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How to Use Flash Sale Sites to Score Killer Deals – Pros & Cons


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What do sites like Zulily, Gilt, HauteLook, and have in common?

In addition to offering affordable deals, they’re all considered “flash sale” sites, which are often confused with group shopping sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. Flash sale sites offer steep discounts on in-demand merchandise but with a catch: The sales only last for a few hours.

Contrary to popular belief, flash sale sites aren’t all geared toward female shoppers. There’s something for everyone. caters to the indie crowd, while Last Bottle holds daily flash sales featuring blends and varietals like pinots, chardonnays, and Chiantis. No matter who you are, chances are there’s a flash sale site for you.

The allure is hard to resist — but questions naturally arise. How do you judge the value of a deal in such a short time span? How do you decide so quickly whether your finances can handle it? While there are multiple solid advantages such sites offer, it’s easy to get in too deep with the appeal of an amazing sale. It’s essential you have a handle on the pros and cons before trying to utilize any flash sale website.

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Advantages of Flash Sale Sites

Flash sales are tempting for a reason. People enjoy these advantages of shopping flash sale sites:

1. Scoring Killer Deals

Manufacturers sell via flash sale sites because they want to sell a large volume of product. But because the discounts are so steep, they can only sustain the pricing for a short period. That gives you the opportunity — if you’re quick enough — to purchase products at a steep discount. If you’re looking for something specific, it’s an effective way to save.

2. Discovering New Products and Manufacturers

Flash sale sites give you the opportunity to learn about new-to-you products and manufacturers. deals exclusively in smaller designers and manufacturers, so you can find a lot of limited or one-of-a-kind products. Plus, you can feel good about helping the little guy by buying from a small business.

3. Buying High-End Products for Lower Prices

With flash sale sites, you can sometimes score authentic high-quality name-brand goods that are normally outside your budget.

Disadvantages of Flash Sale Sites

Buyer beware: Flash sale site shopping can definitely have its drawbacks. Consider these before you sign up.

1. You Can Fall Victim to the Adrenaline Rush

Flash sale sites prey on your emotions in much the same way an auction website like eBay does. In Psychology Today, Rice University professor of marketing Utpal Dholakia notes that a short sale duration triggers “participatory regret,” which causes you to want to buy to avoid feeling like you’ve missed out. If you pull the trigger without thinking it through, you’ve fallen prey to the tactic.

2. You May Buy Products You Don’t Need at Prices You Can’t Afford

Flash sales can entice you to purchase things you normally wouldn’t consider because they’re out of your budget. If you normally don’t spend more than $50 for a handbag, you’d probably never drop $500 for a designer purse. But what if a flash sale site has one on offer for $250? It’s over your budget but less than what you’d pay retail — and still tempting. The key to navigating these offers is to remember that just because something’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s the best deal for you.

3. Exclusivity Makes You Spend

Remember the old MasterCard slogan, “Membership has its privileges”? Scoring those sweet deals via email or through your membership makes you feel like part of a club. Some flash sales even require an invitation to join, which makes being a member feel even more special and exclusive.

How to Shop Smarter With Flash Sales

It’s possible to shop flash sale sites without overspending or buying needlessly. Keep these tips in mind before you sign up for a membership or buy under the influence of an insider deal.

1. Hit “Unsubscribe”

When you sign up for a flash sale website, they automatically add you to their mailing list. That usually means a new daily deal, complete with price and countdown clock, arrives in your inbox each morning. Seeing those shiny new goods daily is dangerous for a healthy bank account.

To tame the spam beast, unsubscribe from automatic email lists and just resolve to check out deals manually when you have the time to look and money to spend.

2. Do Your Homework

Often, mediocre products have flash sales because a company knows you can find better quality or lower prices elsewhere if you do any digging. Don’t let that itchy finger get you in trouble. A quick Google search or perusal of Amazon usually gives you the hard truth. You can often find a better deal (complete with free shipping) online or by checking out retail stores.

3. Shop With Purpose

Browsing these sites just to kill time almost always leads to trouble. Save your flash sale site subscription for when you really need it or when you have some extra cash to spend on something special. Or utilize them when you know you have a pricey purchase on the horizon, like a baby stroller or a new handbag. Keep a list of bigger-ticket necessities, and shop with a specific product in mind.

4. Set a Budget

If you’re hopelessly addicted to flash sales and don’t foresee stopping in the future, the least you can do is budget for your purchases. Include these purchases as a subsection of your shopping budget by picking a monthly spending limit and sticking to it. Start with a $50 maximum and log out and close the website as soon as you’ve maxed out.

5. Beware of “Perks”

Flash sites frequently offer low flat-rate shipping for your purchase. For instance, Zulily offers free shipping for 24 hours after your initial purchase. Sounds great, right? Wrong. Don’t be lured into buying more goods just because of a low shipping fee. Instead, ask yourself, “Would I purchase this if I had to pay full shipping?” If the answer is no, delete it from your shopping cart. A flat-rate shipping fee won’t pay for itself by buying more.

You can say the same for other flash sale membership perks, like secret sales or discounts on bulk buying. Flash sale sites are engineered to utilize your emotions to entice spending. Would you buy that pricey cashmere scarf if you hadn’t seen it on sale? Don’t let membership perks drag down your whole budget.

Final Word

The benefits and perils of commerce are as old as the wheel. Whether it’s retail, wholesale, or e-commerce, every form of buying and selling comes with advantages and disadvantages. So don’t let the marketing tactics work on you. Learn to recognize marketing ploys and remind yourself to shop smart, and you can beat the flash sale sites at their own game.

What’s your favorite flash sale site? How do you keep online spending in check?


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Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.