As Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Singles Day and Amazon’s own Prime Day have shown, no matter where your online customers are based, it’s likely a significant portion of them love a bargain. Much is made by the press of great deals customers are getting and the ever-increasing gross sales revenue that is generated each year, but are ‘flash sales’ really a viable way to grow your online audience and customer base?
The difficulty many online retailers have with short-lived discounting is in maintaining the integrity of their brand (either in terms of product lines or the actual ‘brand’ of the webstore itself). Flash sales seldom attract much more than bargain hunters so it’s an uphill battle to generate loyal customers off the back of them. Furthermore, they can do real harm to buyer sentiment, particularly if a haphazard sale campaign is accompanied by poorly executed fulfilment.
A real-life example from my experience comes from a seller on a ‘daily deals’ website offering heavily discounted, previous year model Apple MacBooks. Unsurprisingly to everyone except the seller himself, the offer was exceptionally popular, selling out in a matter of hours. Due to underestimating demand, he then struggled to fulfil the sheer volume of orders he’d accepted, resulting in wait times of up to two months. Needless to say, the customers weren’t exactly clamouring over each other to order more products from his store during the prolonged wait for their MacBooks.
With such a heavily-signposted downside, how can flash sales be a success, then? Well, if they’re utilised to generate recurring revenue, growing the comfort of your customer base, rather than as a ‘one-and-done’ price-slashing exercise, they can be a useful mechanism to publicise your ecommerce website and move excess inventory. Rather than being sucked into the hype of the biggest shopping events and having your carefully-curated deals drowned out by the noise of every single one of your competitors, trialling regular short-term sales during slower months may be the most prudent approach. Then, you’ll be able to gauge the uplift versus regular pricing and make a more informed decision as to whether the format works for your business.
Unfortunately, regardless of how well executed some deals sites are and the great value they offer, there has been a real saturation of this space. Following the launch of Woot in 2004 and the IPO of Groupon in 2011, there has been a deluge of over 500 ‘me-too’ daily deals sites (including those from many established ecommerce players). Customers who once valued the novelty of time-limited deal are now finding their initial enthusiasm weighed down by the sheer number of promotional emails unopened in their inboxes. What was once a call to action for flash sales has become a shambolic un-curated assortment of ‘READ ME – 70% off today only’-style subject lines, consigned to a junk email folder for the rest of time. The proof is in the numbers: whilst flash sales generate a 35% increase in transaction rates, emails with offers in the subject line achieve a lift of less than half that (16%).[i]
If you’ve concluded that flash sales will add value to your customer proposition, there is an opportunity for the brave and the bold, either through your own website or by using some of the more novel takes on the format. Take for example Tophatter, whose quick-fire auction-based US marketplace has users bid on low-value item auctions that are only available for seconds. It certainly scratches that primal itch for bargain-hunters and the rapidly replenishing line-up of products is an interesting way to create urgency during the shopping experience!
Looking at more conventional online marketplaces, Amazon’s ‘Lightning Deals’ have been a resounding success for the company and often for the sellers who participate. Introduced during Black Friday’s nascent online years, they’ve become a regular fixture and a part of the marketplace where third-party sellers can list quick-fire deals alongside Amazon themselves, accompanied with the fanfare and marketing clout that they leverage so well. It’s one of Amazon’s most visited pages and can be a good way to increase visibility of certain products, whilst also potentially driving discovery of similar or complementary full priced products that you sell. Just make sure you plan the volumes, the SKUs and know how you’ll fulfil orders quickly enough to meet expectations.
Hopefully these tips will help your flash sales go off with a bang while your storefront remains well-visited by loyal customers long after any sales end. If those customers are based overseas and you’re listing on international marketplaces, you may be able to improve your margins even further on lightning deals or flash sales by using World First to bring sales proceeds back home.