Flash sale sites are an e-tail platform designed to offer deep discounts on consumer products over a short period of time. These websites have a large database of potential customers and can be a great way to target consumers who are ready to purchase.
Flash sale sites are best suited for high margin or overstock products. If you are mostly interested in exposure and staying within your normal margins, this will not be a good fit. Sites like Zulily and Ruelala set their prices at 40% – 60% off suggested retail, so a large and flexible margin is necessary for you to make money.
Step One: Contact the flash sale site
The best way to get your foot in the door is to make sure your products are a good fit for the flash sale site. Zulily sells mostly apparel, but they also sell bath and body products. Only approach a flash sale site that sells products in your category. If, for example, you sell bath products, there is a much greater chance of selling on Zulily than there is on lifestyle sites like Groupon and Living Social. While those sites do sell bath products, their programs are very limited and generally extended only to well-known brands.
Each flash sale site has a page to submit vendor inquiries, although you can also find the names of the buyers in your category on LinkedIn. These buyers are receiving hundreds of inquiries a day as well as setting up programs for existing vendors, so be patient!
Step Two: Decide on products and send samples
When a buyer from a flash sale site contacts you, they usually have a slot for an upcoming program and a strict time line to follow. They will set up a phone call to explain how they work and figure out what product(s) would be the best fit. The number of SKUs and inventory will vary by site – Zulily may ask for around 100 pieces per SKU and be willing to bundle products together, while Groupon may ask for 1,000 pieces of 1 SKU and not bundle products. Some sites have a merchandising team to take photos and write product copy that will appeal to their audience. Most flash sites do not offer this service, so be ready to provide a lot of information in their designated format pretty quickly.
Once the buyer has seen your products and decides they want to move forward, they will set you up on the vendor portal and send you a contract to sign. The most important part of the contract outlines shipping dates, fees associated with missing them, and most importantly – inventory commitments and what happens if you don’t fulfill your end of the bargain.
Step Three: Set up in the vendor portal and wait for the sale
Once you have signed your contract, you will have access to your sale in the vendor portal. Each website has a different portal, but they all provide you with the same type of information. This is where you will receive copies of your purchase orders, enter tracking information, see the sale dates, preview your add, view alerts and pretty much everything else related to your products. Once you are set up in the vendor portal, your communication with the buyer will end and you will be passed on to a vendor coordinator. The vendor coordinator will make sure everything runs smoothly and answer any questions you have regarding your shipping agreement, which is usually 30 pages long and pretty confusing the first few times you run a sale.
One thing to remember is your initial contract is not a real purchase order, but it does require you to hold a certain number of units for the flash sale. Be aware that you may sell significantly fewer units than you promised to hold and the flash sale site has no obligation to purchase remaining inventory.
Step Four: Ship your products
As the sale progresses, you will receive purchase orders for the actual units sold. The number of purchase orders and shipping requirements are different for each site, but the process is generally the same. Every few days of the sale, you will receive a purchase order. Most of the time you are required to acknowledge receipt of the purchase order in the vendor portal as well as mark the products as shipped. Some sites even issue multiple purchase orders a day, so be prepared to pull and ship your products as quickly as possible. Missing deadlines by even an hour can cost up to $10 per item.
Actual shipments are different for each flash sale site, but you can negotiate with the sites and have them cover the cost of shipping. They will send you shipping labels for each PO and all you have to do is ship your products. Usually you are shipping to a distribution center and they are distributing them to the customer, which is why they are so stringent with deadlines.
Step Five: Get paid and plan your next sale
Once the sale is over, you will receive payment for the units sold. Most sites are very prompt and you will receive payment before the end of the month. The vendor portal will store copies of your sale, PO’s and payments for your convenience. If the sale goes well, many times the buyer will contact you right away to run another one. If the numbers work, this is great news and you will be able to run sales whenever there is space for the types of products you offer.