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13 Ways to Run a Successful Online Flash Sale That Gets Results

By Regina Malloy on Sep 29, 2023

Our last article, 8 Compelling Reasons to Run Online Flash Sales, we explained why flash sales are an effective promotion for many businesses. In this article, we want to address how to run a successful online flash sale.

Flash sales are extremely short-term, deep discount sales that are typically limited to only certain products. An online flash sale can increase urgency, boost sales, drive traffic, increase brand awareness, attract new customers, increase loyalty (if aimed at repeat, VIP customers), clear outdated inventory, enable cross selling and upselling, and are relatively easy to implement.

But if you don’t do your online flash sales right, you could lower profitability, slow down your store’s order processing and adversely affect your brand image. Don’t let that happen.

Check out the following guidelines. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday fast approaching, you may want to add an online flash sale to your marketing mix.

1. Plan Your Online Flash Sale

If you are considering having a flash sale, clarify the goals you want to accomplish. Probably you will have several goals, but you will need to determine their priorities, because they will determine how you run your sale. You will also need to determine the audience you want to reach.

Goals might include

  • Boosting sales
  • Clearing out excess or soon-to-be obsolete inventory
  • Shining a spotlight on a new product
  • Attract new customers
  • Increase loyalty of your current VIP customers by only allowing them to participate
  • increase brand awareness
  • Generate leads for future marketing

2. Select Your Products

Choose the products you want to feature in your flash sale according to the goals you established during the planning stage. For example, if a priority is to clear out excess inventory, that’s what goes into the flash sale. If you have a lot of seasonal inventory left after the holiday, it may be better to clear it out at a steep discount than to pay to store it for another year.

On the other hand, you might want to hold a flash sale to create buzz for a new product by offering it at a low, introductory price you don’t plan to repeat.

You need to choose the products that are part of your flash sale very carefully, because one of the features of flash sales is very steep discounts. If you aren’t careful in your product selection, you could end up significantly reducing your profitability.

3. Be Creative

Flash sales are not all the same. You can opt to just slash prices, but you can run various promotions during a flash sale. You might consider buy one, get one free. Or you might offer a great deal on products you bundle together. Or if a customer spends a certain amount, you could offer a coupon for a significant but not crazy amount off on any additional purchase – as long as it’s within the next week (thus bringing them back to the where they are likely to buy additional items).

4. Discount Strategically

One of the key features of a successful flash sale is discounting selected products enough to turn heads while still benefitting your business. You are competing not only with other vendors but also with everything else the customer could be doing that day. So, we are talking marking products somewhere from 20% to 70% off in most cases, and we know which number gets the most attention.


  • Your audience: Are you going after new customers or existing ones? If you’re going after first-time customers, you should usually try to feature products you can discount heavily such as excess inventory. But if you want to reward existing customers, you already have their attention, and can usually discount less.
  • Your objectives: As mentioned, if you want to clear out old or obsolete stock, you can usually discount pretty steeply. But if you’re trying to create brand awareness, you may be able to be more conservative in your discounts.
  • Your costs
  • Your break-even point
  • Your competitors’ pricing
  • Duration of the sale: Is it a couple hours or a couple days? You can be a lot more generous in your discounts for extremely short sales.
  • Likelihood of creating a returning, loyal customer

5. Upsell and Cross Sell

Remember that when you attract people to your online flash sale, they will be exposed to the other products on your site. You will also have the opportunity to show them related products that are not on sale when they are looking at a flash sale item.

For example, you might slash the prices of all your shoes of a particular brand for a flash sale. When people view a pair of shoes, you can still show a matching purse even though it’s not on sale. You can also show the customer similar but more high end shoes whether or not they are part of the sale.

6. Check Inventory

This may seem obvious, but once you go to all the trouble of driving people to your site for a big flash sale, make sure you have enough inventory so most customers will not leave disappointed. You don’t want to advertise a two-day flash sale and sell out of most items in the first couple hours.

It’s ok if some products are limited – that can create urgency. But let people know certain items are limited in advance.

7. Streamline Fulfillment

If your flash sale is successful, it is going to create a lot of demand. Make sure you’re ready for it. Since flash sales run for such a short time, your fulfillment center must be primed to process a much larger than usual volume of orders in a matter of hours – and still run smoothly. Examine what could cause delays and fix any problems long before you hold your online flash sale.

People love getting good deals, but if their purchases don’t arrive on time or your customer service slips, it will adversely affect your brand.

8. Don’t Overdo Frequency

Flash sales can be extremely effective, but not if you hold them too often. Flash sales rely on customers feeling urgency, but if you hold them too often, you will kill that sense of urgency. Customers will know you will always hold another flash sale in the not distant future. So why buy now? Holding flash sales too often also undercuts your brand, and positions it as a discount brand.

9. Time Your Online Flash Sales

Though you could hold a flash sale due to your business’s internal situation (need to boost sales or shed excess inventory for example), they are often tied to outside events. For example, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are so famous for flash sales that it’s almost impossible to sell anything during that period without holding one.

But there are occurrences throughout the year that are good opportunities for flash sales. For example, kids going back to school in the fall offer a flash sale opportunity for clothes and school supplies.  Blockbuster movie releases offer opportunities to sell related merchandise. Earth Day can be an opportunity for eco-friendly product flash sales. The onset of winter can inspire flash sales of weather-proofing products.

Time of day is also a consideration. Start your flash sale when your audience is available and you are likely to have good website traffic. You can check Google Analytics for the days and times when your site gets the most traffic.

10. Choose Duration

Flash sales always run for a short period, but how do you know whether to run your online flash sale for a couple days or a few hours?

Shorter flash sales can be particularly effective for creating urgency and FOMO (fear of missing out). But they also give you less time for shoppers to see your marketing and get to your sale. Keep in mind that a surprising 50% of purchases happen during the first hour of a flash sale.

11. Focus on an Audience

You should be clear on the targeted segment of your online flash sale. Flash sales can attract one-time buyers who are only there for the great deals. Reach this audience with Google ads and social media.

But your existing customers also appreciate online flash sales. Market to your list. Offer them special deals just or them. Let them know you appreciate their loyalty.

12. Consider Free Shipping

People don’t want to get a great discount then pay big on shipping. You may want to offer a smaller discount but offer free shipping to decrease abandoned shopping carts. Instead of offering all shipping for free, you may want to offer it only on orders above a certain price. This may also encourage people to buy more in order to reach the free shipping threshold.

13. Amp Up Your Marketing

You don’t want to hold a flash sale where nobody comes, because they don’t even know about it. You need to heavily market your online flash sale.

Website: Put notices on key places on your website such as the home page and primary product pages. These notices are aimed at people already considering your products and current customers.

Email campaign: Send emails to your list both before and during the sale.

Social media:   Your online flash sale should be all over your social media. Maybe offer your loyal followers an extra discount or gift. If you are primarily going after new customers, you may want to boost your posts and run other types of paid ads.

Landing pages: Set up landing pages for your flash sale products and pay attention to keywords and SEO.

Google ads: If you are not limiting your online flash sale to current customers, advertise with Google ads.

Ready to Plan an Online Flash Sale?

If you are ready to run an online flash sale, Umbrella Local Experts are here to help. Contact us for a free consultation through our website or call us at (646)440-1426.

There’s still time to plan an online flash sale for Black Friday or Cyber Monday!

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