How to use timed sales to drive conversions

October 8, 2019

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What if I told you your favorite online store was offering 40% off all orders for the next hour?

If you’re anything like most shoppers, myself included, you’d already be headed to their site, mentally tallying up your wish list.

Why? Based on the theory of loss aversion, customers are motivated to make a purchase based on the fear of losing out on something. Translation: people don’t want to miss out on a great deal!

Whether it’s a cut-off time to receive free shipping or a message letting shoppers know stock levels are low, there’s no better way to get customers to pull the trigger and check out than creating a sense of urgency.

And the ultimate way to drive urgency on your online store is with a timed sale.

How putting a time limit on your sale creates urgency

A limited-time Black Friday sale is the one of the easiest ways to ramp up the psychological trigger of missing out.

And it doesn’t matter whether you’re using coupon codes or an app to run a timed sale for you: Without setting a time limit, there’s no reason for your customers to act immediately. The more time they have to mull over their purchase, the less likely it is they'll buy.

Just like famed marketer Robert Cialdini said in his book, Influence, “opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited.”

And even if shoppers know the scarcity is deliberately created by the retailer, they'll still feel compelled buy. 

So make sure you’re letting customers know that they can only snag your deals for a limited amount of time.  Let’s look at a few different strategies you can use to do this.

Run a timed flash sale on your online store

Setting up a flash sale is a great way to maintain your brand equity: Customers aren’t expecting the sale, so they won't delay their purchase. 

You can choose to put your whole store on sale, or just a particular group of products like a collection, brand, hand-selected products, or even just one hero product. (Here's a Shopify app for that!)

flash sale ideas

Don't want to offer a discount on your products? Follow Current's lead: They ran a one-hour flash sale during peak visiting hours on their store, offering customers 99 cent shipping on all orders.

Want to know more? Check out this eCommerce guide to flash sales (with examples). And remember: When choosing how long to run your sale for, keep in mind that three-hour sales have the highest transaction rates at 14%.

Set up a descending sale to drive customers to your store first 

They say the early bird gets the worm, and that's especially true for Black Friday shoppers.

I think it's fair to say the trend of opening stores earlier and earlier has curtailed in the last couple of years (remember a few years back when some stores would start their Black Friday deals on Thursday?!)

But even so, it's still a good idea to get people hyped for your big Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals with smaller — but still appealing — deals throughout the week.

This will help you get customers heading to your online store before they've spent all their money. 

A great way to do that is to set up a descending sale, just like Rusty did below. 

Run a descending sale on your eCommerce store

By releasing only a limited amount of each percentage-off coupon, it instantly catches your eye and skyrockets urgency, making you hope you can complete your purchase fast enough to be one of the lucky few to get 50% off!

Don't want to use coupon codes? There are a number of apps available that can help you alternate percentage discounts on your store.

Just think: Your whole store on sale for 50% off from midnight until 1 a.m., 40% off from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., 30% off from 4 a.m. until 10 a.m., and so on.

Create a doorbuster "daily deal" to generate more traffic

Daily deals, today-only sales, deal of the day: No matter what you call it, this type of promotion is a great way to get more customers to visit your store. It's also a great way to generate impulse purchases if you're offering a smoking-hot deal.

Let's take a look at Toys R US

Run a timed sale: doorbusters

Instead of offering their doorbuster sale for the whole day, they put a time limit on it to boost urgency even more! Plus, they followed the ever-popular trend we talked about earlier and started their Black Friday sale Thursday evening, locking in sales from deal-hunters before they made a purchase elsewhere.

Or you could go the route of Best Buy below.

Instead of offering their doorbuster sale for one day only, or even just a few hours, they got customers coming back to their site for multiple days in a row by featuring a different (and amazing) deal of the day well past Black Friday.

Extend your timed sale past Black Friday

Set up a countdown timer to show customers exactly when your Black Friday sales end

Countdown timers are the ultimate tool in your Black Friday sales kit.

The tick-tock of the sales clock is a constant reminder to your visitors that time is about to run out on your amazing sale, and can create major fear of missing out (aka FOMO!).

And with 94% of online shoppers spending time trying to find the lowest price, you need to make sure there's no hesitation when they land on your site. If deal-hunters stumble across your store and see there's only five minutes left to get a deal, chances are they'll immediately take advantage of that opportunity!

Don't forget to add your countdown timer to your Black Friday email marketing campaign to drive sales like Early Learning Centre did below: It's been shown to increase triple email conversion rates!

Using countdown timers during your sale

Check out our favorite Shopify app for adding a countdown timer to your online store: It displays a fully customizable, live countdown timer on any page of your store, letting your customers know exactly when your sale will end, down to the second!

To wrap it up

Timed sales might be the best way to increase urgency surrounding your sales this Black Friday, but make sure not to over do it.

Focus on one or two strong sales at a time, and don't over-promote them with banners, sale icons, pop-ups, and bundle sales on top of your countdown timers. It will clutter your message and irritate your customers, sending them directly to your competitors.

Have any questions on how to run a timed sale? Let us know in the comments below and one of our eCommerce specialists will follow up with you!

John Bruce

Written by John Bruce

John is a full-time copywriter, part-time boxing coach, and former cable-access host.

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