4 Bottlenecks That Make Online Flash Sales Fizzle

Online flash sales generate buzz and business. Ensure sale success through website optimization, fast, free shipping, smart inventory strategies and secure payments.

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For DTC eCommerce brands, online flash sales are a fast, exciting way to generate revenue and pump up customer excitement. Flash sales can offer deep discounts or promotions that are only available for a brief period of time. As the name implies, a flash sale is literally here and then gone in a flash. A well-executed flash sale can also increase customer loyalty, attract new customers and move excess inventory.

The Psychology Behind Online Flash Sales

Psychology and human impulses drive the success and popularity of online flash sales. The speed and brief selling period creates an urgency that taps into consumer FOMO, which in turn triggers rapid buying. Flash sales differ from regular online sales in three ways:

  1. Discounts and promotions are significantly more compelling than what a business usually offers
  2. The duration of the sale is much shorter than an online store’s usual sale window
  3. A limited selection of products are on sale, often combined with reduced stock availability

When done right, successful flash sales are an effective marketing tool because of their proven success. Customers generally spend more on flash sales, and they can generate a 35% boost in transaction rates.

Psychology and human impulses drive… online flash sales.

When Good Flash Sales Go Bad

Any DTC eCommerce store can run an online flash sale, but that does not mean it is easy. Unsuccessful flash sales can erode profits, hurt brand image and attract disaffected, one-time-only customers. Less experienced eCommerce brands are sometimes unaware of the challenges that come with mounting a flash sale. As a result, they fall prey to the traffic bottlenecks that can easily derail the entire experience.

In order to attract, delight and retain flash sale customers, eCommerce brands need to be prepared to handle these common traffic bottlenecks.

Bottleneck #1: Website Failures

Website failures can be frustrating at any time, but when they happen during a flash sale they can be downright disastrous. These failures can range from long site or page load times (or sites that do not load at all) to those that crash at the most inopportune times. Unfortunately, many eCommerce websites are completely unprepared for the sudden high traffic brought on by a flash sale.

Beyond the annoyance factor, website failures have an unfortunate effect on the customer experience and brand perception. 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience. A reported 39% will stop engaging with a brand if their site will not load or takes too long to load. With thousands of visitors hitting a site at once, an eCommerce website must be able to gracefully scale to meet the demand.

The Solution

While website failures are not uncommon, they are preventable. Even large companies encounter website failures during a flash sale. Here are a few way eCommerce brands can avoid website performance issues:

  1. Forecasting potential online flash sale traffic based on user responses to marketing is essential. Proper forecasting helps brands determine what adjustments they need to make to their website to handle high traffic.
  1. Flash sales put significant pressure on web servers, so eCommerce brands must take time to load test their site. Having the right amount of capacity on servers can determine the difference between website crashes and smooth sailing. It is best to find a solution that allows you to scale capacity on demand when needed.
  1. Employing a virtual queue management system can help eCommerce stores protect themselves from traffic oversaturation during peak periods. Also known as virtual waiting rooms, a queue system lets customers know exact wait times and their position in line. This type of transparency can greatly reduce customer anxiety and cart abandonment.
  1. eCommerce brands can avoid website headaches by partnering with a third-party provider who can build and maintain a website that scales on demand. A dedicated merchant of record (MOR) can also handle all other facets of flash sale, including inventory management and order fulfillment. As well, most eCommerce providers employ a team of engineers ready to help if something goes wrong. A provider with proven expertise in flash sales and other specialty services can help brands avoid website bottlenecks.

Bottleneck #2: Shipping Failures

For eCommerce brands, watching thousands of customers flock to their flash sale to grab all those great deals is the definition of success. But all those good vibes go up in smoke if brands can not ship orders in a timely manner. No matter how many sales are racked up, shipping fails negatively impact customer goodwill and brand reputation.

Today’s online customers want orders fast, and they are not willing to wait.

Nearly 61% of online shoppers want their items delivered within 3 hours of making a purchase, while 80% want same-day shipping. Additionally, 67% of customers say they will not shop with a brand again after a poor delivery experience. Ultimately, if a brand cannot deliver on fulfillment demands, customers will likely find another brand that will.

The Solution

Free and reliable shipping lets eCommerce brands can stand out from competitors and increase customer satisfaction. This is especially true during high volume events like flash sales and holidays shopping periods. While the shipping process can be complex, an easy way to handle it is to work with local delivery services.

Local delivery serves as an easier and cheaper alternative to shipping via nationally-known third-party carriers. It can be faster, too, as many large shipping companies are still experiencing pandemic-related delays. Besides getting packages to customers’ doorsteps quickly, localized delivery options can offer eCommerce businesses many other advantages:

  1. Lower shipping costs
  2. Improved customer experience
  3. Strengthened local community relationships
  4. Increased sales

A Word About International Shipment

International shipments add an extra wrinkle to the eCommerce shipping process. While localization can hasten international shipments, eCommerce brands can also offer customers a range of shipping, payment and refund options. For instance, 65% of customers are willing to pay extra for faster shipping. Brands that do a large amount of international business can also negotiate a bulk international rate with carriers to ensure timely deliveries.

Bottleneck #3: Inventory/Overselling Failures

Overselling is a major problem that hounds online eCommerce flash sales. Few things can ignite customer anger more than being told a product they already bought is suddenly not available. Angry customers will most likely vent on social media about their terrible experience. This results in not only a lost sale and customer, but negative brand perception.

The Solution

Since flash sales put a major strain on e-retailers’ warehouses, merchants need sophisticated inventory management techniques. eCommerce inventory management is an organized approach to sourcing, storing, tracking and shipping a business’s inventory across all channels. It lets brands know how much stock is on hand, what it should sell for, where it is stored and how long to keep it.

Real-time inventory updates will also help eCommerce brands keep track of inventory during a flash sale. This technique requires merchants to sync inventory levels between their fulfillment software and eCommerce platforms the second orders are placed. Once a last product is sold, inventory quantities will reflect “out of stock” on the website. Notifications can also be set once a product reaches a designated safeguard number, like 5 to 10 items still left.

Reserving inventory is another smart way eCommerce retailers can better manage their stock for flash sales to avoid overselling.

Bottleneck #4: Slow Checkout and Payment Verification Failures

Like the name suggests, customers want to get in and out of an online flash sale in a flash. But a sudden mass of customers checking out simultaneously can bring the process to a halt or completely shut it down. Slow checkout and payment verifications contribute to cart abandonment and lower conversion rates. Close to 70% of purchases are abandoned once they reach the online checkout. On average, online shopper abandon approximately $4.6 trillion worth of merchandise every year.

The Solution

Cart localization can help to decrease cart abandonment on a global scale. Localization is a process eCommerce brands use to customize their websites and checkout processes for different markets. The goal of localization is to provide international customers with a shopping experience that is identical to what they encounter domestically.

Proper localization requires time and resources, particularly with language translation, currency conversion and website design. These logistics may be too much for many eCommerce brands to handle themselves. Brands can engage a merchant of record (MOR) to take on the headaches of localization including managing the checkout and payment processing. The additional sales, expanded customer base and boosted brand recognition will make the effort worth the investment.

Brands Need to Be Prepared

Online flash sales drive revenue and help brands acquire new customers, but there are hurdles to a successful flash sale experience. Brands that possess the right tools and knowledge to avoid bottlenecks are more likely to see significant benefits from the flash sale. Preparation and planning keeps DTC eCommerce brands from falling victim to crippling flash sale bottlenecks.

Is your brand planning an online flash sale or specialty event that will attract significantly higher traffic? Partner with Scalefast to avoid the bottlenecks and roadblocks that can lead to performance issues and customer dissatisfaction. Schedule your free demo today to learn more. 

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