eCommerce site crash. Alternatively, if you use apps or tools that rely on API calls to your website, make sure they have the right amount of bandwidth on their servers to handle traffic surges.
If you lack the tools for proper inventory management, you run the risk of selling more products than you have on hand. As a result, you could wind up having to cancel customer orders or keeping your buyers waiting for much longer than expected to receive their products. Therefore, it’s imperative to have a system that updates your listed quantities in real time across all of our sales channels. With Wix, you can rest assured knowing that your inventory levels are synced with your integrated fulfillment solutions.
03. Shipping delays
The joy a shopper feels from your flash sale may quickly fade if it takes weeks for your item to ship. When this happens, the customers you worked so hard to win over may start to feel negatively about your brand. To avoid this, make sure to provide clear and accurate shipping information, and to smooth out any inefficiencies in your operations. Use an eCommerce platform that automatically routes orders to the right fulfillment partner, plus simplifies other backend operations.
Wix success story: How The Spice Suite uses flash sales and sells out in minutes every time
When she moved her brick-and-mortar spice shop online, Angel Gregorio used a flash sale model to grow The Spice Suite’s web presence. Today, she has sold more than $2 million worth of products from both her online and offline stores—and more than 25% of those sales are specifically from online flash sales. Here’s why a flash sale approach has worked so well for her:
She builds on her success - Gregorio’s first online sale showed her that she could easily manage online orders with Wix, and could tap into an even wider audience with a buzz-worthy online sale. “To see that first online sale was just affirming,” she says. “It made me think, you know what—if there’s one, there’s more.”
She prepares for flash sales in advance - Gregorio has prebuilt spice boxes at the ready before each sale, in addition to up-to-date product details and inventory information. “The day of the spice drop, no matter what I'm doing, I literally just have to go into Wix and make [my settings] visible…and folks are ready to purchase,” she says.
She invests in promotion - Gregorio relies on social media to announce dates and build the buzz about her flash sales. Her most valuable platform: Instagram, where she has amassed more than 133,000 followers.
She builds a sense of FOMO with her customers - Gregorio runs flash sales every time new inventory arrives, and her followers have grown to anticipate these sales. The best part? Her products sell out in five minutes—every single time. “It’s like a sport to get a spice box now because they sell out so quickly,” she says.
She delivers outstanding customer service - As soon as a flash sale ends, Gregorio and her team are able to efficiently pick, pack, and ship orders to their customers. This is all thanks to their ability to plan ahead, and somewhat 'templatize' their approach to flash sales.
How to run your own flash sale: A step-by-step guide
01. Set a goal and choose the right products
The best flash sales start with a specific goal. Do you want to acquire new customers, improve customer retention, or drive deeper customer engagement? Once you know your goals, you can build an effective sale strategy to help you reach that goal. As a few examples of how it could play out:
If you’re looking to attract new customers, you could boost brand awareness by selling your signature products at a discount. Or, you could put your best sellers up for sale, as well as trending products.
If you’re looking to retain existing customers, your flash sale may involve products that get lots of views but are low-converting. Switching up their price could be all it takes to trigger orders, and can simultaneously help to inform your pricing strategies from here on out. Alternatively, you could put newly released products up for sale in order to build up momentum and initial interest in unfamiliar items.
Tip: Regardless of which type of customers you’re looking to attract, it helps to choose one particular category, product line, or theme so that it’s easier for your customers to understand what you’re offering at a discount and why.
02. Define your target audience
Narrow down your target audience so that you know exactly how to tailor your messages and can confirm that they’ll get value out of your sale. Too broad of an audience can cause confusion or result in messaging that’s too broad to resonate with any single customer segment.
Meanwhile, a well-defined target audience can give you a clear path forward. It can help to boost your conversion rate, lower your ad spend, and increase your overall ROI.
03. Choose the right timing
Many sellers have found that running a flash sale either before or after the holiday season can yield great results. A flash sale timed right before the holiday season (e.g., September) can help to build brand awareness prior to the biggest shopping season of the year. Meanwhile, a flash sale held right after the holiday season (e.g., January) can help you to reclaim revenue you may have lost due to post-holiday returns.
However, every business is different. Review your historical sales data and customer behaviors, and see what sells best when. It additionally helps to check when email open rates are highest to guide your marketing efforts. Use this data to your advantage, and monitor the impact that your flash sale has on baseline performance.
04. Set the right price
It goes without saying that deciding on the right price is crucial. Price your item too low and you could lose money. Price it too high and you might repel shoppers.
If your brand has unique products and seldom holds sales, then 10% might be an enticing enough sale. But if you sell more common products and already run regular promotions, your shoppers may expect a heftier discount. A good rule of thumb is to set a price that’s equivalent to or just a tick higher than the discounts you offer on Black Friday or Cyber Monday (i.e., slightly higher than your lowest possible price).
05. Get your payment solutions in order
Your flash sale is worthless if your customers can’t pay you, or if your payment provider won’t approve your sales or payouts. Make sure you’re ready to accept payments online and get paid out by taking the following steps.
Connect a payment provider and verify your account before you start selling. If you’re adding or switching payment providers, make sure your account is verified and approved before the sale begins. The verification process can take time, so you’ll need to set up your account in advance. Remember that if you don’t do this, all payments from your site will be refunded.
Be responsive to customer requests and understand that some customer refunds will happen. Make sure you respond quickly and refund clients before they turn their refund request into a chargeback. This will negatively affect your chargeback ratio and bank history as a merchant.
Clearly communicate your refund and return policy on your site. Make sure your policy is clearly visible on each product page. This can help to prevent false expectations and complaints.
Keep records of emails and calls with dissatisfied customers who happen to contact you. You can use these to help manage disputes for potential chargebacks later on; they could be the deciding factor in your favor.
06. Get your inventory in order
Poor inventory management can turn your flash sale into chaos. If you’re relying on manual inventory processes, trying to keep up with the frenetic pace of sales will be impossible.
To avoid this problem, establish strong workflows that include an automated and centralized system for managing inventory across all of y our sale channels. This will allow you to:
Check the accuracy of your website’s inventory numbers and add inventory quantities to your product pages so customers will know how many—or how few—on-sale products remain.
Sync inventory data between all of your sales channels, warehouses, brick-in-mortar locations, and fulfillment partners.
Keep enough buffer stock so you don’t accidentally oversell, especially as you receive orders from multiple channels.
Retain full visibility over inventory movement, plus stay in constant contact with buyers, should a mistake occur.
07. Optimize your shipping and fulfillment workflows
Prepare your operations to support timely shipping, i.e., give your third-party logistics partner (3PL) a heads up about your upcoming sale, send enough inventory in ahead of time, and specify any special requirements related to packaging.
For your customers’ sake: make sure to provide accurate delivery times. If you’re not set up to offer two-day shipping, don’t offer it. Accuracy and honesty are far more important than speed. If it comes down to it, you can even make up for slower shipping times by offering free shipping and/or express shipping at an additional cost.
08. Create a strong promo plan
There are plenty of ways to spread the word about an upcoming sale, so you’ll want to take the time to plan your strategy ahead of time. Among the many options at your disposal, you could:
Target your competitor’s customers with ads. Look for competitors offering similar products and customers who left them negative reviews. Target your social ads to them, using messaging that speaks to their values and pain points.
Run limited-time Google Ad campaigns using keywords associated with your sales products. Take care to select keywords that attract users with an intent to buy.
Partner with micro-influencers on social media who resonate with your target audience. Ask them for help promoting your flash sale products, though influencers should ideally be happy users of your product before being asked to promote your store.
Give loyal customers exclusive or early access to your flash sale. Send invitations via email or SMS. This will help your best customers feel special, as you reward them for their loyalty.
09. Create a sense of urgency
Keep in mind that you’ll only have a short amount of time to promote your flash sale. As you use multiple channels to generate interest, create a sense of urgency by:
Creating a flash sale landing page on your website, from which you can clearly list the products that are up for sale and promote relevant messaging.
Sending pre-promotional emails and include the discount amount in your email subject lines.
Using a countdown timer before and during your sale to amp up the race against the clock. When your sale reaches its final hour, remind your customers that time is running out.
Using concise copy to emphasize that time is of the essence, and point out when this is the “last sale of the season” or “your only chance to buy our best sellers—40% off!”
Get your flash sale up in a flash
In summary, a flash sale allows you to reward existing customers, attract new potential shoppers, and/or drive attention to particular products. Get all the tools you need to support your campaign with Wix for eCommerce. Manage everything from landing pages to inventory under one roof—test drive Wix for eCommerce today.
Liat Karpel Gurwicz
eCommerce Marketing, Wix
Liat has led Strategic Marketing for Wix.com since 2014, including marketing efforts for Wix's creative, professional, and business audiences.
Allison Lee Editor, Wix for eCommerce
Allison is the editor for the Wix eCommerce blog, with several years of experience reporting on eCommerce news, strategies, and founder stories.