Navigating "Flash" Sales Sites
If you’re thinking about making a big score for presents this holiday season, you may want to check out what is called ‘Flash sites”.
“Flash” sites are web sites created to sell merchandise at deep discounts in a very short period of time. For example, a high end coat is discounted by 70% but only for 36 hours or while supplies last, hence the name “flash”.
Over the past two years, over 350 flash sites have popped up on the web. They make money by taking a small percentage of the sale. The seller unloads inventory without advertising. The savvy shopper can score big time. They work using coupons, like a regular auction site and sometimes they use techniques made popular by infomercials.
From the outside, flash sites sound like a win-win-win situation for all concerned. The site makes money, the seller unloads inventory and the shopper scores on price.
Problems arise when inventory is not as substantial as the demand is, thus creating disappointment. Or, the sale price is not as good as other locations on line or in store. There is also the issue that what is being offered is not exactly what one is looking for. A compromise between desire and price is made.
One important caveat to know is if, and what, the return policy is. Remember, returns are not governed by any laws or rules. It varies from site to site and this holiday season, returns will be closely scrutinized. (Please see the Frugal Yankee’s article on Returning Gifts.)
Here is how a flash site works. Read each particular web sites rules before bidding. Some may require you to become a member, some may not. Previews of for sale items are posted. Some sites will send a newsletter or update to prior to any sale giving members a leg up.
Once a sale starts, shopping is fast paced. Like the infomercials, they want you to act and act fast. The old adage snooze you lose applies with them. Some sales ore over in minutes others may take loner. Once a sale is complete, then the purchase is consummated. Be sure to check out shipping costs or where the item may be picked up.
Flash sites started with fashion and clothers, but these days the are not restricted to just them. Today they still sell clothes, but also vend home décor, entertainment deals and now even travel.
Two types of sites are emerging as the sites grow in popularity. One is for local stores looking to create buzz or drive more business their way. Remarkably this type of flash site is showing some real strength and may under cut the on line store’s impact on the old brick & mortar stores.
The other type of flash site is for big ticket items at national stores looking drive lots of customers. These are the sites where dramatic savings on national brands may occur. Remember, though, these sales may not come with guarantees, returns or any kind of recourse if there is a problem. Local stores are much better for that. Yet if finding a site that offers great prices on goods an individual shopper is looking for, these sites are very useful.
This holiday season, flash sites are still modest in what they offer and are still figuring out the market and their "personality". A couple to check out are Gilt.com, RueLaLa, BeyondtheRack.com, IvoryTrunk.com, Zulily.com and Ideeli.com.
The future of ‘flash’ sites in unknown. The demand for these items appears to be limited. Their competition is not each other but more localized deal sites, like Groupon.com or LivingSocial.com. In terms of unique visitors, their growth rate is outstripping the national ‘flash’ sites. As a result of this trend, the ‘flash’ sites are attempting to become more localized themselves. RueLaLa just opened a Boston centric adjunct site. This strategy may be successful, but in all likelihood the more successful approach will be for the local deal sites to adopt some national “flash“ site techniques.
No matter how this trend shakes out, shoppers should approach all of this with caution. The desire for a deal should never out strip the need. The Frugal Yankee still wonders why anyone would buy a $1500 coat for 80% just because it is a name brand and a ‘deal’. The question will remain, is the item in question at the price being asked a good value? If it is, then the Frugal Yankee supports the purchase. If not, it’s a waste of money.
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