illustration of woman on tablet shopping an eCommerce flash sales. eCommerce flash sales are a popular way of driving revenue and increasing demand for DTC retailers.

The Most Popular eCommerce Flash Sale Events

Flash sales, product drops, and other sale-as-marketing events are a lucrative way for DTC retailers to drive demand and increase revenue. Find inspiration in these popular flash sale events in advance of your next event.

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The Most Popular eCommerce Flash Sale Events

Flash sale events from favorite brands satiate customers’ needs to get a good deal. A survey from RetailMeNot found that “56% of 25-to-34-year-olds know when a sale is due to start at their favorite store.” Furthermore, 19% of customers surveyed reported being just as excited about a sale as they were about going on vacation or their own birthday!

Flash sale events elevate run-of-the-mill discounts. A well-executed flash sale avoids some of the pitfalls that drive brands away from marking down products, such as brand perception or managing a large volume of orders. Here’s how brands can leverage flash sales to build anticipation, grow their customer base, drive word-of-mouth marketing, and move high volumes of inventory at once.

Amazon Prime Day: The Ultimate Flash Sale

Amazon Prime Day began in 2015 as a 10-year-anniversary event but has since evolved into an annual event that many Amazon subscribers eagerly anticipate. After Prime Day in October 2020, Amazon announced that they had broken previous sales records and created the largest eCommerce shopping day in history. “We are thrilled that Prime Day was a record-breaking event for small and medium businesses worldwide, with sales surpassing $3.5 billion — an increase of nearly 60% from last year,” said Jeff Wilke, CEO Worldwide Consumer.

Prime Day Offers Deep Discounts for Cult Favorites

Amazon uses its Prime Day flash sale to sell its own products: smart speakers, tablets, and goods from their proprietary brands. Amazon also encourages small and medium businesses to offer deep discounts on their merchandise during the 36-hour event. Those deep discounts can pay off big for brands.

One of the best sellers is the Instant Pot, an electric pressure cooker that owes its cult following in part to Prime Day. Tom Huddleston Jr. reported in CNBC that on Amazon Prime Day in 2015, Instant Pot “sold 24,000 units (compared to just 182 the previous Wednesday). The following year, Amazon sold a whopping 215,000 Instant Pot cookers, helping to build the product’s cult following. Instant Pot sold over 300,000 units over 36 hours for the 2018 Prime Day event.

Prime Day Boosts Prime Memberships

Beyond physical goods, Amazon Prime Day also lures in new Prime subscribers looking for access to deals. In the 4th quarter of 2020, Amazon’s yearly Prime subscriber rate jumped from 49% to 53%. Adam Levy from The Motley Fool reported that Amazon’s choice to launch Prime Day in October extended the holiday shopping season. New subscribers decided to save money by purchasing an annual subscription and using it through November and December. This dramatic increase in memberships will continue to deliver for Amazon through 2021.

Amazon Prime Day continues to drive huge numbers for Amazon in both purchases and subscriptions. By teasing the event, leveraging its massive marketplace, and offering extremely limited and deeply discounted deals, Amazon makes this event one of the most hotly anticipated eCommerce flash sales of the year.

Ulta's 21 Days of Beauty

Ulta is a favorite for beauty and skincare enthusiasts year-round because of its popular rewards programs, frequent coupon mailers, and its semi-annual 21 Days of Beauty flash sale. During the 21 Days of Beauty, new items are discounted every day, offers are good in-store and online, and customers rush to fill their carts with that day’s major deal.

The event gets rave reviews. Jessica Harrington from Popsugar says, “Anyone who remembers the beauty retailer’s last three-week-long sale event last year knows that this is not something you want to miss.” Beauty bloggers, vloggers, and TikTok creators give their audiences their best tips for which products are must-haves. Almost as soon as the lineup is announced, shoppers make their lists.

Ulta's Flash Sale Inspires Competitors

Ulta’s success with 21 Days of Beauty caught the attention of competitor Sephora. Beginning in 2020, Sephora launched Oh Snap! to coincide with Ulta’s sale. Sephora’s sale features many of the same products as Ulta’s sale, as well as additional shipping benefits.

Beauty flash sales like Ulta’s 21 Days of Beauty work because they limit the selection each day, reducing choice overload. Ulf Bockenholt, a professor of marketing at Kellogg, explains choice overload as “where people are faced with so many choices that they can’t decide among them and make no choice at all.” Choosing between a couple of items each day, Ulta customers are not overwhelmed by all the options at once and are more likely to purchase more during the promotional period.

Lilly Pulitzer's 'The Lilly' Online Flash Sale

Lily Pulitzer’s fresh floral prints and bright colors are a perennial favorite with fashion lovers. The semi-annual sale is one of the only times that the brand discounts its clothing. As a result, customers pay attention to the sale dates and take advantage of these rare savings. The sale, formerly named the After Party Sale, is so popular that over 100,000 customers wait in a virtual queue for site access and have even crashed it during the sale. Customers log on immediately when the sale begins and rush to complete their orders before coveted items sell out.

Lilly Pulitzer Branches Out with Omnichannel Options

In the past, Lilly Pulitzer has experimented with some omnichannel extensions of their sale, using Instagram and Facebook to drive more sales after the event. Customers could purchase flash sale items featured in Lilly Pulitzer’s Instagram stories. David Naumann, vice president of marketing at Boston Retail Partners, stated in an interview with Retail Dive, “While the Instagram Stories feature is just hot off the press, it represents another media vehicle for retailers to engage with their customers.”


How to Build a Successful Flash Sale

Minimizing sales to a few yearly events builds anticipation. These sales drive a sense of urgency and scarcity because the discounts are deep, the stock is limited, and the risk of selling out is real. When running a highly-anticipated flash sale, it is important to prepare your back-end infrastructure for the surge in traffic. Even the best websites can succumb to overload. Amazon Prime Day 2018 was plagued with slowdowns and even had to run a scaled-down front page after it failed to secure enough servers to handle the amount of traffic.

Effectively using flash sales can drive traffic and buzz to your brand and website. When executed well, flash sales can quickly move a lot of products, bring in new customers, and increase profits. Many major retailers like Amazon, Ulta, Sephora, and Lilly Pulitzer use flash sales to drive sales and excite customers. The anticipation of a good deal brings in customers and can provide an experience unparalleled by other events.

Learn how to build a successful flash sale by downloading our whitepaper, Sell Smart: The Benefits of Specialty Web Stores for Sale Events.

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