eCommerce Flash Sale Guide: How to Use Flash Sales to Increase Revenue
There comes a time when every serious online store should consider running a flash sale as part of their promotional strategy. It’s a high risk high reward play that can make or break a business in a very short time frame.
Flash sales can be an effective strategy for all types of merchants, whether your business model is based solely on flash sales, or if your brand uses this technique occasionally to drop exclusive new products or to run special promotions.
Based on Wix data from eCommerce merchants who ran flash sales in 2020: On average, online stores increase monthly GMV by over 64,000% with a flash sale.
Any online store can run a flash sale—but that doesn’t mean they should. Unsuccessful flash sales can erode profits, hurt brand image and attract one-time-only customers. On the other hand, a well-executed flash sale can increase customer loyalty, aid in customer acquisition and help move excess inventory.
If you’re considering running flash sales, review this guide to make sure you know everything you need to run one successfully. Discover the 3 main reasons flash sales fail and get our top 7 tips for running a successful flash sale.
What is a Flash Sale?
A flash sale, as the name suggests, offers a discount or promotion that is only available for a very short period of time—it's here for a moment and then gone in a flash.
The main goals of flash sales are to get online shoppers to impulse buy, increase short-term sales and sell your surplus stock.
Flash sales are different from regular online sales in 3 specific ways:
Promotions are more significant than other deals usually offered by your business.
The timeframe is much shorter than your online store’s normal sales windows.
The selection and stock availability of products are limited.
Online shoppers now have more tools than ever before to help them research and compare products and online brands, especially when it comes to finding the lowest price. A flash sale offers exactly what customers are looking for, but only for a short period of time. This creates a sense of urgency and can boost sales quickly.
How Can Flash Sales Help or Hurt Your Business?
When considering a flash sale, you must decide if it’s the best way to grow your sales.
A successful flash sale can be an extremely effective method to:
Make room for new inventory. Flash sales can help you unload excess inventory, like products that are out of season or have been sitting unsold for a long time. This can help you lower operating and inventory costs. If you sell products that have been sitting in a warehouse for a long time, you can make room for newer, in-demand products that are selling well.
Attract new customers. Flash sales can increase brand awareness through increased online advertising visibility. They can also help close the deal with new shoppers by offering an affordable way to try your products. If buyers are satisfied, you might earn a new, loyal customer that will buy from you again and again.
Boost revenue quickly. On average, flash sales generate a 64,000% lift in monthly GMV and can be a great way to boost revenue for a short period of time. A temporary boost to revenue can go a long way for growing businesses, from stocking up on new products to increasing marketing budgets.
Increase brand loyalty. A substantial flash sale 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.
An unsuccessful flash sale can result in failure and be a quick way to:
Erode your profits. Poorly calculated flash sales can end up killing your profit margin, or worse — cost you money. Make sure that you consider your business’s short and long-term sustainability and profitability when you implement a flash sale strategy.
Attract disloyal customers. A flash sale can attract bargain hunters with no intention of becoming loyal customers. These shoppers will buy once and are never to be seen again.
Lead to disengaged customers. 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.
Hurt your reputation. A flash sale can hurt your brand image when handled incorrectly. Shoppers can be put off if you aren’t clear how your sale will be run. Even worse, customers could be deeply disappointed if you don’t provide great customer service afterwards or fail to deliver on inventory, fulfillment or shipping promises.
If you decide the benefits of a flash sale outweigh the potential risks, there are mistakes you can avoid and strategies you can use to give your flash sale a better chance of success with careful planning and preparation.
Top 3 Reasons Flash Sales Fail
The web is littered with failed flash sales and many businesses have paid the price for failed flash sales. Here are the top 3 reasons these sales fail:
01. Website Crashes
The most common and dreaded flash sale failure is when your website crashes. It brings your sale to a dead stop when potential shoppers cannot load your site. Even for large brands, flash sales can result in website crashes. For many sites, this is typically due to server overloads and not having the right amount of capacity to handle the surge in traffic. It’s best to find a solution that allows you to scale your capacity just when you need to. With Wix, you have nothing to worry about with regards to server capacity—we make sure you always have all the storage capacity you need.
TIP: If you are using any third-party apps or tools that depend on API calls to your website to function, make sure they have the right amount of bandwidth on their servers to handle the surge in traffic.
02. Inventory Oversell
If you lack the tools for proper inventory management, an unexpected result of a flash sale can be selling too much. Sometimes merchants keep selling products even after they have no more inventory left. That means the merchant will have to cancel some of their customers' orders and can cause frustration and disappointment, leading to mistrust of your brand. With Wix, you get real-time inventory updates, so inventory levels are always synced with your integrated fulfillment solutions. This ensures that the second you sell your last product, inventory quantities will reflect “out of stock” on your website.
TIP: Help avoid overselling failures with these 5 tips:
Before you run a flash sale, research demand and prepare your supply chain accordingly. Make sure that your website’s inventory numbers are up to date.
Keep adequate buffer stock levels for potential issues.
Be transparent about your inventory by adding inventory quantities to your product pages.
Prepare to address and keep in constant communication with buyers if you make a mistake.
Invite shoppers who arrive to the sale too late to subscribe to your site and get notified of your next one.
03. Shipping Delays
After a flash sale is over, customers expect quick and accurate delivery times. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for flash sale customers to complain of waiting several weeks to receive their orders. Customer perception is shaped not only before and during the sale, but also by what happens after a purchase is made. Therefore, shipping flash-sale items quickly is critical.
With Wix, you can print and pay for shipping labels right from your online store dashboard. Ship with your region’s solutions, or handle delivery with industry-leading shipping services. You can add suppliers and 3PL fulfillment services you work with to your system so that orders will be automatically sent to the right service.
TIP: Make sure your eCommerce shipping processes are in place.
Provide competitive shipping rates and delivery times.
Clearly explain your shipping policy and rates on your website so customers know what to expect.
Optimize your fulfillment by connecting fulfillment services. Make sure to integrate your website with your fulfillment services so that orders will be automatically sent to the right service.
7 Expert Tips to Run a Successful Flash Sale
Set up your flash sale for success by making sure you review these 7 guidelines based on thousands of flash sales run by Wix Merchants.
01. Plan Your Timing Carefully
When should you run a flash sale? This all depends on your business and your customers. Here are some basic guidelines to follow:
Based on your business
We recommend basing your sale schedule on the type of product you’re selling and when your customers tend to purchase the most. By looking at historical order data, you can make a better judgement call on when to run a flash sale that makes the most sense for your online store.
Review your analytics and see if any purchasing patterns emerge:
What day(s) of the week do your customers make the most purchases?
What time of day do your customers usually purchase?
When are your email open rates highest?
Before holiday season peaks
During the holiday season, online shoppers are bombarded by marketing emails and ads, which can cause flash sale fatigue. This is also the busiest time for eCommerce businesses, causing strains on supply chains and fulfillment providers.
If you run a flash sale with coordinated eCommerce holiday ads before the holiday season (as early as September), you have the opportunity to win over new customers and get ahead of the competition, and also make room for new inventory. This will help increase your customer base before the holiday shopping season even begins.
After the holiday season
Once the holidays are over, you may see a spike in order returns. That’s because customers are returning unwanted gifts. However, that doesn’t mean you have to lose out on money. By offering a flash sale after the holiday season (say, in January), then you have an opportunity to make up for the lost in returns, as well as build customer loyalty.
02. Clearly Define Your Target Market
Clearly define your target audience, keeping in mind that the wider you cast your net, the lower your conversion rate is likely to be, the higher your CPC (cost per click), and the lower your ROI return on investment).
How you define your target market depends on the goal you set for your flash sale.
If the goal is to acquire new customers:
Avoid targeting existing customers. Don’t overtly market the sale to your existing customers by sending an email to your customer list or posting on your social channels.
Target your competitors’ customers. Identify consumers who follow a competitor with similar products and poach them by targeting competitors’ Facebook or Twitter audiences. You could also identify and target customers who left negative product reviews for your competitors.
Be exact with your paid ads. Run limited-time Google Ads only for the exact keywords associated with your sale products.
Use influencers to promote your sale. Identify micro-influencers who resonate with your target audience and use them to promote your sale and products.
If the goal is to increase profits from existing customers:
Keep it to members. To make sure your loyal customers have access to your sale, only send your flash sale email campaign to your subscription list or private fan group.
Avoid upsetting customers who already bought sale products. Don’t send your flash sale email campaign to the segment of your customer base who already purchased the items you’re massively discounting. They won’t be happy when they see other people can now get the same item for significantly less.
Win back inactive customers. A flash sale is a great way to re-engage inactive customers with enticing offers. Remind them why they signed up for your emails in the first place.
Target shoppers who abandoned carts. Target customers based on prior interest in sales or specific products. Nearly 75% of people who add something to their online cart leave without purchasing anything. A flash sale can convert some of those abandoned carts into completed sales.
03. Choose the Right Products for Your Flash Sale
The products you select for your flash sale should be based on the customers that you’re trying to target.
If your goal is to target new customers, consider selling:
Products Popular with Competitor’s Customers Choose a product that your competitors’ customers love and offer it at a much lower price.
Your Brand’s Signature Products To boost brand awareness and gain new customers, promote a signature product that your brand is known for or that you want to be known for.
Products with Strong Demand Promote products with high search volumes. Use Google’s Keyword Planner to identify search volumes.
If you’re looking to target existing customers, consider selling:
Products with High Traffic & Low Conversion Select products that your customers view often but don’t buy. Identify products that have many page views, but low conversions. This is a good way to move excess inventory.
04. Set Your Prices Right
The price must be right. But how do you offer flash sale deals that go beyond your normal discount without undercutting future sales? Your discount must be big enough to drive enough shoppers to your site.
If you’re a luxury brand that never goes on sale, 10% might be enough. If you sell everyday products and consumers are used to sales, 10% might seem like nothing.
A good rule of thumb is to price your flash deals slightly higher than your lowest possible price. These price drops should be reserved for your biggest annual promotions, like Black Friday Cyber Monday or other important sale events.
05. Create a Sense of Urgency to Promote Your Flash Sale
By its very nature, you have a limited timeframe to promote your flash sale. Generating a sense of urgency can help close the deal with potential shoppers.
Use urgency to build up some flash sale hype:
Be available on social media. Use Facebook, Instagram, and other channels to actively engage with your customers throughout the flash sale.
Use countdown timers. Few things amp up the pressure like a race against the clock. Create a landing page for your flash sale and send out announcement emails. Then add countdown timers to let shoppers know that time is of the essence.
Show the discount in your email subject line. Emails with your discount in the subject line have better conversion rates compared to emails that don’t.
Remind your customers when time is running out. When your sale enters its final hour, use your social channels to remind followers that your sale is almost over.
Keep your copy short. Concise copy is a marketing email best practice. Emphasize that time is of the essence with flash sale microcopy that doesn’t waste people’s time.
06. Prepare Your Shipping & Fulfillment Strategy in Advance
If your flash sale is successful, you need to make sure that both you and your customers are prepared.
To keep your customers’ expectations realistic, make sure you:
Make your shipping turnaround time clear and concise to customers from the start.
Clearly state shipping rates and policies on your website.
Communicate any delays or changes pro-actively to you customers. Proactively communicate any delays or changes to your customers.
Make sure you are ready to fulfill all your orders:
Ensure that you have enough inventory in stock on the day of the sale.
Pre-pack products to make for quicker order fulfillment.
Make sure you have extra help to get your orders out fast if you handle fulfillment in-house.
If you work with a 3rd third party fulfillment service (3PL), make sure to notify your fulfillment provider in advance so that they can prepare.
07. Get Your Payment Solutions in Order Beforehand
A 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:
Connect a payment provider and verify your account before you start selling. Make sure that your account has been approved by your payment provider before starting a flash sale. The verification process for new merchants with any payment provider can take time, so you need to set up your account in advance before you run your flash sale. It’s very important to remember that if your account is not verified and approved by your payment provider, all payments that you accept on 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 refunds and returns policy on your site. Make sure your refund and returns policy is clearly visible on each product and service on your site. This can help you avoid customer disappointment and complaints.
Keep records of emails and calls with dissatisfied customers who happen to contact you. These can be used to help manage disputes for potential chargebacks later on, and could actually be the deciding factor in your favor.
Top Seller: How The Spice Suite Uses Flash Sales and Sells Out in Minutes Every Time
To get inspiration for your own flash sales, take a look at Angel Gregorio and The Spice Suite. Technically, all of Gregorio’s sales are flash sales—every time she uploads inventory on her site, she sells out in minutes. To date, her spice shop has sold over $2 million worth of products from both the online store and brick-and-mortar location.
Watch The Spice Suite owner’s Wix Best Sellers interview and read her eCommerce flash sale success story below.
"Through my online store alone, we’ve sold over $500K worth of spices. That's so crazy!"
From the beginning, Gregorio built a loyal customer base for The Spice Suite through social media and her D.C. storefront. She was comfortable with brick-and-mortar, so she dipped into eCommerce cautiously at first.
Gregorio realized she could easily manage online orders and sell even more online. So she increased their sales capacity. The Spice Suite started selling 300-400 boxes every month and has sold over $500K worth of products, just from their site.
"To see the first online sale was just affirming. It made me think, you know what, if there's one, there are more."
Before each flash sale, Gregorio announces the date on social media to generate excitement. When the sale starts, she sells out within five minutes—every single time. The buzz spreads, which brings in even more customers: literally and figuratively, The Spice Suite delivers.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Gregorio brought her entire business online. She turned her brick-and-mortar location into a warehouse, and expanded The Spice Suite’s business model with even more spice boxes, oils and a collection of home goods.
"Most of our customers are repeat customers, if they can get in on time. It's like a sport trying to get a spice box now because they sell out so quickly."
Order management gets hectic, so Gregorio prepares as much as possible in advance. She creates the products on Wix, uploads images, edits product details and sets her inventory. That way, she’s ready to go live and start selling right on schedule.
"The day of the spice drop, no matter what I'm doing, I literally just have to go into Wix and make it visible and save it, and folks are ready to purchase."
Gregorio has pre-built boxes at the ready. The moment The Spice Suite sells out, she and her team efficiently pick, pack and ship orders out to their customers.
Flash Sale FAQs
Here are the answers to the most common questions we get about flash sales.
What is a flash sale?
A discount or promotion offered for a short period of time. The main goals of a flash sale strategy are to get online shoppers to impulse buy, to increase short-term sales, or to sell your surplus stock.
What does “flash sale” mean?
A big sale that happens quickly and ends in a “flash”.
How do I do a flash sale?
The most important way to prepare is to make sure you are prepared for high-volume sales and website visitors and provide a great deal. You can always refer back to this article before you run a flash sale to understand exactly what you need to do to prepare.
Are flash sales effective?
A successful flash sale can be an extremely effective method to unload excess inventory, attract new customers, boost revenue quickly and increase customer loyalty.
Why do companies do flash sales?
Offering big discounts for a short period of time can help grow sales, re-engage existing customers, reach new ones and boost short-term revenues.
How do you win flash sales?
The answer is this: Don’t run a flash sale just to make a quick buck (even though you hopefully will). Run a flash sale to offer great value to loyal customers and new potential shoppers—use it as a way to showcase your brand, products and customer service.
What is a flash sale strategy?
The key to flash strategy is to prepare well before the limited sale window. Plan your timing, define your target market, choose your products, set your pricing carefully, create a sense of urgency, prepare your shipping and fulfillment, and make sure your payment solutions are in place. If you have a great offer and a great plan, your flash sale should be a success!
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Liat Karpel Gurwicz
Liat has led Strategic Marketing for Wix.com since 2014, including marketing efforts for Wix's creative, professional and business audiences. She currently leads Wix’s eCommerce marketing and business activities.