How online sellers can cash in on flash sales

How online sellers can cash in on flash sales 

Everyone loves a bargain, but flash sales can bring great risk as well as great reward, so how can you benefit as an online seller?

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As the increasing popularity of 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. Flash sales can mean huge increases in sales or hefty cuts into your margins; a way to shift excess inventory or fulfilment delays and disgruntled customers.

To help see if you can use flash discounts to generate hype and new customers for your online selling business, we regroup on the basics and cover some top tips, too. 

What is a flash sale? 

A flash sale is when an online seller offers an attractive discount for a short time. This can be for as little as a day or for a few days, for example around Black Friday. As the sale is for such a brief period, the flash discount is often better than during an online seller’s regular promotions. They also often revolve around a restricted number of items with limited stock availability.

Don’t underestimate demand

If your flash sale offers attention-grabbing discounts then the danger is you’ll sell so much you’ll struggle to fulfil all those orders. While an exceptionally popular offer can generate significant revenue, you can damage your brand and lose customers if your sales volume results in long wait times for the product to be shipped.

When setting your flash discount, make sure you’re balancing the attractiveness of the offer with the ability to fulfil a large number of orders in a short space of time. Do you have the inventory and shipping capacity if you sold out in a day? Flash sales can do real harm to buyer sentiment if a haphazard sale campaign is accompanied by poorly executed fulfilment.

…But don’t overestimate demand either

Make sure you’re basing demand on data-driven evidence. Look at your sales from the past year and beyond to see what has and hasn’t proven popular. It’s worth reviewing a data set wide enough to take into account any dips or spikes due to Covid lockdowns that altered buyer behaviour. For example, clothing sales dropped to a 23-year low during the initial months of the UK's first lockdown, but loungewear sales went up.

It’s worth looking at data from your competitors, too, to see which of their products have been in demand. You can then use this evidence to manage your inventory and ensure you’re not ordering products that are unlikely to sell during your flash sale.

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Repeat sales to build a base and offload

You can use flash discounts to generate recurring revenue and grow your customer base. Instead of a ‘one-and-done’ price-slashing exercise, several flash sales during the year can be a useful mechanism to publicise your marketplace stores and move excess inventory.

In terms of timing these online sales, rather than being sucked into the hype of the biggest shopping events and having your carefully curated deals drowned out by the noise 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 compared to regular pricing and make a more informed decision as to whether flash sales work for your business.

Try different marketplace sales

If you’re trialling flash sales, as well as experimenting with when you hold them it could also be worth trying them on different marketplaces. As an international Amazon seller, for example, you might find that different inventory flies in the UK compared to the US. Or if you branch out from Amazon you might find you can shift underperforming stock on a different marketplace. Some marketplaces revolve around short-term deals. Take, for example, Tophatter, whose quick-fire auction-based US marketplace has users bid on low-value items 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. Third-party sellers can list quick-fire deals alongside Amazon themselves and they’re a good way to increase visibility of certain products, whilst also potentially driving discovery of your similar or complementary full-priced products. Just make sure you plan the volumes, the SKUs and how to 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.  

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Jason Kaye
Experience: 10 years writing within the e-commerce, finance and tech landscapes
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