Flash Sales: What Are They, Pros and Cons, and Best Practices

If you’re reading this article, then you’re probably thinking of running a flash sale for your business.

Whether your brand is launching an exclusive new product, or you’re simply looking to increase brand awareness by offering great deals over the holidays, you’ve come to the right place.

In this flash sale guide, we’ll cover what flash sales are, the pros and cons of running flash sales, and the best practices you need to follow to achieve high sales volumes and increased brand exposure.

What is a flash sale, and how does it work?

A flash sale is a short-term promotion or discount that a company runs for a limited period of time — usually a few hours to 72 hours. These sales are great for bringing in some quick traffic and boosting short-term sales in a matter of hours or days.

illustration showing how long flash sales last

The primary goal of flash sales is to trigger consumers’ impulse buying behavior. However, these sales usually take a lot of planning and require a well-thought-out strategy to guarantee success.

Things like inventory, marketing, website capability, and shipping all need to be considered when planning a flash sale strategy.

Generally speaking, a flash sale will look something like this:

  1. Determine the goal of your sale (i.e., what exactly is it that you want to achieve?).
  2. Choose the right products to sell to your audience or audience segment.
  3. Make sure that there are enough of your selected products in stock.
  4. Promote the sale.
  5. Run the sale for an extremely limited amount of time.

Pros of running flash sales

Here are the main benefits of flash sales:

1. Increases brand visibility

The biggest advantage of flash sales is that they offer great opportunities to get your brand in front of your ideal customers and increase brand awareness among them.

By posting your sale on social media, more people will get to know your business. Even if they don’t want to purchase your products right now, they’ll know about your company and may decide to visit your online store later when they need something.

Additionally, your ideal customers may share your posts across their network, giving you even more brand exposure, credibility, and authority.

illustration showing that flash sales increase brand visibility

2. Manages extra stock

Buying inventory can be tricky as you can’t always predict how many products you need. As a result, you may be left with excess inventory. Flash sales are a great way to get rid of these products without losing money in the process.

With these sales, you’ll be able to sell products that are out of season and, in doing so, make room for new and trending products that are guaranteed to sell.

3. Increases sales and revenues

Urgency is an extremely effective method that marketers use to turn browsers into buyers instantly. This is because customers are far more likely to buy products when they know that these amazing deals are available for a limited time only.

Therefore, your flash sale will increase the number of sales you make, and consequently, lead to more profit for your business.

Even though flash sales reduce your profit margin, the number of transactions completed in such a short time frame makes up for it.

4. Creates customer loyalty

Since flash sales offer better deals than regular sales, your existing customers will see this opportunity as a reward.

They’ll be able to buy your products at a lower cost, which will keep them loyal to your brand. And, if they like the product, chances are, they’ll not only continue buying from you but also become brand ambassadors.

Cons of running flash sales

Here are the main downfalls of running flash sales:

1. Shipping failures

With flash sale seasons being the busiest times for eCommerce businesses, an excessive number of orders can lead to shipping failures.

Unfortunately, shipping failures lead to unhappy customers, which can lead to negative reviews and a bad reputation.

To guarantee that this doesn’t happen to your business, you need to keep an eye on customer perception during the sale and after the order has taken place.

That’s where a good shipping strategy comes in. The faster your delivery services are, the better. Shipping generally takes three to five business days. However, sometimes customers expect same-day delivery.

If you want to stand out above your competitors, you can consider offering free shipping. This is especially true for products priced above $20. Nearly 26% of consumers expect free shopping for products priced between $20-$30, and an additional 27% expect it for products prices between $30-$50.

graph showing what U.S. consumers believe their expenditure should be to receive free shipping

2. Website crashes

Even big eCommerce businesses encounter website crashes during flash sales. With the high quantity of customers arriving at and leaving your website, the chances are far higher for your website to malfunction.

This can be extremely bad for your business’s reputation since customer satisfaction relies on good user experiences in today’s digital, fast-paced world.

Therefore, if your business model relies on flash sales, consider doing the following:

  • Getting extra server capacity
  • Getting a decent hosting plan that can support thousands of visitors at once
  • Load testing your website
  • Load testing your third-party tools and apps
  • Running speed tests

3. Inventory failures

Expecting a product and not receiving it can be extremely disappointing for a customer. In turn, this can lead to them not trusting your business — and, consequently, telling their friends, families, or colleagues all about their bad experience.

Again, this can lead to a bad brand reputation which could impact your business negatively in the future.

To prevent this, you can do the following:

  • Research the demand for certain products and prepare your supply chain for the demand.
  • Add inventory quantities to your product pages so that customers can see how many products are left.

4. Attracts bad customers

A flash sale can attract one-time buyers (often called “bargain hunters”) who take advantage of the deal and never visit your store again.

These types of customers don’t benefit your business much since profit margins are far lower during these sales, with prices being 25%-70% lower.

Unfortunately, you can’t completely avoid this type of customer since your social media ads will attract them.

However, you can try to limit these customers by heavily advertising your flash sale deals to your existing customers (including engaged and disengaged customers) by employing email marketing and retargeting methods.

When is the best time to run a flash sale?

Here is a list of the best times during the year to run flash sales:

Before the holiday season

eCommerce businesses bombard people with flash sales during the holiday season, which leads to high competition and flash sale fatigue in customers.

During this time, consumers’ email boxes are filled with promotional emails, which often leads to them ignoring these emails.

The solution to this problem is running flash sale ads and campaigns before the holiday season as well as during it. This way, you’ll capture new customers ahead of time so that you stand out above your competitors.

After the holiday season

After the holiday season, eCommerce stores usually see a spike in product returns. This is mainly because people return unwanted gifts.

However, you shouldn’t let this discourage you. To make up for the returned items, you can host another sale after the holiday season (in January) to grow your profit margin and make up the money you lost for the returns.

Find inspiration from after-Christmas sales that companies hosted in 2021.

Every few months

When it comes to flash sales, timing is everything.

You can’t constantly run these sales since that would mean a drastic decrease in your profits and could even lead to big financial losses.

What you can do instead is run a flash sale every few months to create brand awareness and loyalty from your customers without risking financial loss and a bad reputation.

Consider running your sale on holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or the Fourth of July, when customers are likely to search for gifts for their loved ones.

Here’s a list of the best national holidays for deals and freebies.

Also, consider hosting a flash sale on Cyber Monday. In 2020, Cyber Monday was the holiday with the highest conversion rate at 10.51% with mobile and desktop devices combined.

graph depicting the holidays with the highest conversion rate

Best practices of running flash sales

Here are the top five tips you can follow to run a successful sale:

1. Select the right flash sale items

If you’re a retailer that sells hundreds of products, you need to spend a good amount of time identifying the products you want to sell during your sale.

If the goal of your flash deals is to simply get rid of excess inventory, then this step is easy since you can simply select items that aren’t selling well.

However, if you want to use your flash sale for brand exposure and are unsure which products will give you the most visibility, you can use the following strategies to identify the best products:

  • Use a keyword research tool such as Google Keyword Planner, Ubersuggest, or Ahrefs to see the search volumes for each product to find high-demand products.
  • Browse your competitors’ sites and social media platforms to see which products they focus on selling during online sales.

Once you’ve figured out which products will do well in a flash sale, you need to make sure that you have enough of those products in stock.

2. Segment potential buyers

Who are you selling your products to?

If you have a wide customer base with different audience segments, you need to figure out which segment you want to target with your sale.

For example, let’s say you own a luxury clothing and accessories eCommerce store. You may have one audience segment that prefers buying clothing from your store, while the other segment prefers buying accessories.

If you’re only focusing on selling clothes, then you want to focus your marketing efforts on the audience segment that mainly purchases clothing online. These include existing customers and potential customers.

By figuring out who exactly you need to be targeting for each specific flash sale, you’ll save money, time, and resources on your marketing campaigns.

3. Promote your sale

For your flash sale to achieve maximum success, you need to promote it. There are different marketing channels to choose from. The most popular channels include:

Social media

More and more people are starting to shop through social media. As such, it’s a great idea for you to promote your sale on the social media networks where your chosen audience segment can be found.

For example, if your audience segment consists of Gen Z’s who mainly use Instagram, you need to distribute most of your budget into Instagram ads instead of other channels.

The great thing about social media ads is that even if a customer doesn’t buy from you through your ad, these ads will still create brand awareness. 88% of businesses agree that increased brand exposure is a leading benefit of social media marketing.

Graph depicting the top benefits of social media marketing

This means that more people will become aware of your business and offers — and they may choose to come to your store in the future if they need any of the items that you sell.

Additionally, you can also run social media sales events to bring more awareness to your business and offers.

Email

In 2020, revenue obtained from email marketing amounted to $7.5 billion and is predicted to grow to $17.9 billion by 2027.

As such, it’s clear that email remains one of the most effective online channels for promotional marketing.

For the best results, you need to create a separate flash sale email sequence for your existing customers, the leads that you acquire from your ads, and inactive customers. Your email series can include:

  • Countdown emails
  • Special announcements about the sale
  • Emails about the product features and benefits
  • An on-the-day email
  • Ongoing sale news
  • Limited stocks emails
  • An email for each purchase stage

This puts your sale on autopilot and helps you build bonds with your customers without having to lift a finger during the duration of the sale.

A bonus of email marketing is that you’ll also be able to use this method during your flash sale to retarget customers who abandon their shopping carts. The average cart abandonment rate across all industries is 79.8%, which is very high.

However, cart abandonment rates are especially high for online retailers in the Automotive, Airlines, Fashion, and Luxury industries.

graph depicting cart abandonment rates worldwide by industry

If you’re in an industry that has a high cart abandonment rate, spend some time creating a good cart abandonment email campaign to guarantee more sales.

4. Use pop-ups

While using social media, email, and limited-time Google ads to promote your sale are all excellent methods to spread the word — it’s also important to turn your existing visitors into flash sale customers.

You can do this by adding promotional pop-ups to your website that announce the campaign and direct your visitors to your sales page.

If you implement these pop-ups correctly, they won’t only notify visitors of your sale, but they’ll also create an air of urgency. By using calls to action (CTAs) such as “Today Only” on your pop-up, people will know that they have to act immediately if they want the deal.

Example of how a flash sale should create urgency

Other examples of calls to action that create a sense of urgency include:

  • While Stock Lasts
  • Sale Ends Tonight at 12 p.m.
  • Only 1 Day Left to Buy
  • Act Now to Avoid Disappointment
  • Limited Time Only

Pro-tip: If you want to create even more urgency, you can include a dynamic countdown timer on your pop-up ad or on your sales page.

5. Keep your flash sale short

As mentioned earlier, the shorter your sale is, the better. This is because people undergo the fear of missing out (FOMO) whenever an offer won't last for a long period.

Two to three-hour flash sales usually do extremely well. However, the time period of your flash sale will depend on your product and target audience.

For the best results, you need to look at your analytics to see if you can determine any patterns in your target audience’s buying behavior. Consider the following:

  • What days of the week do consumers buy your product?
  • What time of day do they buy it?
  • What times during the day are your email open rates highest?
  • When do consumers click on your ads the most?

Once you’ve determined all these factors, you’ll be able to set a date and time for your flash sale.

Keep in mind that since your flash sale is short, excellent customer service throughout the entire sale is vital if you want to create loyal customers.

Ready to run a flash sale?

You’ve discovered what a flash sale is and the benefits that it offers to your business. By following the above tips, your flash sale will attract your ideal customers, increase your conversion rate, and help with business growth.

If you’re thinking of running a successful flash sale for your eCommerce business, have a look at the latest eCommerce statistics and trends for 2022 to help set you up for success.

about the author

Marc Mezzacca
Marc Mezzacca is CEO of CouponFollow, a consumer savings engine that surfaces popular coupons. He has been in the coupon and deals industry for over a decade with a deep interest in evolving e-commerce technologies.