Flash Sale Sites: Great Discounts...With a Price

These days, there are a slew of flash sale websites offering limited time sales with big discounts on everything from clothes to home goods to electronics. You can save some serious dough using these sites, but there are certainly a few issues to consider before you shop. Read on to determine if flash sale sites are worth adding to your discount shopping repertoire. (See also: 8 Online Stores With Surprisingly Great Clothing Deals)

How They Work

Online flash sale retailers offer various timed sales on certain brands or genres of goods in limited quantities. It's sort of analogous to a collection of sample sales, pop-up shops, or deal-of-the-day items where big discounts are offered for a short time and on a first-come, first-served basis.

Usually, these sites require you to register and become a member to access their sale events. Items come with significant markdowns, and they can often sell out before the flash sale officially ends. Typically, sites time sale events to start at the same time each day and last for three to seven days. Some sites now offer goods for longer periods or on an ongoing basis for certain items.

Most of the well-known sites, such as Fab, Zulily, Ideeli, Rue La La, Gilt, HauteLook, JackThreads, and Modnique (which recently bought Totsy), focus primarily on apparel, accessories, and home items. Others, such as One Kings Lane, Joss & Main, and The Foundary, concentrate specifically on home furnishings. Additionally, sites like Woot and the newly launched NeweggFlash also carry electronics, among other things.

The Pros

The deals on flash sale sites can be pretty fantastic. Often the greatest finds come from high-priced designer brands with massive markdowns. On average, most of the sites offer at least a 60% discount when compared to full price retail. (See also: Getting the Most Out of Daily Deal Sites)

Deals can get even better with regular blowout sale events and seasonal clearances. One Kings Lane, for example, has a clearance section called "downstairs," which gets updated weekly with additional markdowns. Zulily often runs "extravaganzas" on certain seasonal items or other categories, which offer a big roundup at great prices. Another good example is Ideeli's periodic "Red Sales," where discounts as large as 90% can be found.

Some other flash sale benefits include referral systems, which means you can receive a site-wide $15 or $20 credit when you refer another customer. Many sites also have expert product picks and blogs with designer advice on fashion and decorating. Additionally, most sites have made upgrades to their search functions, which can save a lot of time and help you comb through inventory quickly.

The Cons

Many people do not like the fact that they have to register on many flash sale sites in order to browse, let alone buy. You also may start to receive a lot of email traffic once you register, but you can manage your email settings to opt out in most cases.

Shipping can be an issue, too. Often these sites have rather high free shipping thresholds. This makes it tempting to bundle your purchases and can lead to non-essential buying to reach such thresholds. Shipping times have also been reported to be rather long. I must say I have waited as long as 4-5 weeks at times, but it really does vary by site. Be sure to always stay smart about shipping charges and find out from the site just how long items may take to arrive. (See also: How to Get Free Shipping and Online Discounts Across the Web)

In regards to returns, some sites have strict policies that can make you really think twice before buying. You might encounter very tight return windows of two weeks or less, or final sale and vintage items that are non-returnable.

The Psychology

If you decide to shop flash sale sites, you need to be very careful about how addictive these sites can be.

The psychology behind flash sale sites can play into your need to snap up bargains for the sake of finding deals, rather than buying what you really need. Additionally, limited inventory and running timers for items added to your cart can fool you into making a hasty decision just to beat out other shoppers. These things can bust the budget of any well-intentioned buyer and prove downright disastrous for more serious shopaholics. (See also: Why People Go Crazy on Black Friday)

To keep flash sale sites from getting the best of your wallet, make sure to always set out with a pre-determined list of exactly what you are looking for when shopping such sites, and do not allow any purchases not on the list. You should also take your time buying, even if it means your cart may expire or you wait to come back tomorrow. If you have any doubts that you can stick to these guidelines, perhaps it's best to skip such sites entirely and avoid temptation.

The Future of Flash Sales

Flash sale sites depend a lot on word of mouth and referrals for new business. Social media plays a big role in such reviews, and it also means negative feedback becomes very visible. While the nature of reviews often highlights the extremes, it is interesting to note that many sites have been dealing with their fair share of negative customer feedback. Check out the Business Insider's summary of Dotcom Distribution's report on the 11 biggest flash sale sites and customer complaints on Facebook to see how some well-known sites performed.

Finally, as more players enter the space, existing sites are continually trying to keep customers interested and still generate a profit. For example, Fab has made recent changes, such as allowing browsing without having to sign-up, and they have even indicated they are moving beyond the flash sales model. In the meantime, they are promoting the social media side to shopping by offering $5 customer credits for uploading a first picture of a Fab purchase to their Inspiration Wall.

It will be interesting to see how other sites tweak their strategies and how this pans out in terms of savings and experience for customers like us down the road. For now, flash sale sites warrant a look for some, but just make sure you use them strategically and not as a new addiction.

What are your favorite sites for flash sales?

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Guest's picture

I don't like these sorts of sites/deals because they cause me to consider purchasing things I would otherwise not go out and buy.

At the end of the day, you end up spending more than if you had just ignored them.

Guest's picture

Excellent advice when doing any type of online shopping.