The Ultimate Guide to Running Successful Flash Sales – Part 2

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What if you had only 24 hours to get 100 product sales or risk your business going under? Before pinching yourself to wake up from this nightmare, consider that this scenario may not be as grim as you think. That’s because you always have the chance to increase your numbers by running a flash sale promoting your products at deep discounts.

Flash sales are sales events that pack a massive punch in a short period. Running a flash sale could potentially generate a 35% lift in transaction rates and bring new and returning customers to your business.

But, here’s the thing…

Just because flash sales can be lucrative doesn’t necessarily mean they will work for you. To ensure the best results possible, you need to prepare fully, set specific goals, and know your audience to tip the scales in your favor. 

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed… 

In Part 2 below, we will provide tips on executing and marketing these time-limited sales and promotions from start to finish. We’re going to take you through three phases of running a flash sale. Each stage is critical to the success of your sale and maximizes its potential to drive future revenue and growth.

Before You Start Running a Flash Sale…

If you are new to the flash sale game, we recommend you run a small test sale to start. A test flash sale is a micro version of a larger flash sale.

So, instead of full-stock discounts, offer 1-3 of your best-selling products at a discounted rate. If your audience bites and you gain new customers, you are ready to amp things up the next time. 

If your sales are dismal, consider trying again with different targeting and modify your marketing approach.

It’s disheartening to go through a low-performing sale, but it’s better to lose a little in a micro deal than to put it all out on the line in a big flash sale and lose a LOT more.

In phase #3 (later on in this article), we will discuss what metrics to track for your flash sales. Use the same metrics for testing and only move forward with full-scale sales when satisfied with your test results.

Here are some questions to answer after you run your test flash sale:

Before every flash sale, outline what you are trying to accomplish and set specific sales targets. Your post-sale results should match the goals you set before you start the campaign.

Phase #1: Running Your First Test Flash Sale

So, you’ve got your discount ready, having chosen the number of products and flash sale items you’re going to offer. Now it’s time to set up your sale.

Let’s say your flash sale drops on October 13. When do you start promoting it? If you said October 13, you would be dead wrong.

Instead, you need to drum up excitement for your sale about a week before it launches to build anticipation. Anywhere from 5-7 days is a good starting point. Longer than a week, and your audience will forget.

Post about your flash sale on social media and send emails to your subscribers. In the next section, we will dive into more detail. Use these tactics for your pre-flash sale campaign as well.

Let’s take a look at some pre-flash sale promotion examples…

Nordstrom launches a yearly anniversary flash sale. The brand posts countdown videos and hosts a competition to prepare its Instagram followers and build excitement.

Nordstrom announces on Instagram that its anniversary flash sale is coming.

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Below, Kohl’s is giving advance notice of their early Black Friday week deals. Notice how the content in this post mentions the exact time the sale starts.

Kohl’s announces its early Black Friday week deals, stating the sale’s exact time they start.

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How Many Times Should You Advertise Your Flash Sale?

If you start advertising your flash sale 7 days before it starts, you should aim to post at least 3 times in that week. In your post content, include how many days remain before the sale drops (4 days left, 1 day left, etc.) to amp up the excitement.

Bonus Tip: If you don’t have the budget for a professional designer, don’t sweat. Several websites are available that make creating professional-looking social graphics a breeze. These include CanvaPicMonkeyStencil, and Pablo

Pre-Flash Sale Emails

Only email once during your 7-day pre-sale period, ideally the day before the sale, letting people know they have 24 hours left until the sale drops. 

People get irritated when you email them too much, so keep these messages to a minimum, especially since you’ll be sending more emails during your actual flash sale campaign.

You can also send an invitation to VIP customers to shop before the flash sales begin. This works if you have a loyalty or rewards program in place. Here, Priceline offers VIP customers early access to their Black Friday sales.

Priceline offers a VIP preview to customers so they can shop before the actual Black Friday flash sales begin.

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Here are some other tactics to create anticipation before running a flash sale:

Phase #2: Launching and Marketing Your Flash Sale 

It’s the moment you have been waiting for—your flash sale is ready to go live.

If you did some of the pre-promotion work, you should have already built up anticipation. Now it’s time to promote your flash sale.

Here are some ways to do it…

Email Marketing Messages When Running a Flash Sale

It’s typical to send at least one email to introduce the sale and notify your subscribers regardless of the flash sale duration. 

If your flash sale lasts just a few hours, this may be the only email you need to send. For 24-hour flash sales, marketers often send a final email alert a few hours before the campaign ends.

Flash sales lasting 2+ days will require more than a few emails, at least one a day and one before the countdown ends. We’ll go through a typical 3-day flash sale email sequence a little later. First, let’s talk about the types of emails and how to craft compelling subject lines.

Subject Lines

The email subject line is the most critical element of an email for conversions because it determines whether or not your user will even open the email. It must be attention-grabbing and able to deliver a BIG punch with a few words.

You may also want to include the discount percentage and emojis or other icons to make your emails stand out. We will go over some example subject lines a little later in this section.

Adorama included a play on words, “Gone in a FLASH,” and a lightning emoji in their email subject line to add urgency and emphasize the risk of missing the sale.

The subject line of Adorama’s email announcement says gone in a flash up to 40% off.

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First Email Introduction

The purpose of the first email is to introduce the flash sale. Ideally, you want to include “flash sale” in your subject line because it signals to subscribers they need to open the message or risk missing out on an opportunity. Include the discount as well.

For example, Beautycounter introduced its 3-day flash sale with the email subject line below…

Beautycounter introduced its 3-day flash sale with an email subject line saying flash sale 20% off select holiday sets.

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The Final Email 

The subject line of Beautycounter’s final email simply states, “Our Flash Sale Ends Today.” 

The subject line of Beautycounter’s final email says our flash sale ends today.

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If you are running a 1-day flash sale, you may also want to send a final-hours email to warn subscribers to take action fast before time runs out.

D’Artagnan sent this email 5 hours before their one-day flash sale ended. The graphic specifies the exact time it ends, at 11:59 p.m.

D’Artagnan’s email subject line says 5 hours left pork tenderloin sale. The graphic specifies it ends at 11:59 p.m.

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Multi-Day Flash Sales

Multi-day flash sales will perform better when you send over 1-2 emails.

Banana Republic Factory ran a 3-day flash sale and sent 6 emails throughout the 3 days.

Here’s the series of emails sent during that time, along with the subject lines. Let these subject lines inspire you for your campaigns: 

  1. Email #1: Introduction (Day 1) at 9 a.m.

Subject Line: Sally: Oh hey, FLASH SALE A picture containing text, clipart

Description automatically generated 
(Notice how the subject line included a first name and lightning emojis to grab the recipient’s attention.) 

  1. Email #2: Reminder 1 (Day 2) at 9 a.m.
    Subject Line: A picture containing text, clipart

Description automatically generatedSave BIG on tops & sweaters with this FLASH sale code>>
  1. Email #3: Reminder 2 (Day 2) at 12-2 a.m.
    Subject Line: Get in on 3 GREAT SALES before they end TOMORROW!
  1. Email #4: Reminder 3 (Day 2) at mid-afternoon
    Subject Line: Good News: Our FLASH SALE is still on plus 50% off ALL TOPS & SWEATERS
  1. Email #5: Reminder 4 (Day 3) at 12-2 a.m.
    Subject Line: ENDS TODAY 50% off ALL TOPS (& more)
  1. Email #6: Final Email Reminder (Day 3) at mid-afternoon
    Subject Line: FINAL HOURS >> Flash Sale gone in…

Email Body Graphics

We talked about your first and last flash sale marketing mail and gave you some subject line inspiration. But there’s a little more to this email thing than that.

Here’s a simple but sometimes overlooked principle…

Your email body content MUST showcase what your subject line promises. 

Now that you’ve got that down (it’s important), let’s take a look at some email graphic inspiration to help you create your graphics. 

Tip: Strong “lifestyle” graphics that show someone using your product are strongly recommended. 

Here is an email from Nordstrom Rack promoting a flash sale. The brand had 3 different discounts going on in the same flash sale. The first graphic shows up to 75% off for clearance items and 60% off for other products. Notice the email shows an image of a model wearing the clothes.

The Nordstrom Rack email body graphic announces up to 75 % off for clearance items and 60% off for other products.

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Nordstrom Rack then showed a product catalog with lifestyle images in the email so that subscribers could see models wearing the clothes and the discounted prices. They also had categories for men and kids, as well as other non-clothing products.

Nordstrom Rack email body graphic includes a product catalog with images of models wearing the clothes and the discounts.

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Then, if you scroll down to the bottom, you will see an additional sale for 50% off.

The body graphic shows the 3rd offer of 50% off at the bottom of the Nordstrom Rack email.

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Notice also that each graphic includes a CTA at the bottom. This is where you tell your subscribers what to do and how to take the next step.

Your email graphic should be professional, but its creation doesn’t need to eat into your marketing budget. If you can’t hire a professional designer, try some of the DIY graphics programs we mentioned before.

When creating the body of your flash sale emails, remember these tips:

CreativeLive, a training website that sells creative-themed online courses, used this striking image to announce a flash sale.

Training website CreativeLive shows a striking image of a woman in a white dress to announce a flash sale for online courses.

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It’s not that descriptive, but it shows a person and appeals to its audience (creative folks who want to learn how to think outside of the box).

Lands End flash sale body graphic includes a countdown timer to create a sense of urgency.

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Text Emails

Do all of your promotional flash sale emails need to be graphic-based? Not at all!

If you are selling a physical product, we recommend you use imagery to show off your products.

But, if you sell digital products and want to go with a text-based email, just make sure it is concise and links to your product twice. Here is an example from popular blogger Jon Morrow.

A text email by blogger Jon Morrow announcing a flash sale for an online course.

Personalized Emails

If you want to get BIG-TIME results when running a flash sale, you’ve got to personalize your campaigns. How do you go about personalizing them? It depends on whom you are targeting…

Sending an email blast to your entire email list may not make sense to target new customers. This is because many of your subscribers will be current customers, and your message may not be relevant to them.

Personalize campaign emails, only sending them to those on your list who’ve subscribed for an offer but haven’t purchased yet.

If you don’t have segmenting set up like this, download your customers’ email addresses and upload them to your email provider, creating a separate list. When you send out your promotional email blast, exclude the set of customers.

Want to personalize your emails even more? 

Let’s say you are putting a selection of women’s workwear on sale. Segment out the people who have already purchased workwear from you (this means they will be interested) and target them with your promotional emails. 

If you run Facebook ads, retarget those who visited the same product pages of your flash sale or those who added workwear to the cart but abandoned it. You may also want to exclude customers who already purchased these products not to frustrate those who paid the full price instead of a discounted rate.

Social Media

Don’t forget social media when running a flash sale!

Post your flash sale notices on your social media profiles, preferably in graphical form. 

Graphics are the most powerful content for posts because strong visual images capture attention right away. In fact, Facebook image posts enjoy 2.3 times more engagement than those without images. You want to make people feel like they are missing out if they don’t take advantage of your sale. This is much easier to do with attractive graphics.

Follow the same schedule with social media as you do for your emails. Anytime you send an email, post on your social accounts as well.

Here’s a little insider tip, though: Typically, people don’t get as frustrated with frequent posting on social media as they do with frequent emails. So, if you want to post more frequently on social media, it should be safe to do so.

Harness the Power of Instagram

While social media is typically focused more on engagement than sales, there are growing opportunities to sell products through posts. Here are some tips on making the most of flash sales on social media…

Below, Everlane uses a specific product tag for a woman’s corduroy puffer jacket they are promoting with a link to the product page. Again, notice the “Shop Now” button at the bottom of the graphic.

Everlane has a clickable product tag for a woman’s corduroy puffer jacket.

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Instagram advertising options don’t stop there. Other formats designed to sell products include carousel ads, video ads, and collection ads.

What About Facebook?

For physical product businesses, no site currently beats the power of Instagram. But Facebook is also valuable, especially when running a flash sale ad.

Post similar images on Facebook to notify your audience. If you want to get more reach and know about using Facebook and Instagram ads, consider running a few ads on both platforms.

Ideally, you would already have tested out ads for your test sale, so you know what your audience responds to.

Here’s an example of a Facebook ad by clothing discount website Otrium. It offers 60% off for Faherty brand clothing as well as free delivery and returns. Plus, it includes a -60% CTA icon leading to the website on the image and another “Shop Now” CTA at the bottom.

A Facebook sale ad by Otrium offers 60% off on Faherty Brand and free delivery and returns with a CTA button on the image and at the bottom of the graphic.

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Before you post, take note… 

Always target your existing followers with your flash sale ads, ideally a super targeted niche. You won’t have time to test different ad creatives, so getting focused on an audience you know will be interested is critical.

If you are using Facebook retargeting ads, you should have a list of everyone who has landed on your website product pages to date. By targetting people who have already visited your page with the same product, you know they’ve shown interest in it. So, your conversion rate will be much greater.

Personalizing ads on social media is just as important as it is with emails. The key here is to retarget users who’ve already visited those product pages or categories but didn’t make a purchase.

If you want to learn more about Facebook retargeting, check out our 5-part series:

Part 1: What Is Retargeting and How Can It Help Your Business?

Part 2 Understanding Facebook Custom Audiences

Part 3: The Step-by-Step Non-Techie’s Guide to Creating and Installing the Facebook Pixel

Part 4: How to Design Epic Ads for Your Facebook Retargeting Campaign

Part 5: How to Launch Your Facebook Ads (In 6 Easy Steps) and Measure Their Success

(NOTE: Due to Apple IDFA changes, it’s recommended that you take additional steps to track conversions on Facebook.) 

Also Consider Pinterest Ads 

Pinterest ads are another option to promote your flash sale. Many users research products they are interested in and use them for inspiration before they buy. Although the reach is less than Instagram and Facebook, Pinterest ads are less expensive and simpler to launch.

J. Crew advertised this summer flash sale on a Pinterest shoppable ad, which includes a visit button that takes the reader to the offer and the website. There is also an option to save the pin for later.

J. Crew advertized a summer flash sale on Pinterest shoppable ad.

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Other Ways to Promote Your Flash Sales

Emails. Check.

Social media. Check.

How else can you promote your flash sale? 

Here are some tactics to try:

Old Navy changes up the banner at the top of the home page to advertise their limited-time sales.

Old Navy website banner at the top of the homepage advertises its limited-time sale.

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Nordstrom Rack adds a red banner to the top of their home page to draw attention to their flash sales.

Nordstrom Rack’s simple banner at the top of the site in red draws attention to their current flash sale.

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You can also add countdown timers to your banners to create more urgency. One way to add an inexpensive banner to the top of your site is to use a third-party program such as Hellobar. If you use a third-party website software such as Shopify, use an app like this to add banners and countdown timers.

Phase #3: Tracking (and Improving) Your Results

Running a flash sale without knowing what to track is like cooking dinner without having any idea what the final dish will be.

Here are some metrics to track:

Finally, you want to ask yourself if you were able to reach your goal. This is what ultimately counts. If you don’t know how to create a goal for your flash sale, refer to Part 1 in this article series.

In addition to tracking the sale results, figure out which marketing tactic brought in the most sales. Was it Facebook ads? Social media influencers? Emails? Use this data to improve your campaigns and put a lot of firepower behind the highest-performing tactics for future campaigns.

Takeaway: Ready to Start Your First Flash Sale?

Let’s recap what we talked about in this two-part article series on running a flash sale.

In Part 1, we discussed all the preparation elements that can turn a potentially disastrous sale into a promising one:

In Part 2, we highlighted the three phases of running a flash sale successfully by executing and marketing it effectively: 

If any of the steps are unclear, bookmark these articles and return to them as you prepare for your flash sale.

Though flash sales require careful preparation, setup, and review, they can lead to higher conversions, improved customer loyalty, and long-term growth—if executed correctly.

Don’t miss out on the incredible opportunity flash sales provide this coming holiday season. It’s the biggest flash sale season of the year! Time is running out, so get started today!

 


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Filed Under: E-commerce

About Thomas von Ahn

With more than 30 years of experience in B2B sales across various industries, Thomas has unique insight into both the offline and online sales sphere. It was during his time in the trenches that Thomas noticed a recurring theme: Though business owners are knowledgeable about their craft or trade, they often struggle to market and sell to their prospects. This realization is what prompted Thomas and his now business partner, Christine, to bring Viral Solutions to life. Since starting the company, Thomas has been able to assist countless business owners in developing a solid marketing plan based upon sound marketing strategy, then assigning the marketing tactics to a team of talented employees, and, finally, watching those actions unfold—his true passion.

Though Viral Solutions is on Thomas’ mind 24/7, he does occasionally take a break to cheer on the Green Bay Packers and enjoy his adopted home of Wisconsin. Much of his family also works at Viral Solutions, and this closeness with family and employees is the cornerstone of the Viral Solutions culture.