Flash sales are an ideal way to introduce new lines of merchandise, drive purchases in specific product categories, and reach new customers with opportunities to shop during the times when they’re most likely to make a purchase. And when done correctly, they’re proven to generate over 2X the conversion rates of standard promotional campaigns.
But a poorly-executed flash sale won’t merely result in a lack of sales, it could be the thing that loses a customer base. Having looked at the way that today’s top brands design and promote their flash sales, we’ve not only determined the best ways to promote a flash sale, but we’ve seen some of the worst as well Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly of flash sales:
GOOD: Promoting sales that align with your customer’s demonstrated preferences
After shopping with a women’s clothing retailer and abandoning a linen shirt in a shopping cart, we received a few campaigns promoting a flash sale site on linen items – one of these flash sale emails included an image of the shirt we had abandoned a short period ago. Not only was the brand mindful about which customers to target with this flash sale, they were able to personalize the campaign to speak to us as an individual based on the preferences we’d demonstrated through our behavior. This is one of the most effective ways to hold a successful flash sale and encourage customers to engage and purchase throughout the limited-time the campaign ran. Flash sale success!
BAD: Delivering repetitive campaigns promoting the same sale
Unfortunately, the vast majority of brands we’ve seen promoting flash sales do so with mind-numbing repetition – especially during the time frame of black friday and the holiday season, when retailers are eager to push our merchandise and capitalize on one of the most popular shopping times of the year. Reminding your customers that they have a limited time frame to take advantage of your flash sale is definitely important, but when brands inundate customers with continuous social media and flash sale emails, promoting the same exact sale, they cease to be relevant whether the customer has opened the emails or not. (Think about it: if your customer has opened your emails, eventually you’re telling them information they already know – if they haven’t opened them, they’re not interested.) This method is not going to increase your amount of new customers or existing customers.
UGLY: Promoting flash sale campaigns that directly contradict your customer’s preferences
We created an account with a sock retailer, and made sure to only interact with women’s socks over the course of our shopping journey – including the items we browsed, abandoned in shopping carts, and eventually purchased. But despite the rather one-note preferences we were demonstrating, the brand sent us several emails promoting a flash sale on kids’ socks, completely missing the target market. It’s critical for marketers to understand the dangers associated with sending messages that are unrelated to a customer’s interests, if they aren’t already – because it only takes one missed signal of intent or one irrelevant campaign to get inactive customers or worse, lose that customer forever. The fact that the brand was promoting a sale that we had no interest in was a huge turnoff.
TO-DO: Be both timely and relevant when promoting sales
The best way to design and promote a successful flash sale is to do so by creating extreme urgency – most flash sales are designed to be a limited period (just a few hours) and marketers need to be able to not only promote them in real-time for maximum relevance, they need to be able to do so in a way that honors each customer’s demonstrated interests. This means collecting and analyzing each shopper’s behavioral data to understand which flash sales campaign will most align with their unique preferences, and then using your email list to deliver sale items in as timely a way as possible – ideally announcing daily deals, free shipping, and other limited time offers several hours or days before the actual time of the flash sale of certain products.
One additional problem ecommerce marketers need to consider is the fact that it’s tricky to communicate in the kind of “real real-time” needed to advertise a flash sale that’s only for a short-term. Even the most well-timed email is subject to when a customer actually decides it is their right time to open it. A solution to this problem is web push, a great tool that’s not only critically important to creating urgency, but makes it possible to execute a highly-successful flash sale (especially when coordinated with email campaigns and with other channels like Facebook pages). To increase overall impact of the campaign, try starting off with an email or social media campaign in the days leading up to the sale, and then a web push message alerting customers day-of. (Zaius recommends scheduling a web push message to your flash sale audience five minutes before the flash sale is scheduled to begin.)