· 15 min read

What is a Flash Sale? A Guide on How & When to Run One

Welcome to our detailed guide on flash sales for ecommerce. We'll take a look at how these quick deals can increase your sales and engage customers. 

This guide is perfect for both newcomers and experienced players in ecommerce. Let's get started on maximizing your sales through flash sales.

A cover image with the text "What is a Flash Sale? A Guide on How & When to Run One" and a light yellow background.

What Are Flash Sales?

Flash sales are discounts or promotions offered by an ecommerce store for a limited, very short period of time, usually a few hours or 1 day. As its name suggests, these types of sales campaigns are gone in a flash. 🏃‍♂️

The primary purposes behind the flash sales strategy are to trigger consumer impulse to buy, boost short-term sales, and sell a massive number of products in a few hours.

For the same reason, though, you must be well-prepared because you will be receiving a large volume of orders in the coming hours. So, in the following sections, we will provide guidance on effectively strategizing for your flash sale.

What is the Difference Between a Sale and a Flash Sale?

The main differences between sales and flash sales are the length of the campaign, the size of the discount given, and whether the campaign is announced in advance.

▶️ A sale is when a store lowers the prices of some items for a while. It could be a few days, a week, or even longer. The idea is to make people want to buy stuff because it's cheaper than usual. Sales happen all the time, like end-of-season or holiday sales, and are usually announced in advance.

▶️ A flash sale, on the other hand, is like a super speedy sale. It's when a store drops prices really low, but only for a very short time—just a few hours or a day. They pop up suddenly; before you know it, they're gone! 

Types of Flash Sales

Flash sales are quick, timed sales with heavy discounts. They're used to selling products and making customers buy fast. 

Here's an easy look at different types:

  • Time-Limited Sales: These fast deals only last a few hours or a day. 
  • Quantity-Limited Sales: The sale ends when the stock does. 
  • Daily Deals: These 24-hour offers discount some products for one day. 
  • Seasonal and Holiday Sales: These sales focus on special times like Christmas or Black Friday. It's a smart way to sell more when people are ready to shop.
  • BOGO Flash Sale: Buy one and get it for free or cheap, but only for a short time! You can create BOGO popups to improve your sales.
  • Lightning Deals: These are really quick deals, perfect for selling a lot in a short time. Amazon is famous for doing this.
  • Mystery Sales: A fun sale where the deal is a surprise until the end. The mystery can make customers excited and curious. 

Remember, a good flash sale makes customers act fast and feel good about what they're buying.

When to Run a Flash Sale Campaign?

There is no fixed best time to run a flash sale campaign. So, what’s the best time to run a flash sale? Some of the best times to flash out a flash sale and get your bottom line growing are:

A meme about flash sale.

1. Off-Peak Seasons or Slow Days

To prevent low-sales periods, consider offering flash deals during off-peak hours. Analyze your sales data to find patterns or days when sales are down. For many shops, mid-week days such as Tuesday or Wednesday can be slow, making them ideal for a flash sale to increase interest and revenue.

2. Before & During Holiday and Special Events

Leveraging holidays and special events (e.g., Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Valentine’s Day) can be extremely effective. These are times when consumers are already in a buying mindset, looking for deals. For non-traditional holidays or lesser-known days (e.g., National Pet Day), a flash sale can stand out and attract specific customer segments.

3. End of Seasons

Flash sales at the end of a season (e.g., end of winter to clear out winter gear) can effectively clear out seasonal inventory.

4. Inventory Clearance

When you have extra stock or outdated products, a flash sale can help you clear all that rapidly. This is especially useful for products that are reaching the end of their lifespan.

5. Milestones

Think about offering flash deals around store milestones (for example, your ecommerce store's anniversary or hitting a certain amount of subscribers or followers). 

6. Pre-Launch Teasers

Before introducing a new product or collection, a flash sale on existing products may attract interest and clear out old inventory to make room for new things.

7. Optimal Hours to Flash Sales

  • Lunch Hours (11 AM - 2 PM): Many people browse online during their lunch break, making it a good time for flash sales.
  • Evening Peak (6 PM - 9 PM): People are often online after work, making this an optimal time to capture their attention.
  • Late Night (9 PM - Midnight): Late-night flash sales can be effective for certain demographics, especially younger consumers or night owls.

How Long Does a Flash Sale Last?

The shorter a flash sale, the better the results will be. Using urgency triggers consumers to make buying decisions more quickly. Long story short, flash sales work for many businesses, and data backs it.

Research shows that:

  • 56% of businesses receive higher click-to-open rates from flash sales emails than their yearly rate.
  • 50% of purchases occur during the first hour of a flash sale.
  • 3-hour flash sales generate the highest transaction rates at 14%

Flash Sales: Pros and Cons

Flash deals can prove lucrative for some companies, while it may also result in money and reputation loss for others. However, chances of reaping top-line and bottom-line growth are higher if you are prepared well.

I recommend considering the pros and cons of a flash sale to set realistic goals.

pros and cons of a flash sale

Pros of a Flash Sale Campaign

Many e-commerce companies rely on flash sales to improve brand awareness and sales. In fact, they may prove more beneficial to your business’s growth than you might think.

✅ Boost brand visibility: Flash sales trigger urgency in customers and instantly convert visitors into buyers. That goes for social media, as well. Online shoppers who see your irresistible offers and consequently become your customers often share them with their friends or colleagues on social media—all the more for brand awareness.

✅Improve revenue: Online consumers tend to buy fast and place larger orders during a limited-time sale than usual.

✅Grow the number of loyal customers: Flash sales offer better deals than regular sales, making them an excellent way to increase customer loyalty. You may think as a reward for your existing customers—these sales will enable them to buy your products at a lower cost. Ultimately, if they like your products, they’ll buy more in the future.

✅Unload excess inventory:  A flash sale is a great way to sell items that don't sell much anymore. By lowering the price, you can clear out space and make money instead of letting items just sit around. This can be really handy for seasonal or special items.

Cons of a Flash Sale Campaign

Making a flash sale occasionally may benefit you from the above-mentioned advantages. However, it is wiser to consider that there is a flip side to the coin. Hopefully, it never flips, but if it does, here are examples of what could happen:

❌ Shipping fail: Flash sale seasons are the busiest time for ecommerce stores. Even though it sounds like a superb opportunity, there are many businesses that run into shipping failure due to the excessive number of orders.

Consequently, shipping failure reduces customer experience and brand reputation.

It’s very common for flash deal customers to complain about waiting several weeks to receive their delivery. Therefore, you need to monitor customer perception before and during the sales and after an order takes place.

  • 61% of online shoppers want their items delivered within 3 hours of making an online purchase, while 80% of consumers want same-day shipping.
  • Additionally, 17% of online buyers say they will abandon a brand due to shipping delays. (Easyship)

The best practice to stand out among competitors and increase customer satisfaction would be to offer free shipping and guarantee your shipping plan. Free shipping will increase your AOV (average order value).

❌ Website fail: Even large companies encounter website crashes during a flash sale. If your business model heavily relies on flash sales, consider:

  • Load testing
  • Extra server capacity
  • The ability to scale on demand
  • Load testing your e-commerce platform, apps, and third-party tools that rely on API calls

❌ Inventory fail: From the consumer perspective, not getting the product you hoped to buy can be disappointing. To prevent inventory failure:

  • Research demand and prepare your supply chain to meet the demand
  • Add inventory quantities to your product pages
  • Make sure to have adequate buffer stock levels to protect from oversells

How to Run a Flash Sale Campaign: 7 Strategies to Double Your Sales

1. Use Popups to Attract More Customers

The most crucial part about marketing a flash sale is letting many people know about it.

The easiest and most effective way to do that? Use promotional popups to announce your campaign and direct visitors to the flash sale page!

Use a popup builder tool like Popupsmart to target the right visitors at the right time and keep converting with an eye-catching popup.

Here’s an example flash sale popup made with ❤️using Popupsmart:

Flash sale popup example from Popupsmart

You can use countdown timers like the example popup above to nudge more visitors into buying. Triggering urgency with expressions like “limited stocks, limited time, hurry, and last-minute” is also a tried and tested tactic.

🌟 Note: Avoid showing the flash sale popup to customers who've already bought the discounted item; it might frustrate them to see a new, lower price. 

2. Email Blast to Your Subscriber List

Ready your email campaign and aim it at your subscriber list. Accentuate your flash sale's top deals and incorporate straightforward call-to-action tabs that direct right to the sale items. 

Email personalization can increase relatedness and engagement, so consider customizing emails according to user segments like previous purchases and browsing history. 

You can utilize FOMO subject lines to increase your open rates.

Take a look at this example of an engaging flash deal email from Eight Sleep:

Eight Sleep's flash sale email example.

3. Keep Your Flash Sales Short and Sweet

The shorter a flash sale, the better. It’s a flash sale, not a months-long regular thing. It should be less than 24 hours. If not, is it even a flash?

Though some brands have flash deals that last days, research suggests a shorter period is more successful. 2 to 3-hour-long flash sales usually drive better results for most companies.

Moreover, I can’t stress this enough: Make your flash sales urgent.

FOMO is a powerful initiator of fast buying decisions.

4. Design Your Homepage

For a successful homepage takeover during your flash sale, start with a prominent popup banner that announces the sale and features a countdown timer to create urgency. 

Highlight key sale items directly on the homepage to engage visitors immediately. Ensure the responsive landing page design for mobile users and that your site is optimized to handle increased traffic without slowing down. 

This approach keeps your flash sale front and center, making it easy for customers to browse and buy.

Here is an example of a Walmart flash sale page:

Walmart flash sale landing page example.

5. Select The Right Products for a Successful Sale

If you are a retailer with thousands of items that are not selling as fast as you’d like, then you should spend a notable amount of time and effort identifying which products to sell in a flash sale. To do that,

  • Use Google Keyword Planner to see search volumes.
  • Take advantage of keyword research tools like SEMrush to find out which products your competitors focus on and get ahead.
  • Look for negative reviews your competitor’s customers left and use them in your sales ad.

5. Highlight The Difference From Regular Sales

Why should your customers buy now and not when there’s another regular sale? What do they get out of it?

It’s always more practical and fruitful to highlight the benefits and differences of a flash sale. Whether it’s a bigger discount or limited stocks, make sure to market your way up to the top.

6. Do Stock and Logistics Preparation

Before launching your flash sale, ensure your inventory and logistics are ready to handle the rush. Here’s how:

  • Forecast Demand: Use past sales data, especially from previous flash sales, to estimate how much of each product you might sell. This helps avoid selling out too quickly or being left with excess stock.
  • Coordinate with Suppliers: Make sure your suppliers are on the same page about potential increases in orders to keep up with your inventory needs during the sale.
  • Optimize Warehouse Operations: Organize your warehouse for efficiency. Ensure best-selling items are easily accessible, and consider extra staffing or shifts to handle increased order volumes.
  • Ensure Smooth Fulfillment: Whether it’s picking, packing, or shipping, every step should be as efficient as possible to keep up with the pace of orders.

7. Send Post-Sale Follow-Up Messages

After the sale, send a “thank-you for your order” message to purchasers with suggestions for complementary products based on their purchases. Consider including a feedback survey to gather insights for future sales.

Key Takeaways for Successful Flash Sales

  1. Check your stock before you start a flash sale.
  2. Get ready for an immense number of deliveries and orders.
  3. Limit the time of your flash sale.
  4. Promote it well to reap better results.
  5. Use popups to convert passive site visitors.
  6. Choose the right products and services.

‍Wrap Up

Flash sales are a great strategy for ecommerce, offering a unique opportunity to boost sales, clear inventory, and enhance brand visibility in a very short time frame. It's crucial to meticulously plan and execute these sales, paying attention to product selection, website readiness, and customer experience. 

While flash sales come with challenges, such as potential shipping delays or website issues, careful preparation can mitigate these risks. Remember, the essence of a successful flash sale lies in creating an urgent, compelling buying opportunity that benefits both the business and its customers. 

Keep these insights in mind as you plan your next flash sale, aiming for not just immediate gains but also long-term customer loyalty and brand growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Another Name for a Flash Sale?

While 'flash sale' is a widely recognized term, these flash sale events are also known as 'lightning sales', 'daily deals' or 'limited time offers'. Each term aims to convey a sense of urgency and exclusivity that underlines the sale's quick and temporary nature, encouraging the consumer's quick action.

2. How Can Ecommerce Stores Prepare for the Surge in Demand During Flash Sales?

Getting ready for flash sales on ecommerce sites means a few things need to happen. First, stores must have enough stuff to sell so they don't run out too quickly. This means buying more from suppliers based on past sales.

The website needs to be ready to handle lots of people shopping simultaneously without slowing down or crashing. This might mean spending more on web hosting to handle all these people.

Stores should also consider how they'll handle returns since there will likely be more. Also, stores must plan how to pack and send all the extra things people buy.

Finally, during the sale, stores should monitor their website to fix issues like payment problems or missing pages. Testing everything before the sale is also smart.

3. Are the Flash Sales Worth It?

Absolutely, flash sales can be immensely worthwhile for businesses. These limited-time events offer a strategic opportunity to drive immediate sales and achieve specific objectives. By creating a sense of urgency among customers, flash sales can swiftly boost sales volumes, clear excess inventory, and even attract new customers. 

However, businesses must strategically plan and execute flash sales to maximize their effectiveness, ensuring seamless logistics, effective promotion, and exceptional customer service throughout the event. By leveraging flash sales as part of a comprehensive marketing and sales strategy, businesses can generate significant revenue growth and enhance customer engagement.

Further Reading