A digital marketing guide to eCommerce flash sales

Keep up with the very latest developments in the digital marketing world

By Jade Hark
on 20/8/15

The eCommerce marketplace is no different to a brick and mortar store when it comes to end of season sales and flash promotions.

But the tactics employed to market and promote online flash sales are specific to the digital arena and have a huge impact on the success of an event.

We’ve identified the specific strategies that can be utilised to help maximise the results from your next eCommerce flash sale.


The Planning


Why are flash sales popular?

Flash sales offer a number of benefits to eCommerce merchants beyond increasing profits, as they can also be useful for clearing out outdated or unwanted inventory.

But it’s important to look beyond merely selling discounted products.

A flash sale can also be used to bring a large amount of new and current visitors to your site, raising awareness of the brand as a whole, promoting an underused service or drawing attention to other non-sale products.

Take Amazon’s inaugural Prime Day sale for example. Whilst discounts were offered, it wasn’t all about the sales; the main aim of the promotion was to win new lifetime Prime members, which they did successfully.


When to hold a flash sale

In the UK, there are no specific set dates for when to hold a sale, though there are generally agreed times like post-Christmas for a winter sale and mid-June for the summer.

Increasingly however, eCommerce stores are adopting more set dates like the USA’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday – 2014 saw over £810 million spent online by British shoppers on Black Friday.

Remember: There doesn’t have to be a set day – it all depends on your product

Take Amazon’s Prime Day as a case in point – they chose their own day for a flash sale and created publicity around it. Other examples include Free Shipping Day, created by entrepreneurs in the US to drive Christmas sales, and Small Business Saturday, for promoting smaller local companies.

There are however three key factors to consider when planning your flash sale.

  1. Common trends – Do your research before deciding on dates for a promotion. You may find that peaks for certain holiday buying periods are before the event itself. Use Google Trends to see how search terms have historically performed, as you can then target the days that typically have the highest amount of traffic. Most Valentine’s Day shopping is done on the 5th and 6th February, for example. Also, take the time to review your Google Analytics: if you can identify spikes in traffic to your site, even if there isn’t a certain event or reason behind it, you can time flash sales to maximise on an influx of visitors.
  2. Seasonality – The best season for a flash sale will depend on the types of products you sell. Lawnmower products and DIY stores, for example, do particularly well with promotions on the May Bank Holiday, whilst winter clothing retailers may benefit from launching a flash sale in the midst of a snow storm.
  3. Tie-ins - If you can tie your product in with a specific holiday or event, even if the link is tenuous, there’s likely to be a market for it. Got green coloured items? St Patrick’s Day is the perfect event to promote them. Product alignment is key to customer targeting, but you should ensure your messaging ties in too (e.g. “Save a spooky 31% this Halloween”).


Key dates calendar for eCommerce sales in the UK

If you want to time your sale to coincide with a specific day, these key dates and events are worth noting down in your diary from now:

1st September = Back to School for UK kids

31st October = Halloween

5th November = Bonfire Night

27th November = Black Friday

30th November = Cyber Monday

19th December = Super Saturday

26th December = Boxing Day

1st January = New Year, New Sale?

8th February = Chinese New Year, The Year of The Monkey

14th February = Valentine’s Day

29th February = Leap Year – extra day, extra sale?

6th March = Mothering Sunday

17th March = St. Patricks Day

24th-27th March = Easter Weekend

2nd May = Early May Bank Holiday

30th May = Spring Bank Holiday

10th June = EURO 2016 begins

19th June = Father’s Day

5th August = 2016 Olympics in Rio begin

29th August = Summer Bank Holiday

Warning: be careful of frequency

A flash sale is just that – over in a flash. They should only be held sparingly.

Marketing should be built around creating a sense of urgency, without turning potential customers off. Phrases such as “When it’s gone, it’s gone,” “limited stock” and “one day left” are common in these types of sales, BUT they should mean just that.

Don’t get dragged into a position similar to sofa retailers like DFS where it’s always the last day of sale, or restaurants like Pizza Express that have developed a reputation as somewhere you would not visit without a voucher or special offer.

Frequent sales generally erode customer trust and damage consumer opinion of your brand, negating the reasons behind holding a sale in the first place.


The Set-Up


Prepare the logistics in advance

Once you’ve chosen a date, preparation is key. Unlike the event itself a flash sale is not something that can be planned, prepared and executed quickly.

Before launch, there are a few things you should consider:

  • Inventory management – Do you have enough stock to cope with the anticipated demand? Even if the point of the sale is to sell out, you need to have enough products to satisfy the majority of customers and avoid subsequent complaints.
  • Last order dates and delivery information – Make this clear to customers in order to maintain their trust, and ensure your distribution network can handle an increase in orders and deliver products on time, otherwise you may lose any goodwill generated by the sale.
  • Mobile responsiveness – The UK has one of the largest m-commerce marketplaces in the world, with lots of customers buying on mobiles and tablets. If your site isn’t optimised for mobile user experience, don’t send an influx of traffic to it.
  • Discount psychology - What kind of discount will you offer? Research into buying psychology shows that percentage discounts work better than numerical “money off” amounts for products priced under £100, whilst BOGOF (buy one get one free) offers generate more reciprocity and the feeling of better value than 50% off. Customers like the idea of getting something for free!


Build an appropriate landing page

Set up a landing page specific to your flash sale so you can optimise it accordingly and link to it from promotional material.

A custom landing page will ensure you have a dedicated place on the website to target paid search traffic, and mean there is a page that can rank organically for search terms specific to the sale.

Make sure you utilise keyword research around the holiday or event and incorporate phrases like “best deals”, “special offers,” and “save money” into the on-page content, meta descriptions and title tags, to boost the position of the page in the SERPS (search engines results pages).

When creating the landing page content, it helps to think about the journey a user will take through the buying process.

  • Is all the key information of the sale explained?
  • Are products displayed clearly?
  • Can users navigate through the buying and checkout process smoothly and quickly?
  • Would the page benefit from a countdown timer to create a sense of urgency to buy?
  • Are there prominent calls to action urging visitors to buy the products on sale?
  • Do you have social buttons to help build anticipation before the sale and share product offers across Facebook, Twitter and dark social avenues?

The Marketing


With everything in place, you know that any marketing you carry out will have a page to direct traffic to and that the sale is ready to begin when the start date approaches – now you just have to reach out to a potential audience.

Leverage your social channels

  • Target your audience based on their profile – Use Facebook advertising to promote your sale directly to those who are most likely to care about it. For example, if Valentine’s Day is around the corner, place your ads in front of users who are “in a relationship” or “it’s complicated” to encourage them to buy for their partners.
  • Get in front of competitors – Using look-a-like audience targeting and competitor research, you can also ensure your sale is seen by users who like the pages of your competitors, tempting them to get the best value from your website.
  • Film short videos – Videos are currently given a higher priority on Facebook, so to get in front of prospective buyers, be sure to create video content as well as static images.
  • Utilise dynamic product ads – Create specific adverts for the different products you plan on putting on sale and use these to remarket to Facebook users who have visited your site. If they looked at a product but did not buy, remind them of the great value to tempt them back.
  • Amend your profiles – Draw further attention to the flash sale by customising your header images on Facebook and Twitter, and changing the call to action button on Facebook, to remind users that the sale is now on.

Amend your paid advertising

Time needs to be invested carefully into your paid advertising campaigns when you are running a flash sale, particularly if you already have adverts set up for specific products.

For generic brand adverts, consider implementing ad extensions underneath the main text to draw attention to the fact that the sale is now on or starting soon. For any product adverts, change the ad text itself to promote and encourage the current discounted price.

If you have a Google Shopping feed, prices should update automatically, but you may wish to take advantage of the new ‘special offers’ feature too.

With the appropriate data, you’ll also be able to implement highly effective remarketing campaigns. Customers shop around during the sales period, so remind them of what they were looking at and why the offer on your website is unmissable.

Communicate with potential customers by email

A final tactic to implement should be email marketing. This is the perfect channel through which to build a sense of anticipation for the flash sale and to inform previous customers that they should revisit the site for some great deals.

Promote the sale with product previews, giving consumers the time to evaluate the product ahead of the sale, as they may not want to buy on impulse when the sale begins.

You could also send out an invitation for the event via email (and do the same on social) to build a buzz and encourage users to share the fact that “they’re going” to this sale.

If you can segment your customer database via previous orders, consider sending out customised invoices to those who have purchased the same or similar products to those that will be on sale, and encourage them to buy at a great value price.

The Sale


Make the most of increased traffic

With all the effort spent on preparing and marketing the sale, make sure you take advantage of new and returning users to your site.

Data capture is vital as customers will be more receptive to leaving their email address during a sale, when given the feeling of goodwill and the thought of more offers. Make sure you have an email sign-up box that is prominent and easy to fill in.

You may also want to take this opportunity to cross-sell and upsell, promoting accessories that complement sale items or advertising items currently not on sale but which may be of benefit to customers.

As mentioned above, remarketing on both Google’s Display Network and Facebook have a big part to play here.

Ending the flash sale

Make sure you have a plan in place to wrap everything up as the sale draws to a close. If products haven’t sold out, decide upon a day or time to officially end the sale before it begins.

Don’t forget to check product prices afterwards to ensure they have reverted to their usual prices, and ensure that any advertising of sale prices has ended, preventing dissatisfied customers – neither mistake is good for business or for your brand.

The benefits of your flash sale don’t stop when it’s over. With lots of data and hopefully new customers, you can immediately begin to leverage their lifetime value.

Follow up with key brand messaging at customer touch points like their order confirmation, shipping notification and completed delivery. They’re all opportunities to build trust, loyalty and brand reputation.

Do you need help marketing a sale for your eCommerce business? Get in touch with Return on Digital today.