How To Run a Successful Flash Sale (With Examples From 7 Top Brands)

February 14, 2022
by
Kaitlyn Ambrose

How To Run a Successful Flash Sale (With Examples From 7 Top Brands)

February 14, 2022
by
Kaitlyn Ambrose
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Scaling brands are always looking for ways to engage new customers and build awareness. Flash sales are a  great way to do both while you make room for new inventory, build your email list, and more. 

These sales may be short and sweet, but there’s a right way to approach them so you can see the results you want. 

If you’ve tried flash sales in the past but haven’t had success, this post is for you. 

Here’s what we’ll cover today:

First on deck: What is a flash sale?

A flash sale is when an ecommerce brand offers a discount—either on certain products or site-wide—for a limited time to encourage impulse buying, increase short-term sales, and move old inventory (or all three). 

But what makes a flash sale different from other sales

Typically, a flash sale offers a big discount—like this example from furniture brand, All Modern—that is almost too good to be true (or too good to ignore) for a short period of time. 

A flash sale email from AllModern
(Image Source)


The idea is to encourage customers to act fast before inventory or time (or both!) runs out. 

For customers who can’t turn down a great deal, flash sales are a lucrative way to boost your bottom line. In fact, almost two-thirds of shoppers made purchases through social media without having planned to do so as of October 2021. 

#cta-visual-fe#<cta-title>Got advanced content management needs?<cta-title>Making site-wide catalog changes for a short-term campaign is easy with an all-in-one Frontend Platform. Learn more

The benefits of running a flash sale

Why do successful multi-channel brands run flash sales? Let’s look at the biggest benefits behind these short-term, conversion-driving promotions:

Sell old inventory

Something that’s not good for business? Old inventory. As of July 2020, US manufacturers and retailers had $1.33 of inventory for every $1 in sales. 

Clearing the digital cobwebs of tired inventory isn’t always easy, but that’s where flash sales can help. Making old products part of your flash sale (at a steep discount) is a great way to get that inventory out the door. 

A flash sale email from Wayfair
This flash sale email from Wayfair includes several product categories with items on major discount. (Image Source)

Attract new customers 

A flash sale is a great way for brand new customers to try your product—like those who haven’t had access to your price point before, or have maybe only been subscribers to your email deals to date. 

On that, it’s important to think about what happens after the dust of the flash sale ends. How will you nurture these new customers? What will you do to introduce them to your brand even further? (We’ll jump into more of this later). 

Increase customer loyalty

An excellent way to increase repeat customers and brand fans—aside from great products and customer service—is to stay top-of-mind. 

By running a flash sale, you encourage customers to keep a pulse on your brand whether it be on social media, email, or another channel so they don’t miss out on your owned-channel activities and incentives. 

When should you run a flash sale?

Brands’ motivations for running flash sales are strong but when is the ideal time to run them? And how long should it last? 

Let’s start with when you should run one. 

One of the great things about flash sales is that you can run them whenever you want—like if you need to make room for new products or if you want to spike sales. 

  • Some brands run flash sales at the end of the year or right before or after the busy holiday season. 
  • Other brands run them every few months to keep customers on their toes. 

With a short-term sale like this, you aren’t limited to one purpose or goal. Your first flash sale could have a different intent than your second. 

However, it’s important to not run them so frequently. Recurring flash sales may cause loyal customers to become skeptical—especially if they paid full price for an item included in a flash sale days later. The last thing you want is for customers to only shop your flash sales. It’s best to keep the cadence unpredictable.

When thinking about how long you should run a flash sale, remember, these are meant to be short-lived. A few days is all you need. 

For example, Abercrombie ran an online-only flash sale for just two days:

A flash sale email from Abercrombie & Fitch
(Image Source)

 

By limiting the sale to the brand’s online store for two days, they not only created a sense of urgency but lowered the barrier of entry (customers didn’t have to rush to the physical store to benefit from the sale).  

How to run a flash sale

Even though flash sales are short-term, set yourself up for success with a plan. Let’s look at how to run a successful flash sale from start to finish.

First, define your goal

Your reason for running a flash sale will determine how best to plan for success—like which products to include, how you should advertise the sale, and more. 

Here are a few questions to get your creative gears turning:

  • What do hope to accomplish with the flash sale?
  • What needs to happen for it to be considered a success?
  • What will a flash sale help your brand achieve?

Once you’ve defined your flash sale goal, you can figure out which products to feature and how long the sale should last.

Next, pick your products

The size of your catalog will play a role in which products you decide to include in the flash sale. For example, if you have a smaller catalog, choosing products to feature might not be as complicated as if, say, you had 1,000+ products. 

How you choose products should link back to your goal. For example:

  • If you want to clear inventory: Identify old products that you want to clear based on search volume or low page clicks. If some products have been especially tough to sell, consider bundling certain items for added value.

  • If you want to attract new customers: Look at your best-selling items and offer a special sale to customers who have yet to convert.

  • If you want to appeal to existing customers: Segment customers who have shown interest in certain products and include those in the sale. 

A flash sale is a great opportunity to introduce customers to other products in your catalog. 

#cta-paragraph-fe#Pro tip: If your flash sale will feature best-selling products, be sure to exclude the customers who have already purchased those products at full price. 


Finally, plan the logistics

Once you’ve figured out your goal and products, decide how long the flash sale promotion should last. 

For example, if your goal is to attract customers who haven’t made a purchase in six months, you could run an exclusive two-day flash sale for only this segment. 

Experiment with different timeframes (e.g., 24 hours vs. 72 hours) to see what works best for your brand. 

Promote your time-sensitive offer

Like other sales and marketing efforts, DTC brands see great success when partnering with the right influencers. Influencers not only offer a unique perspective on how to best promote a campaign, but they also give your brand access to a niche audience you might otherwise not access. 

If exclusivity is your angle, a flash sale advertised solely with Instagram influencers, for example, can up the ante. Only those following the influencer partners will know of the sale, which adds a layer of exclusiveness. It’s a win for your brand, the influencers you include, and their audience. 

#cta-paragraph-fe#Pro Tip: Building a strong ecommerce fulfillment system is mission-critical for any fast-growing brand, so make sure you’re ready for an uptick in this department ahead of the flash sale.


Create a post-flash sale nurture plan for new customers

Having a post-flash sale plan is just as important as planning the sale itself. 

Segment these customers and continue to engage with them long after the sale ends. 

For example, you could send customers who purchased a follow-up asking them if they’d like to opt-in to receive SMS messages from your brand (and be on the short-list for future flash sales!). Then, you can begin nurturing those new customers who choose to receive comms from you. 

Identify your key metrics

To gauge the success of your flash sale, here are a few KPIs to keep an eye on: 

  • # of sales during the promotion period: A quick way to see the success of your flash sale is to view the number of sales you did during the flash sale. Take note of how this differs from previous sales you’ve run (e.g., are you seeing significantly more conversions or relatively the same amount?) and identify trends.

  • Average order value: With the big discounts flash sales offer, it’s likely you’ll see an increase in average order value, especially if customers are bundling products.

  • Most viewed products/pages: Take note of the pages that were viewed most frequently in correlation with the number of sales and AOV. You can experiment with including these pages in future sales.

  • # of new vs. old customers: Depending on your goal and how you set up your flash sale, tracking the customer type (new and old) could be relevant to gauging success.

  • Cart abandonment rate: Did customers flock to your site out of excitement, add items to their cart, but bail before purchasing? Cart abandonment rate gives you an inside look at customer behavior and what to experiment with next time.

  • Email list growth rate: If a goal of your flash sale was to grow your email list (a la new customers or folks who have purchased using a guest account), this will be key to look back on. 

Make sure your site is equipped for a flash sale

Getting creative with your flash sales lets you experiment with how you reach customers—and learn how best to engage your audience. 

Scaling ecommerce brands with advanced content management challenges need an ecommerce store with a flexible frontend. This allows you to make changes to everything your customers see, fast. 

More brands are choosing to take control of the presentation layer of their site with an all-in-one frontend platform. 

The separated frontend and backend offered with a unified platform means you can update the customer-facing side of your ecommerce store, without worrying about updates to the back-office functionality. In other words, your site’s ecommerce functions—checkout, cart, fulfillment, etc.—go uninterrupted no matter how you change the frontend. 

#cta-visual-fe#<cta-title>Have your cake and eat it, too.<cta-title>Check out the brands who have taken creative control over their ecommerce site without slowdowns. See examples


7 Examples of flash sales in ecommerce

Email flash sales

National Geographic

National Geographic has been a longstanding resource for education, discovery, and adventure for all things outdoors.  

A Black Friday sale extension email from National Geographic
(Image Source)


This sale piggybacks their Black Friday sale and offers substantial discounts—including a callout for their discounted GENO 2.0 DNA Kit. This strategic move ensures the brand reaches customers who didn’t shop the Black Friday sale or who might still be shopping for gifts. 

MeUndies

This flash sale email from undergarment brand, MeUndies, is a great example of how to keep the details of a sale short and simple. 

A MeUndies flash sale email
(Image Source)


The gif makes it clear to customers what the intent of the email is, and the supporting copy explains how they only have 48 hours to save 20% on everything. However, the sale is only available to new customers, which can be seen in the fine print below the button. 

Rugs USA

Rug retailer, Rugs USA, combines clarity and urgency in this flash sale email. 

A flash sale email from Rugs USA


The retailer includes a button under the “Flash Sale!” text, making it easy for customers to start shopping. The countdown timer underneath the button, coupled with the clear “These deals end in” copy creates a level of urgency unique to flash sales. 

SMS flash sales

Oars + Alps

Natural skincare brand Oars + Alps takes a slightly different approach to this flash sale:

A promotional SMS message from Oars + Alps
(Image Source)


The brand offers customers who opt-in for SMS messages $5 off on their next order of $20 or more—but only by a certain date. Instead of discounting products, Oars and Alps gives customers an incentive to try their products at a lower price threshold. 

Natalie Borton

Minimalist jewelry brand, Natalie Borton, creates a sense of exclusivity for this flash sale by offering early access to customers signed up for text messages. 

A promotional SMS message from Natalie Borton
(Image Source)


Although they aren’t offering a sale, creating urgency for customers to shop ahead can be enough of an incentive for mega fans of the brand. 

Instagram flash sales

The Loom

This ad from the Indian clothing brand, The Loom, is a great example of promoting a flash sale on Instagram. Note also that they’re employing an extension of the original flash sale for those who haven’t purchased yet—a technique you can try too!

An Instagram post from The Loom promoting a flash sale
(Image Source)



The ad clearly states the discount and how long the sale lasts. Plus, the direct link to their shop makes it easy for scrolling shoppers to browse (and purchase). 

Love Your Melon

Love Your Melon is an apparel brand that gives 50% of their net profits to non-profit organizations fighting pediatric cancer. This particular sale ran after BFCM to appeal to customers still looking for holiday gifts.

An Instagram post from Love Your Melon promoting a holiday sale
(Image Source)


This promotion includes a video of some of the products shoppers can expect to find as part of the sale, which acts like a preview and creates excitement. 

Can your ecommerce site handle flash sale success?

Flash sales can be a powerful way to boost sales, build brand awareness, and keep customers coming back. However, site glitches and lags in page speed can shortchange your efforts to launch a successful sale. 

One way scaling brands ensure speed and performance (not just during sales) is with a decoupled frontend and backend. Teams can make changes to the frontend of the site without risking backend hiccups or breaks, giving ecommerce teams ultimate control over the customer experience. 

#cta-visual-fe#<cta-title>Get an ecommerce frontend that scales with you<cta-title>See how an all-in-one Frontend Platform can help your brand stay agile and efficient. Learn more

Kaitlyn Ambrose

Kaitlyn works on all things content at Shogun. ⚡