Since the late 2000s, flash sale websites have been a big trend in e-tailing. These sites sell discounted products for a few days, and then replace them with another set of products at the end of the sale period. They’ve been a boon for bargain-hunting shoppers and for companies—especially start-ups—seeking brand awareness.
The flash sale model fit The New Clothesline Company perfectly. In fact, in the last two and a half years, the company has participated in more than 25 flash sales on websites like One Kings Lane,Zulily, Ideeli, Joss & Main, Fab.com, Touch of Modern, and The Grommet. These sales generate most of the company’s revenue, and flash sale sites are its fastest-growing channel.
With experience like this, we asked Karen Sessions-Crowley, Clothesline’s Director of Operations, to share some tips with others who may be considering flash sales. Here’s what she had to say.
For The New Clothesline Company, which sells laundry drying racks, a few factors make this business model worthwhile:
1. Exposure. Flash sale sites increase awareness of your product. For new businesses, there’s no other way to reach such a large market from the start.
2. Targeting. When you sell through these sites, you know exactly what audience you’ll reach. This helps both when you know who you want to target and when you want to reach a new target—maybe men or international shoppers.
3. Traffic. Exposure on flash sale sites is great for driving visitors to your website. Inevitably, shoppers who see your products want to know more. They’ll go to your e-commerce site, and may buy something while they’re there.
4. Networking. Partnering with flash sale sites to sell your products builds relationships, which in turn, can lead to referrals and future requests for business when your contacts move around.
Flash sale sites also have their downsides:
1. Discounting. No matter which site you work with, you’ll have to discount your wholesale price, which is painful for most retailers. If you can, ask around as the amount of the discount varies.
2. Control. When you sell through someone else’s website, you lose control over how your products are marketed. Even the pictures they choose might not be your preferred images.
To make the most of this opportunity, follow Karen’s advice:
1. Research. Start by knowing your category—and then find flash sale sites that sell products in that category, even if you have to wait and watch. New sites are emerging all the time—like the ones in Canada and Australia right now. In addition to your business contacts, industry trade shows and publications like Fast Company magazine are great ways to find out about new sites.
2. Persistence. Remember that flash sale sites are inundated with requests to feature products. Be patient. But also be persistent. If you don’t hear back from a company’s main contact, don’t be shy about emailing the owner to get him or her excited about your product.
3. Assortment. A flash sale site may think it’s only interested in one of your products. For example, Clothesline’s WOODi drying rack is popular since it’s sustainably made in the U.S. To promote its other products, the company shares a spreadsheet with details about its entire product line with everyone who’s interested. This encourages broader assortments.
4. Placement. Getting your product placed at the top of a sale is key. The New Clothesline Company once sold 5,000 units with such placement.
5. Terms and conditions. The flash sale site should pay for shipping, and try to get Net 15 terms (nothing longer than Net 30).
6. Portal. Make sure the partner provides access to its vendor portal so you can track your sale as it happens. Some portals can even be tied directly to your warehouse to make things really simple.
Karen also stays on top of how the flash sale model itself is evolving. She says the sites are trying to figure out where they fit in with the Amazons of the world. Others go so far as to suggest they’re a passing fad. As for The New Clothesline Company: They’ll continue doing flash sales as long as they’re around.