When executed correctly, flash sales can develop consumer engagement, trigger impulse spending, and increase conversions. In recent years, major retailers like Amazon and Alibaba have paved the way for brands to revive the idea of flash sales and create branded sales days at any point on the retail promotional calendar. Amazon first launched Prime Day in 2015, and this year, had a total of $11.19BN. In 2020, Alibaba’s Singles Day saw over $74BN in sales. In comparison, Black Friday and Cyber Monday made a combined total of $7.5BN in 2020.
Created as a way to boost sales during the summer sales lull, Prime Day serves a pretty important additional purpose: offering an exclusive benefit only available to Prime members and effectively acting as an acquisition vehicle for the Prime membership. What makes Prime Day somewhat unique within the retail industry is that it is not tied to any specific cultural or social holiday or calendar day.
In contrast, Alibaba capitalized on a social holiday in China known as Singles Day that happens annually on November 11, to create a sales holiday prompting individuals to treat themselves. Alibaba’s Singles Day first launched in 2009 and it has since become the world’s single largest shopping event. And while Amazon and Alibaba may utilize different strategies for these sales holidays, there are three common learnings every brand can take away to launch their own branded flash sales or unique branded sales holidays.
It’s easy to assume that flash sales capitalize on impulse purchases and while this may be true to a certain extent, marketing a flash can be the difference between good sales numbers and great sales numbers. Not only does Amazon promote the forthcoming Prime Day through multiple digital channels such as social media, display, and email, they often boldly begin the countdown to Prime Day on their homepage days in advance. Amazon uses the tools available to create a true sales event. Additionally, both Amazon and Alibaba elected to market around days not traditionally associated with retail sales. They utilized the lull of the industry to promote sales on their timelines, highlighting that brands do not need to stick to a traditional retail calendar.
Both Amazon and Alibaba are very clear about the length of their respective branded flash sales. In fact, the dates are often heavily used in marketing collateral, making the limited availability of the sale prices crystal clear. When promoting a flash sale, it’s important to not mix its messaging with other messages your brand may be promoting as well. Flash sales and branded days can be a great way to capture sales and further foster consumer loyalty. But, if the communications and messaging utilized is not clear about times, inclusions and exclusions, and any other important details, they can also pave the way to confusion and a poor brand experience.
When done right, a flash sale needs to offer more value in a shorter timeframe than regular sales. One of the biggest risks of doing a flash sale is that the product may run out and therefore result in a negative experience. This is a heightened challenge in current times, as many retailers are facing supply chain hurdles. To combat this, brands like Target have started giving discounts or offering value with gift cards during a key sale event. Including gift cards in a flash sale is a key strategic element because it’s easy for consumers to see the value, and brands know that when a customer returns to spend the gift card they will likely spend above and beyond the gift card’s value.
When launching and managing a flash sale, it’s important to incorporate the sale with other strategies such as capturing consumer data for a loyalty program. Even something as simple as including gift cards in the sale can be an additional strategic element because gift cards are an underutilized, powerful tool for brands.
Like most other retail strategies, the best way to know what works for your brand is to test and learn to find what works best for your brand.