In 2021, Black Friday and Thanksgiving flash sales earned between $5 and $10 billion.
Even apart from massive holiday sales, this format is picking up
That’s because flash sales go beyond offering shoppers a good deal:
- They ensure brand awareness and brand loyalty
- They hike up the demand of a product
- They alter people’s overall buying perception & purchasing behavior
Unfortunately, many businesses think they’re only about purging off old stock and offering some familiar discounts.
In effect, they fail to use this tactic in ways that can impact their bottom line in a more positive way through the year.
At Convercart, we’ve worked with 500+ US businesses over the last 5 years, helping them maximize on conversion optimization efforts including flash sales.
In this piece, we’ll lay focus on 10 proven ways we’ve repeatedly seen make flash sales a success.
1. Offer the flash sale on products you HAVE competition for
Identifying products that your direct and indirect competitors are creating, will be the first step.
If you have to assess which products out there being sold hold competition for products you’re selling, look closely at:
- the distinguishing features
- what features have been refined/updated in the past
- the pricing/cost
- the kind of marketing that goes into promoting this product
- what customers say/ share about the product
Once you do this homework, your next steps will involve getting the flash sale in place:
Introduce targeted mystery offer emails to regular customers
Use language that makes them take notice.
The more urgency you can create, the better.
For example, if your flash sale is ending tonight, set your mystery offer email to be sent in the morning.
When you offer them a tight timeline, along with piquing their curiosity, you set them up for faster action.
Look at how the following example creates excitement by citing three different discount percentages – making the reveal more exciting.
eCommerce emails on your mind? Read this for more actionable ideas.
Highlight the price drop you’re offering on a specific product
This can work well if your competition is high on this product, and naturally shoppers would find value in landing a better deal than competitor brands are offering.
Here’s a quick example of how you can position one product or a series of them in your flash sale communication:
Align with keywords your target audience is searching for at the moment
For example, if you’re a skincare brand, notice which products your audience is searching for online, in a bid to land relevant results.
Create a flash sale around a range of these products and limit it to these, like in the following example that clearly mentions the products the flash sale discount applies to:
Read eCommerce site search: 18 improvements that prevent drop-offs (+ actual examples) to dive in deeper
2. Promote products with otherwise low conversions
Low conversions aren’t all that uncommon in eCommerce––and a well thought out flash sale could be the perfect opportunity to push products that haven’t been converting.
Practically, the reasons behind low conversions could be several – right from poor navigation to unspecific product information––but fixing them one by one can be time-consuming.
In a flash sale context, you can choose to take a different approach by creating very specific landing pages for these products (especially if you’re segmenting your audience and the categories they’d prefer seeing.)
Here are a few ways you could consider:
Bring out the main benefit clearly
Whether you’re promoting an additional discount or attempting to attract shoppers through free shipping, the main benefit needs to come out.
Introduce a stock ticker
If it’s dynamic it’s even better––let’s say a shopper hangs around for 20 seconds, during which the ticker states a changing number to indicate more numbers of the product being sold.
Ensure to not feature any other promotions or daily deals on these landing pages.
Bring in an interesting angle to justify the sale
While the products you promote through it could be commonplace, the spin you give to why the sale is on could entice people to shop.
Check this example from J. Crew––the spin they’ve given to this is that of summer being a happy event, and their target audience wanting to make the most of it.
Offer a steep discount (and make it sound exclusive)
Because let’s admit it:
Even the most interested shopper will consider buying from you only if they think it’s a deal other places won’t offer, and if there’s something special about it.
Consider the following example––the discount offered is a steep 80% and instead of offering it on everything, it’s applied on “select styles only”––so even if you’re promoting low converting products, they can be positioned as “select.”
Can't get conversions off your mind? Read: Why is your conversion rate dropping: 24 possible causes
3. Combine a product drop + flash sale
The flash sale context comes in handy when you’re considering a product drop.
By leveraging the limited time launch scenario, you can even test out the product’s significance and if it can create competition for other brands in the same eCommerce space.
When you add a flash sale to a product drop context, it just offers an additional incentive to buy into the urgency created by the product drop.
Here are a few implementable ideas:
Consider using communication channels with better open rates
Channels like WhatsApp, push notifications and SMS have better open rates and are more likely to be accessed & opened by your loyal customers.
(Research, for example, says that push notifications increase the open rate by almost 56%.)
Announce higher discounts for higher spends
This way you can even track which products are being included more from the drop.
Here’s an example of how you can layer the discounts against the associated spend in your flash sale creative:
Position the sale smartly through an early preview/ access
This can especially be attractive for existing customers, because by offering early access you’re giving them more room to make a purchase choice.
Call this feature out on your flash sale creative: “VIP Early Preview” and “Early Access Just For You” work well.
Here’s an example from Paperless Post:
4. Get your communication right
Remember: since discounts are everywhere in eCommerce these days, to make your flash sale count, you’ll have to be precise about getting your communication right.
Here are a few actionable tips:
Chart out a clear USP
We’ve said this before: just highlighting a discount might not be good enough for your target audience.
For example, if you’re in a category where free shipping thresholds usually apply, a flash sale could be the right opportunity to extend free shipping––have your promotions and all communication material carry this as the USP.
In the following example, the brand is clearly running the flash sale on 3 of their most popular diffusers––this becomes the USP or the differentiator and would need to come across clearly in the communication, across channels.
Align the narrative with audience preferences
For example, your intent behind the flash sale could well be clearing out inventory––but how you position it given the category you’re in could be crucial.
Let’s say you run a fashion-based eCommerce store––in this case, it’s quite alright to harp on a “clearance flash sale.”
But imagine saying the same thing about a health-based supplement store––it’ll most likely have people turning away.
(However if they said something like “the bulk up sale”, shoppers interested in nutrition and building up their bodies would instantly take notice.)
In the following example, return customers are clearly being targeted through the “customer appreciation” call-out.
Use a CTA that demands immediate action
The point of any flash sale is to get as many buys as possible within a short window of time (anywhere from a few hours to a few days).
And this means your regular “shop now” or “buy now” may not convey as much relevance––partly because shoppers are used to seeing them everywhere, every day and won’t subconsciously take notice if you associate them with a flash sale.
If you can create emotions like curiosity or a sense of “too good to be true” through your CTA, it can convince shoppers to turn their attention to the sale at that moment.
Catchy CTAs can read like: “Don’t miss out”, “Shop till you drop”, “Make it happen” and “Hurry! Shop Now!”
The following CTA example from Levi’s captures what we’re talking about.
5. Introduce onsite pop-ups for the flash sale
Unsuspecting visitors usually don’t have a clue about limited duration sales going on on your eCommerce site.
This makes it crucial for you to introduce onsite pop-ups that can communicate details about the flash sale.
Here’s what you can include so that the pop-up stands out:
Talk about how easy checkout is
If it can be done in just a few steps including a one-page checkout, your customers need to know that.
An additional x% discount if they’re new to the brand
By offering them an additional discount, you can even ask for their email address.
Bring in exclusivity & scarcity linked with one another
If you can catch your audience's attention by bringing in exclusivity and scarcity together, then the chances are higher they will act.
Here's an example.
Grab their attention with a super punchy headline that’s bold and will make them pause
In the example we picked, the headline works because it essentially creates a sense of regret and “this is too good to pass”.
Simpler headlines can read like:
“It’s Now or Never”
“Squeeze the Day”
“Cancel your plans.”
“Drop everything & shop!”
Get more perspectives through Exit-Intent Pop-Ups: overcoming common mistakes + 20 brilliant examples
6. Write flash sale emails that can boost conversions
If you want your flash sale to work well, you’ll have to strategize the email campaign that will accompany it.
Here’s an email sequence you may want to use for your next eCommerce flash sale:
- Launch announcement (three days prior to the launch)
- A day prior to the launch
- A day before the sale ends
- Information about any possible date extensions
Since you’ll most likely have to segment your customers clearly to make the most of the flash sale, ensure your communication is on point.
For new customers
Ensure you highlight your flash sale USP alongside the discount and timeframe.
Here’s an example from Bath & Body Works that captures the fact that the flash sale applies to full-sized body care products only.
Additionally you can include social proof about what existing customers have had to say about previously announced flash sales––highlighting on what they’ve liked and how good the deal was.
You could also consider introducing a short quiz to learn about their preferences––clearly indicate that a few short questions will help you come up with better recommendations and the best deals.
For loyal customers
Look at ways of personalizing the main message: “Just for you”, “Extra 15% off only for you”, “Surprise inside” etc. can work well depending on what you’re trying to promote.
Consider bringing in product recommendations in your flash sale email.
This can especially be effective if they’ve been searching for or known to prefer the same or similar products (based on purchase & add-to-cart behavior, email opening behavior etc.)
Here’s an example from Avon.
Highlight products they’ve somewhat engaged with, in the past––they may have checked these products out and spent some time viewing the product pages or even added them to cart without actually checking out.
Create email reminders that give them an idea of how much they can potentially save from the flash sale, as against if they missed it.
Remember shoppers are in a hurry most of the time, so if you do a little math for them, they’re more likely to take action.
In the following example, notice how through price anchoring Adore Me establishes the extent of savings as well.
For idle customers
Offer something VIP or exclusive to take their interest at least a few notches up––if it’s for a very specific line of products, ensure you’ve done your customer segmentation precisely.
Here’s an example:
Consider nurturing them through a series of emails but ensure to not bombard them all that much––they might be not engaging with your brand as a matter of choice, and might just get put off if you send them several email updates.
Engage with them over a failover channel like a chat app or push notification (because the primary channel of communication may have changed).
Can't stop thinking of customer retention? Read 17 retention strategies that actually work (for eCommerce)
7. Build urgency in unusual ways
Countdown timers and words like “hurry” aren’t the only ways to do flash sale communication (on-site and over email) well.
Here are a few unusual ways in which you can create urgency in your flash sale:
Focus on the microcopy
Phrases like “In high demand” and “selling super fast” can come in handy.
Offer updates on stocks sold
A short section saying “selling fast” and carrying some crucial numbers could also create urgency.
Use a flash banner on the homepage
This invariably attracts the maximum eyeballs given how many potential customers land up on your homepage first.
Highlight the duration of the sale, the discount % and any applicable code clearly.
Add a countdown timer to the cart
This is a way to keep shoppers on their toes––especially those who add items to the cart, and then plan to come back later for the actual purchase.
Position some of the products as seasonal gifts
This will make it easy for you to say that the more they buy a specific product, the more discount they can avail.
Consider offering a coupon code under such circumstances.
Make use of dates that are special to customers
Consider announcing targeted birthday flash sales––for example, segment customers who have their birthday in June, and build urgency around that.
Offer free shipping for the first X orders
This works especially well for new product launches and fresh releases where products are let out with updates.
Here's a read to make you think: 30 Best Examples of Nudge Marketing in eCommerce
8. Consider an always-live flash sale section on your website
While flash sales of the exclusive and limited time kind work the best, there’s still another way to leverage this format.
Consider putting up an always-live flash sale section on your website.
Add different products to the flash sale section every few days
Send out communication updates so that shoppers get to know.
Segment communication based on what categories and products that have been preferred by customers in the past.
Leverage the above-the-fold section on your homepage & category pages
This can help highlight the flash sale section more.
That way you won’t just have shoppers who already know about this, but also new customers who’re exploring the site.
Optimize this section aligned with keywords being searched on Google
Let’s say, a customer who is looking for a flash sale in the category you operate in, will be shown this section as a result.
eCommerce brand Shein, for example, has such a section permanently logged against “SALE” under the primary navigation.
9. Use a mini flash sale format to gather learnings
This is especially helpful if you have your eyes set on a multi-day window for your next flash sale.
But what’s the guarantee it’ll work just because you’re doing it, let’s say, around the peak holiday season?
One way we’ve seen businesses gather a firmer foothold into materializing a multi-day flash sale is by running a multi-hour one first.
You can gather real-time evidence from this exercise.
Data will reveal which categories shoppers are focusing on more
You’ll get an understanding of which products are making it successfully to checkout and for those shoppers who aren’t buying anything––if there are repeated searches on products/categories that the sale does not cover.
For example, if you’re a beauty brand and you find more shoppers focusing on makeup instead of skincare, take that as a pattern.
For better assessment, consider the context in which you ran the flash sale––for example, it was right before holiday season, more shoppers reaching out for a great makeup deal makes complete sense.
Find out popular search terms that were not covered by the categories included in the sale
This could mean you may have thrown up close recommendations but shoppers may not have found them important enough to add-to-cart.
This can offer you deeper learning on what to include in your next flash sale and which products to additionally include based on terms that were searched (especially if your categories don’t offer close matches in terms of products).
Assess if the time you chose worked for the sale or not
This would include the window you chose for the sale to last––be it multi-hour or multi-day.
Also, assess if the time of day worked – if it worked, then it must have aligned with the living/working habits of your target audience, and if it didn’t, you may have changes to make for your next flash sale.
10. Craft your flash sale strategy according to your goal
What products you’ll be bringing on the line for the sale, what window you’ll set for it and how much discount you’ll offer will depend on one thing: the primary goal behind the flash sale.
For example, if your motivation is to reignite interest in an existing line of products (which has ample competition), the strategy would need to differ from a flash sale you’d announce on a new line of products.
Here are some questions you may want to ask to assess the primary goal:
Are you trying to build stability across your product inventory?
Bringing low converting products to the flash sale mix is one of the ways to stabilize your product inventory, for example.
Is your intent to attract new customers to your store?
Promoting products that are already well-loved by existing customers––considering how important social proof is for online purchases––may be a good idea.
Are you motivated to improve CLV?
Announce a flash sale but run it in a gated way––where you lay down certain terms and conditions for existing customers to qualify for it, or better still, send out personalized communication to this segmented group.
Are you trying to leverage the holiday buying rush?
Announce a tiered flash sale, where buying more products would automatically mean a larger discount and this would also meet your ongoing goal of increasing AOV.
5 amazing flash sale examples
1. Vanity Wagon
Why it works: It weaves in the sale along with a brand highlight––the founder’s birthday.
So whether loyal customers access it or new ones do, it’s a way for the brand to build a deeper connection.
Takeaway: A flash sale can be the means to an end––greater brand awareness in the long term.
Why it works: The layout is simple, which makes space for all the important information.
Additionally, it nudges shoppers to engage with the flash sale emails that have been sent to them.
In a nuanced way, the brand is making shoppers open their emails and acclimatizing them to communication from their side.
Takeaway: Use a flash sale to re-engage customers with brand emails––it will likely make them open your emails in the future too!
3. Urban Outfitters
Why it works: No one minds paying only half the price of any product.
And the fact that the brand brings attention to “hundreds of styles” also makes for an effective hook.
Takeaway: Figure what’s your audience’s prime motivation (in the above example, to experience more choices around fashion) and then use it as a hook in your flash sale creative.
Why it works: It’s a bold creative that keeps the words and imagery super simple, but packs a functional punch with the CTA that cites the lowest price shoppers will be able to enjoy if they went shopping at the sale.
Takeaway: Leverage the CTA to increase the motivation to buy (if you can highlights benefit like the lowest price, then nothing like it).
Why it works: The super limited, specific time flash sale is meant to attract those who are seriously looking for a good deal––the after hours edge means shoppers are not encumbered with work, social interactions and other preoccupations and can fully focus on shopping.
Takeaway: Make the most of the hours you’ve seen your audiences buy from you––for example, if it has been in the afternoon, consider holding a multi-hour flash sale within that window.
5 best practices to make your flash sale successful
1. Capture your competition’s social media audiences
This has been seen to work well because most people use social media , and targeting your competition’s audiences can pique their interest at the right moment.
2. Time them well––the shorter the better
When the task at hand is urgent, humans are known to act faster.
Maybe that’s why 2-hour flash sales are known to show a 14% better email open rate than others.
Additionally, check your analytics to find out at what time of the day shoppers have been making purchases, browsing, adding items to cart etc.
3. Highlight free shipping
It’s great if you do your math and figure out you can offer free shipping during the flash sale––but what’s more workable is to highlight free shipping on the condition of a purchase threshold.
So saying something like, “when you buy $50 worth of goodies, free shipping is all yours.”
4. Choose a time window based on inventory
This is because the last thing you want is shoppers becoming disgruntled about products being unavailable after they’ve ordered them.
If you have lesser inventory, run the sale only for a few hours.
5. Use analytics to figure which products to include in your sale
Look at data to see which of your competitor’s products aren’t doing well––if you have parallels, this is the time to make the sale around those products to have those audiences engage with your brand.
Also check on product keyword search volumes to determine what is being searched more etc.
People also ask:
1. Why is it called a flash sale?
The limited time factor of this kind of sale, lends the name.
It’s a window where deep discounts are offered, but which is literally gone in a flash.
Flash sales draw their strength from the psychological principle of impulse buying––where shoppers decide on a purchase suddenly without forethought.
And because a flash sale points toward a deep discount and a short period of time, it’s easier to drive an immediate impulse of buying.
2. How long does a flash sale last?
A flash sale can last anywhere from a few hours (2 to 3 hours) to up to 3 or 4 days.
How long a flash sale is largely depends on the goal of the business hosting it––if it’s to reduce the load of inventory, the sale is usually shorter (from just a few hours up to 24 hours), flanked by a deep discount.
But if it is to drive brand awareness and deeper engagement, it can last up to 2 or 3 days.
3. How can I start a flash sale?
Before you think of setting a flash sale in motion, you’ll have to ensure the following ground is covered:
- The right duration of the sale (based on what time of the day and year you’re doing it, who your primary audience is etc.)
- A measurable goal for the sale (could be x number of products sold from old inventory, attracting x number of new customers etc.)
- A list of products the discount is to be applied on (which category will you focus on? Will it be a new limited edition product line? These are some questions to ask)
- A check on inventory & fulfillment options (it’s easy to go wrong with a flash sale if you don’t know how much demand you can meet in real-time)
- Create a marketing strategy around the sale (this includes communication on your eCommerce website, sending out emails & notifications to regular & potential customers etc.)
4. Is flash sale a good idea?
The idea of a flash sale picked up in eCommerce because businesses saw customers actually acting on the urgency put forth by the sale.
For example, research has proven that 50% of the sales within a flash sale format happens within the first hour itself.
On average, this format also seems to work for many eCommerce businesses, because it lifts transaction rates by 35%.
Been wanting your flash sales to systematically perform better?
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Even if the brand is declaring an unforgettable flash sale offer.
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