Launching a Successful Flash Sale

So you’re interested in quickly generating ecommerce revenue, but you’re not sure where to start? These 10 steps help you plan for and launch a successful flash sale. A flash sale (also called a hype or high-volume sale) is a short-term marketing strategy that offers a temporary, exclusive discount or promotion on specific products. The combination of scarcity and urgency turns the sale items into must-have commodities.

Your first objective is to establish what you want to accomplish with your flash sale. Do you want to move inventory that’s becoming a liability? Maximize sales on Black Friday? Launch a new product? Your goals influence what products you decide to market and how. Start by outlining your goals for the campaign. These might include:

  • Encouraging customers to try new products
  • Creating “brand buzz” to get more eyes on your store
  • Clearing out excess or outdated inventory
  • Boosting website traffic and revenue
  • Taking advantage of the holidays or a current trend
  • Raising brand awareness online

After you determine your goals, you have a better idea of your target audience and how best to market products during your sale.

Before your flash sale goes live, talk to your site operations team about preparing for the influx of traffic. This important step ensures that your site can accommodate a spike in traffic without any downtime. To notify Salesforce, simply submit a Support ticket that provides the date and time of your sale so that the influx of traffic isn’t flagged as suspicious. Communicating with Salesforce in advance helps to ensure that your customers have a seamless shopping experience. You can also create a virtual waiting room to control site traffic. Waiting rooms limit the number of shoppers allowed to purchase products at a given time. This is a great way to prevent overloading your site. For additional best practices on how to manage site traffic during a flash sale, see Traffic Management Best Practices for Hype Sales.

Understanding your audience is the key to launching a flash sale that shoppers eagerly anticipate. Start by determining whether you’re targeting new or existing shoppers, or a certain demographic. Some businesses do everything they can to ensure that their loyal shoppers can purchase the flash sale items rather than shoppers or bots who are likely to resell the products. This approach helps to create a strong brand identity and amplifies the exclusivity of the products. Conversely, some brands launch a flash sale to create hype about their brand or products, but they don’t necessarily tailor the sale to a particular audience. In this case, the goal is to sell out of the products as quickly as possible. Consider having a mini flash sale event to test the market. Mini flash sales narrow your target audience by initially testing a few offers to see if they work before you launch a full-scale campaign. If your target audience is existing customers, try to avoid targeting customers who purchased sale products at the regular price. These customers are unhappy seeing others get a massive discount for the products they bought at full price. To identify your target audience, focus on the following points:

  • Find and target customers who haven’t purchased anything in the past six months or who have never purchased the item that’s featured in the flash sale.
  • Identify customers who had a prior interest in on-sale products or specific products, such as customers who clicked an ad or visited a product page.
  • Select flash sale items that are likely to attract a high volume of traffic.
  • Make the flash sale for current customers exclusive and promote it through abandoned cart emails.

If you're targeting new customers, take extra steps to ensure they notice and visit your site.

  • Run short-term Google Ads that are triggered by the exact keyword associated with your flash sale products.
  • Avoid flooding your current email list with your flash sale promotions.
  • Set pay-per-click ad targets to urge customers to opt in to a separate email list in return for early access to the discount.
  • Identify shoppers who have shown interest in flash sales or who follow a rival store with similar products.
  • Make a list of shoppers’ Twitter or Facebook handles and market to them directly.
  • Give a significant discount on seasonal inventory to move it quickly and reduce inventory liability.

Identifying your target audience comes down to understanding buyer behavior and what your shoppers are interested in. With Salesforce’s Commerce Cloud Einstein Predictive Sort, you can make AI-powered predictions about what items shoppers might want and are likely to buy. Data about past buyer behavior enables you to personalize the order in which shoppers see products. This data can even help to up-sell or cross-sell products to shoppers on your website.

One example that highlights the benefit of thoroughly understanding your target audience is the prevalence of shoppers using bots to snag limited edition or otherwise promoted deals. Bots are software applications that shoppers can use to grab their place “in line” and automate the checkout process. The use of bots is a prevalent issue, particularly when shoppers are scrambling to snag the latest celebrity-inspired items — like makeup lines and sneakers. For flash sales, bots are typically detrimental for the merchant, because the bots are designed to obtain the sale inventory instead of loyal shoppers. For example, some businesses that are victimized by bots see their inventory sell out, only to realize that someone is reselling the same inventory online elsewhere for two or three times the retail value. To maintain their relationships with loyal shoppers, many businesses aim to block bots from infiltrating their sales. However, some businesses take a unique view on bots and are willing to allow bots to purchase a certain amount of inventory as long as their sale still creates hype. In this scenario, merchants also tend to reserve inventory for loyal shoppers by implementing a ticket system. With a ticket system, your most valued shoppers are almost always guaranteed access to some amount of sale inventory. For more information about planning for bot mitigation, see Traffic Management Best Practices for Hype Sales.

Stay on top of current trends to find opportunities to direct new traffic to your site. For example, you can use tools like Google Trends or Twitter to follow what trends are happening in your industry. Some tools, like Mention, even alert you when keywords relating to your brand and business are mentioned. With this knowledge, you can capitalize on current trends and tailor your flash sale to what your followers are interested in. You can research what organic keywords your competitors are targeting and look for gaps where you can advertise your products with a short-term sale. Your site is more likely to generate traffic from these keywords, and more traffic can result in increased sales. The key to success is acting on these trends as quickly as possible — and trying to anticipate them ahead of your competitors. The shorter the time frame, the more heightened the excitement is for impulse buyers. If you get there first, your brand is likely to snag the biggest piece of that traffic pie.

When you set up the promotion on your site, the way you present the offer information matters. Focus on concise messaging so that shoppers can easily understand the promotion, and make the checkout process simple. Shoppers react better to short-term, percentage-off discounts due to a phenomenon known as loss aversion. Use a percentage discount for products that cost more than $100 and a cash discount for products that cost less than $100. It’s helpful to be particular with your phrasing. Instead of saying, “Save $3 on every $50 purchase you make,” use statements like “Save $70!” or “Get 40% off!” These promotions are concise and easier to understand. “Get 40% off!” emphasizes the discount, while “Save $70!” emphasizes avoiding a loss. To reduce the potential of call center inquiries, accurately message the terms of your sale. Include specific guidelines about your promotion, such as the duration of the sale with start and end dates and times (for example, October 20, 2020, 12:01 a.m. ET through October 22, 2020, 11:59 p.m. ET). Also, specify any exclusions that apply for products or geographic regions, and clearly state if items are eligible for return or final sale. To help promote your sale, consider adding pop-ups or interrupters to alert shoppers of the promotion wherever they enter your site. Depending on the type of flash sale, include the promotional message in the global navigation, too, so shoppers can easily access the promo code and other important details.

You can begin marketing your flash sale before it starts by building anticipation on platforms where you can reach new audiences as well as connect with your existing shoppers. You can choose from multiple online platforms and channels for advertising your flash sale, including Instagram, Facebook Ads, Google Ads, Twitter, email lists, and more. Choose the platforms that make the most sense for your audience, and then decide whether you focus on organic traffic or invest in paid ads. To determine the platform with the highest ROI, you must know:

  • Which platforms produce the most engagement
  • Which platform yields the lowest customer acquisition cost and the highest return on ad spend
  • What percentage of your marketing budget goes to those channels
  • Where your target audiences and existing shoppers spend most of their time

To keep the momentum going, continue to promote the sale across your chosen platforms. Some methods for promoting your flash sale might include:

  • Running an email campaign to your existing lists
  • Launching a pay-per-click ad campaign
  • Posting about your sale on social media
  • Reaching out to influencers or third-party publishers

The goal is for your flash sale to gain momentum online and boost engagement from followers through clicks, likes, retweets, comments, and shares. Start building excitement four to six days before the sale and during the main event. The more eyes on your campaign, the better. One popular method for promoting a flash sale is through the use of bots — particularly, messenger bots. When shoppers visit your site or subscribe to your email list, you can often follow up via Facebook Messenger or via bots on your website. This technique is a quick and easy way to promote your latest offer to an audience that has already expressed interest in your brand.

A concise and compelling pay-per-click (PPC) campaign can generate traffic for your sale and ensure you have a list of ready-to-buy potential consumers. Use PPC advertising, like Google Ads or Facebook Ads, days before your flash sale to generate sign ups. PPC ads can direct shoppers to a landing page that provides an opt-in to join your waiting list. These shoppers are then the first to know when your flash sale goes live (typically, through an email marketing campaign). To capitalize on the increase in search volume, target and increase ad spend on relevant branded and non-branded keywords during your flash sale.

Investing in influencer marketing for your flash sale can be a profitable choice if your target audience spends a lot of time on social media. For every unique interest, people follow influencers who share their passion. Influencers can help businesses achieve more brand awareness, reach new customers, and generate more sales by introducing them to their existing, niche audience. The most important step is finding the right influencer to partner with. Choose a micro-influencer who specializes in a demographic that aligns with your target audience. Tools like Social Audit Pro can help you analyze whether an influencer has a high number of legitimate followers and how fans interact with their content. Loyal followers of an influencer are likely to take the influencer’s recommendations and buy the products advertised during your flash sale.

An email nurture campaign uses email marketing to turn subscribers into paying customers. This type of campaign typically involves sending a series of emails over the course of a few days with highly-targeted email copy and compelling calls to action. For flash sale promotions, email campaigns drive the most traffic if you already have an existing email list. What’s better than reaching out to an audience that you know is already interested in your products? Then, you notify subscribers that the sale is live and only available for a short period of time, for example, “Act now to get 50% off!”

Monitoring the progress of your flash sale and measuring ROI determines whether your flash sale is a success. If it isn’t, you can make changes and apply the lessons to your next sale. If it’s successful, you can forecast future sales before your next launch. Track the traffic and revenue you generate during the flash sale to assess what’s working (or what isn’t). This includes tracking the percentage of potential shoppers who visited your site and completed a desired action, such as adding an item to their cart. Identify key performance indicators (KPIs) prior to launching your sale. For example, what are you trying to achieve during this sale? Should you measure the percentage of new customers, the amount of inventory sold, or customer re-engagement? Make sure you know what you are trying to achieve from the very beginning, and what KPIs to measure so that you can determine the ROI on your campaigns. By keeping track of your completed goals and monitoring your conversion rate, you can uncover bottlenecks in your campaign and fix them during your sale to maximize your revenue potential.

Over the past few years, more customers are looking for digital customer service compared to support over the phone. This indicates that customers might have shifted to alternative, digital channels of customer service, such as chat or social media. What does this mean for you? Prepare your business to handle an influx of online customer questions or inquiries during your high-traffic flash sales. For example, you might equip your service team with scripts to help them navigate customer inquiries or provide discount codes to offer to dissatisfied customers. The key is to create a consistent customer experience, even if your team is assisting a higher number of customers than usual. Do you have a system in place to handle an increase in customer service requests? If not, consider scalable service solutions. Salesforce Service Cloud allows you to help more customers faster — even during a high-volume flash sale. Plus, you can give your customer service team the tools they must handle more inquiries with our service tools, which give agents a single view of the customer across multiple purchasing touch-points. These mobile-ready tools can help your team handle flash sale inquiries from any device, resolving issues faster and preventing cart abandonment during your sale.

After new shoppers participate in your flash sale, what next? In one word, the goal is retention. To maximize repeat sales, offer shoppers additional deals on their next purchase. You can also consider running retargeting campaigns via paid ads to encourage them to buy new products or opt-in to additional deals. Finally, send an email post-purchase asking shoppers to write a review and post about their purchase on social media. Be careful not to bombard your shoppers with too many campaigns and offers. Tailor your campaigns to their interests to build brand trust, and turn first-time shoppers into lifelong, loyal customers!