Comment: 'Flash sale' marketing must be done right

Comment: 'Flash sale' marketing must be done right

I noticed so-called holiday ‘hurry deals’ came under fire last week in the latest Which? travel report.

The consumer watchdog found that in 43% of adverts pushing short-term ‘hurry deals’, holidays were still available at the same or lower prices after the sale ended.

Flash sales, hurry deals, call them what you like, it did make me wonder how much longer this form of marketing has left.

Last year I signed up to Groupon and Wowcher and it was fun for the first few weeks. I got daily emails with all sorts of weird and wonderful things. I bought tickets for a concert at the O2 for £20 each and a spa day for £49.99. Oh happy days.

But then the emails kept coming – hair extensions, teeth whitening, online language courses, foam matresses. It wasn’t long before I started hitting the delete button as soon as the email popped up.

But it seems there’s no slowing down the daily deals industry.

I read this week that since the flash sale companies emerged in 2009, more than 8,000 companies have entered the market.

The travel industry caught on and the format is now well-used. Our Travel Tip Off email launched three years ago, which now goes to one million people on our database, was a leader in the field.

And I’m sure more travel firms are experimenting with the technique – although if the Which? survey is to be believed there’s a bit of fine-tuning to be done.

But if this sort of marketing is going to work it has to be done right. Just look at the backlash against Groupon, the leader of the pack in this sector, which was ordered by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to change its practices for misleading prices.

Consumers will not tolerate any brand that is being seen to pull the wool over their eyes. And if brands are to be around for the long term they can’t afford an onslaught of negative headlines.

Many of these deals sites are signing up to a new regulatory code of conduct that promotes “fair, honest and ethical best practice”. Interestingly, consumer complaints about Groupon have dropped by 40% in the past three months since its rap on the knuckles by the OFT.

Bargain hunting is human nature. The daily deals industry is tapping into that. And it’s definitely here to stay. A generation of shoppers will grow up expecting this to be the norm and probably never expect to pay full price for anything again.

Get it right and it’s a powerful marketing force. Get it wrong and firms risk losing their reputation.

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