Flash Sales: Customers Gone in Seconds?

With the advent of online shopping and its eventual emergence as a preferred mode of electronic and mobile goods procurement for buyers with internet access, the phenomenon of flash sales has descended upon us like a plague. This model has people fretting and fuming! Why? Well, wanting a device and having money to pay for it is no longer guarantee that you will get the device! Let us look at this today



First up, let us understand what happens in a flash sale

  1. The Mobile Maker fixes a date for the “sale”
  2. A week or so before the date “potential buyers” have to register to “be a part” of the sale
  3. Normally the number of “registered” users is in six digits.
  4. The day of the sale arrives, registered users have to sit in front of a screen waiting for a countdown timer to go to zero
  5. The second it hits zero, they get a “chance” to “buy” the device, they have to hit the buy button and pray that the algorithm assigns a device to them.
  6. Some people get to “buy” the device
  7. Normally the number of people who get to buy the device is in five digits.
  8. The unlucky users DO NOT get to automatically try the next “sale”
  9. The next “sale” is announced and Step 1 starts again

Here are the problems with this model

  • Reduces the buyer to a joke, with absolutely no control over the whole process
  • Spawns a very organized black market for devices where the “lucky” ones literally make a killing selling the devices for higher prices
  • I have personally seen FB groups where “invites” to sales or devices in carts are “auctioned” off using ridiculous methods like – “I am thinking of a number, the closest guess will get the invite or device”
  • The real buyers who start out as fans of the device end up despising the brand to the core and finally end up avoiding the brand entirely
  • The brands that do this do not sell in the conventional outlets, so everyone is made to go through this circus
  • On the day of the sale, “registered” users basically have to stop everything and focus only on the “sale”

We spoke to a few of our friends who have had bad experiences with these sales. Here are some responses (names not mentioned)

A: As a complete noob to flash sales, I was wondering how the devices would be allotted. Would it be fcfs? Would it be a lottery (as in every xth request is served)? Would it be a network/QoS dependent lottery, etc. ? I was quite impressed by the fact that there was a running down clock/timer which would obviously turn into a button which means you at least have a shot at it if it were fcfs.

The clock wound down, turned button and I clicked immediately and was placed in a queue. After a few seconds I saw the sold out page. I felt cheated because I probably clicked the button in less than a second. I can’t believe that all the pieces ran out in less than a second. Are there that many people who were waiting for this like I did, who knew what it could do, etc. Who took time out from serious work to participate in this charade?

I have given up now. I could place an order for three similar devices in alibaba for slightly more than the device’s full price. I know I will get docked 50 percent for customs, but that’s fine.

B: I was very impressed with the specifications of the device. I am a techie and I was keen to get the device. So I tried my hand at the first flash sale. I didn’t get the device, I thought I was unlucky and tried again, the second time too it was a miss. I gave it on last shot and even the third one struck out! I got frustrated and went to a regular shop and bought a device that was never even in my shortlist. Now when my friends ask me about the device I wanted first, I tell them to avoid it unless they want to feel like circus monkeys! I literally hate that brand now and no one from my family will ever buy it.

C: I wanted to gift my wife a wonderful device for our anniversary and knowing that the flash sales are a lottery, I enrolled five of my friends a month ahead of time. All of us tried together, every week for a month, no luck! Finally I had a tough time facing my wife on our anniversary after that! My entire family and extended family now hate these sales and we actively discourage everyone we know from taking part in them. Even when my kids come and ask me, I tell them to go buy from shops and not make fools of themselves!

It is very clear from the above responses that there is severe negative brand buzz from these sales and it is now building up to levels that will definitely damage the brand eventually. But on the other hand, brands are too busy celebrating their numbers, showing off how many thousand devices they sold in mere seconds! They further justify these sales as an efficient way to manage inventory and bottom lines, but why at the cost of the customer?

Very evidently, there is a disconnect between brands and buyers here, we just hope that brands wake up to reality in time before the damage becomes permanent. Ultimately the customers are the people that matter and they need to be taken care of on priority! We have published only the decent responses here, there were many that were laden with expletives that were against the editorial policy of our blog and hence didn’t get featured here! We hope the brands are listening!


About Shakthi

I am a Tech Blogger, Disability Activist, Keynote Speaker, Startup Mentor and Digital Branding Consultant. Also a McKinsey Executive Panel Member. Also known as @v_shakthi on twitter. Been around Tech for two decades now.

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