What is a Flash Sale? An Ultimate Guide

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Flash sales are a great way for ecommerce businesses to generate sales, target disengaged customers, and remove excess stock from their inventories. By offering deep discounts over a short period, online stores can create a real buzz and put new products on the map.

But what is a flash sale, and why have they become such a popular tactic?

That’s exactly what we’re going to go over in this article. We’ll also tackle the dos and don’ts of running a flash sale. 

By the end of this post, you’ll have all the info you need to launch your own flash sale strategy.

Let’s get right into it!

What is a flash sale?

Flash sales are time-limited sales events where products or services are offered at significantly reduced prices.

Flash sales are characterized by their brevity. They commonly range from a few hours to a few days, but it shouldn’t take longer than 72 hours.

This creates a sense of urgency and a sense of excitement among consumers that encourages impulse buying. 

Many flash sales are limited to a specific group of online shoppers instead of all shoppers. This limited segment could be email subscribers, users at a certain tier of a customer loyalty program, or new customers.

When should you run a flash sale?

The first part of any flash sale strategy is timing. Exactly when you launch a flash sale will make a huge difference to whether or not your offers manage to connect with potential customers. Ideally, you want a good reason for launching your sale.

Here are a few good reasons and times to run flash sales:

  1. During major shopping seasons: Holiday sales can help you take advantage of holiday excitement and shift seasonal or specialty products in the short term.
  2. To clear excess inventory: Flash sales can help you sell excess inventory quickly, so you should keep an eye on your inventory management software for opportunities.
  3. New product launches: Launch day sales can boost short-term sales of a new product, leading to improved customer perception and positive word of mouth about your new product.
  4. During low sales periods: Having an online sale during low volume periods can help attract online shoppers and boost your brand visibility.
  5. As a competitive strategy: You can also run a flash sale in response to what your competitors are doing, which can help keep existing customers on your side.
  6. To experiment with pricing: Flash sales are a great way to test out a new sales strategy over a short period, giving you valuable data about how alternative strategies convert.
  7. Flash sales for new subscribers: A flash sale email campaign can help increase customer loyalty among your new subscribers.

Why should you run a flash sale?

Here are the 4 main benefits you could see by running a flash sale.

1. Increase sales and revenue

Flash deal customers are often motivated by the fear of missing out on a great deal. Since a flash sale doesn’t last very long at all, customers feel pressure to buy now rather than later— waiting isn’t really an option.

Flash sales boost sales in the short term by pushing customers who’ve had their eye on your brand and products for some time, but haven’t had the motivation to make a purchase yet. 

The business model heavily relies on the desirability of your flash sale items, so make sure you don’t neglect your in-demand products during these sales.

2. Create buzz and excitement

Running a successful flash sale depends, in large part, on how successfully you can promote the event. You should promote your flash sales through social media marketing and to your email subscribers, generating a sense of excitement.

As more of your target market anticipates your flash sale, you’ll see more activity on your social media channels and more word-of-mouth marketing.

3. Clear excess inventory

For businesses with surplus inventory, flash sales offer an effective way to clear out stock quickly. An effective flash sale can result in a large volume of orders very quickly, which means you can free up inventory space.

Make sure that you’re marketing your flash sale products effectively by focusing on the value they can deliver to customers as well as their price. 

Also, you’ll want to ensure that you have adequate buffer stock levels before you start your flash sale in order to avoid running out halfway through.

4. Increase customer engagement and loyalty

In addition to boosting sales, short-term sales can also help build customer loyalty. When customers feel like they’re getting exclusive deals, they’re more likely to return to your store in the future.

Flash sales are also a great opportunity for inactive customers to get excited about your brand again. A good flash sale deal like free shipping or a significant discount can convince them to make an online purchase, even if they haven’t in a while.

Are flash sales worth it?

Before delving into how to run a flash sale effectively, it’s important to evaluate whether such sales are truly worth your investment.

You’ve seen the benefits already, but there are also some notable disadvantages to consider.

Let’s take a look at them:

  • Margin erosion: Steep discounts associated with flash sales can erode profit margins, particularly if not carefully managed or if the discounts are too deep.
  • Brand dilution: Frequent flash sales can cheapen a brand’s image and diminish its perceived value in the eyes of consumers.
  • Operational challenges: Planning and executing successful flash sales require significant resources and coordination across various departments, including marketing, sales, and inventory management.

One important thing to note is that you want to avoid running too many sales.

If your potential customers think that there are always flash deals available from your brand, flash sale fatigue can set in and you’ll experience diminishing returns.

You also might end up reducing the perceived value of your brand among your target market.

Managing flash sales is no easy task, but it’s worthwhile if done correctly. And you’ll be able to do that by following our best practices below.

16 best practices for a successful flash sale

Flash sales differ from conventional sales in several ways. Let’s take a look at 16 flash sale tips.

1. Promote your sale early

When you run flash sales, it’s important to create a real sense of excitement among your existing customers. Start promoting your upcoming flash sale at least a few days in advance by running flash sale ads and onsite messaging.

Obvi, an ecommerce business selling supplements, used a countdown timer to create a sense of excitement for their upcoming Black Friday sale while also building their list at the same time. 

Obvi flash sale example

2. Promote your products on exit intent

While you’re running your flash sale, you want to make sure that online shoppers stay on your site for as long as possible. To help you do this, you can promote your sale items at the exact moment that users are about to abandon your page using an exit-intent popup.

When used effectively, these campaigns can save an online sale by reactivating a customer who is about to bounce.

Here’s an example of an exit-intent popup from Indestructible Shoes:

flash sale popup example

Try out these popup templates if you’d like to reduce your bounce rate:

3. Personalized recommendations

Personalization can help you run a successful flash sale by ensuring that more customers find the products they’re interested in. 

Using a conversational popup (like the templates below) is a great way to include personalization in your flash sale. You can just ask your new customers what they’re interested in and then provide them with personalized product recommendations.

Taking this step will greatly reduce the amount of time it takes a new user to place their first order, meaning that you’ll lose less of your traffic to the frustration of a poor online shopping experience.

4. Keep the time period short

Flash sales work best when they’re short and sweet.

Ideally, a flash sale shouldn’t last longer than 24 or 48 hours. After all, it’s the short time period that encourages customers to make a purchase immediately rather than procrastinating.

A sticky bar like the one below, which remains on the user’s screen, can keep the ongoing sale and the looming deadline (and the FOMO) at the top of your visitors’ minds.

flash sale example

5. Choose the right flash sale products

Flash sales don’t always apply to every single item that an online store sells. You should choose which items to put on sale depending on your target audience.

If you’re trying to target new customers or one-time buyers, you should apply discounts to your most popular or best-selling items. 

On the other hand, a flash sale that’s targeted at loyal customers should be focused on products that complement your bestsellers (since these customers are likely already buying those products).

6. Segment your online shoppers

When it comes to promoting your flash sales, you should segment your potential customers into different groups in order to create tailored messaging.

For example, you can send personalized flash sale emails to loyal customers while targeting new visitors with a different approach.

In the example below, ColourPop is only targeting their VIP customers with this BOGO flash deal. 

flash sale example from ColourPop

7. Offer free shipping

Many ecommerce stores rely on a free shipping strategy to stand out from their competitors because it’s one of the most effective incentives for convincing consumers to shop online. If you don’t have the resources to offer free shipping all year round, temporarily offering it during a flash sale is a great compromise.

You can promote a free shipping flash deal on a sticky bar like Bukvybag does in the example below.

free shipping example from Bukvybag

You can generate interest in your free shipping offers by using this sticky bar template:

8. Emphasize price savings

This tip might seem obvious to some, but you should always be clear about just how much your customers can save by making a purchase during your flash sale. 

Prominently display the percentage off the regular price that you’re offering, and highlight that number in your promotions. 

For example, you might feature how much users can save in the subject line of a flash sale email campaign.

9. Offer limited quantities or exclusive bonuses

You can also harness the power of scarcity while you’re running a flash sale by limiting the quantity of specific items available at your reduced price. This can create a race among customers to secure the flash sale price before it’s gone.

10. Create urgency with countdown timers

You can create a similar scarcity-based dynamic by using countdown timers to reinforce the limited-time nature of the flash sale. Seeing a ticking clock on your website gives consumers a definite reason to buy now rather than later, ensuring that you’ll sell items quickly while your promotion is live.

To get the full effect, you use a countdown popup like Obvi does in the example below.

what is a flash sale Obvi example

11. Utilize email marketing

A flash sale email can bring a lot of loyal customers onto your site during your promotion. 

To get the best results, send out targeted email campaigns to your subscriber list that highlight the upcoming sale and its benefits. 

Make sure that your subject line is captivating enough to make your campaign stand out from all the other emails in your recipients’ inboxes.

flash sale promotion email

12. Leverage social engagement

Actively engaging with your audience on social media platforms in the lead-up to a flash sale can build a lot of excitement. You can do things like teasing the upcoming sale in Facebook posts and sharing the countdown in your Instagram stories.

The best part about this strategy is that new customers get a chance to hear about your upcoming deal whenever their friends interact with your posts.

13. Optimize mobile friendliness

Mobile shopping has become a key part of the ecommerce business model as more and more people get used to making purchases on their phones. 

Ensure that your website and all promotional materials are mobile responsive so that people browsing on their phones can quickly and easily click “Buy.”

flash sale best practices

14. Maximize cross and upselling opportunities

Cross-selling and upselling are two proven strategies for increasing the average amount that customers spend per order. You should push upgrades and complementary products during your flash sale period in order to generate the most revenue.

Here’s how Lancome markets complementary products with a “Those who viewed this also purchased” section.

15. Offer exclusive early access

Rewarding loyal customers or subscribers with exclusive early access to a flash sale is a great way to build customer satisfaction. Your customer base will feel like your brand really values their business and cares about them.

Here’s an example of this concept from Daily Yoga. 

flash sale best practices

16. Provide excellent customer service

Since flash sales generate a lot of extra interest and traffic in a short period of time, you should be prepared for increased customer inquiries. It’s usually a good idea to have some extra staff on hand to provide timely, exceptional customer support during a flash sale.

7 flash sale examples

Now, let’s take a look at 7 flash sale examples from top ecommerce brands!

1. Amazon

Prime Day is an exclusive sales extravaganza available only to Amazon Prime members. The event typically spans two days and features a wide range of discounts on products across various categories.

Amazon does a great job of creating a sense of excitement for their flagship sale, with people planning out their purchases well in advance.

flash sale example Amazon

2. Nike

Nike frequently employs flash sales through its “Nike Flash Pack” section. This approach involves releasing limited-edition products, often with unique designs or technology, for a brief period.

Since these sales feature limited inventories, big Nike fans need to act fast in order to successfully place an order. This is a great example of the principle of scarcity in action.

flash sale example Nike

3. Groupon

Groupon offers time-sensitive deals on a wide range of products and services. The fact that many of their deals are limited is even a major part of their business model!

Like Nike, this approach builds a sense of urgency by using scarcity to promote fast action. Groupon even displays countdown timers and exact quantities for many of their deals.

flash sale example Groupon

4. Sephora

Sephora, a leading beauty retailer, regularly runs flash sales, often referred to as the “Weekly Wow” or “Sephora Flash” event.

You can learn from the way that Sephora widely promotes these flash sales on its website, through email marketing, and on social media platforms. Multi-channel promotion like this is a great way to get a flash sale off the ground.

flash sale example Sephora


ASOS frequently hosts flash sales featuring limited-time discounts on clothing, accessories, and footwear.

The extremely short time window (from 7 – 9 pm) rewards enthusiastic customers who make a plan to be online during those hours.

flash sale example ASOS

6. Walmart

Walmart occasionally hosts flash sales featuring limited-time discounts on a wide range of products. As a brand that’s friendly to budget-conscious shoppers, their customer base really appreciates the chance to save even more.

flash sale example Walmart

7. Birchbox

Birchbox, a beauty subscription box company, runs flash sales on skincare, makeup, and personal grooming products. This proves that the flash sale concept can also work for subscription-based retailers, so long as they can put a good deal on the table.

8 mistakes to avoid in flash sales

As we’ve seen, flash sales can bring a whole host of benefits to ecommerce retailers. To help you get the most out of yours, we’re going to quickly go over a few common mistakes you’ll want to avoid while you’re planning your next flash sale.

1. Poor planning and timing

Launching a flash sale without adequate planning or at the wrong time can lead to underwhelming results. You should have your promotional strategy completely mapped out and ensure there’s a gap in the market where your flash sale fits in.

2. Inadequate inventory management

Failing to manage your inventory can lead to significant problems if you either buy too much product or run out early. Make sure you use your past history to make an accurate estimate of how much inventory you should invest in.

3. Misleading discounts

Overhyping discounts or presenting misleading pricing can seriously eat away at customer trust. All your promotional messaging should be accurate to avoid disappointing people who are arriving on your site looking for a great deal.

4. Neglecting mobile shoppers

If your website isn’t mobile responsive or if the checkout process is cumbersome on mobile devices, you risk losing potential sales from this critical demographic.

5. Ineffective promotion

Even the best flash sale deals won’t succeed if you don’t effectively promote them. Plan out a multi-channel promotional campaign that drives interest when your sale begins.

6. Overcomplicating the sale

Complex terms and conditions, convoluted checkout processes, or too many product options can overwhelm customers. Keep it simple to get the best results!

7. Neglecting post-sale engagement

Neglecting to follow up with post-sale communication, such as order confirmations and thank-you emails, can leave customers feeling undervalued and reduce the likelihood of repeat business. You should use your flash sales to grow your loyal customer base, not just pursue short-term returns.

8. Ignoring customer feedback

Ignoring or dismissing feedback, whether it’s related to product quality, shipping issues, or user experience, can result in a negative brand image. Make sure to learn from all your interactions with customers and change things up based on that feedback.

Wrapping up

Flash sales are a uniquely beneficial marketing strategy for ecommerce store owners, providing a chance to clear out unwanted inventory and generate a lot of brand visibility quickly. There’s a reason that they’ve become so popular in the past few years!

If you’d like to run a flash sale, take advantage of OptiMonk’s powerful marketing and conversion optimization features by signing up for an account.

Your next flash sale could be a smashing success!

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