How to Use Exclusive Flash Sales to Reengage Your Most Valuable Customers & Take Them Beyond the Velvet Rope

How to Use Exclusive Flash Sales to Reengage Your Most Valuable Customers & Take Them Beyond the Velvet Rope

Become a member!

Sign up for our email list and get a coupon code 10% off!

Get updates for upcoming sales!

If these are the value propositions you’re using to capture “members” and you’re not seeing exceptional results … keep reading.

Sure, people sign up, but they’re not turning into loyal customers, leaving your mind burning with questions like: “What have we got wrong? Why aren’t they coming back?”

The harsh reality is there’s no single point at which a customer becomes loyal forever. Rather, it takes constant engagement to retain and keep them.

Retention is tough. But it’s a large part of what separates the average from the exceptional.

Now, let’s have a second at that offer you were wrestling with. Compare it with something like Talbots’ offer:

The benefits of “being an insider” are clearly outlined, and to the important customers. Talbots’ Insiders have a strong idea from the outset on what they will get, and what they can do.

Even if you don’t have an idea of who your important customers are, think about who you want to keep shopping with you. Your biggest spenders, your most frequent spenders, or the ones that refer the most customers.

You’re probably thinking, “I already ask people to register as customers when they check out. And they do! So what’s the problem?”

While you think your customers “became a member” of your store by signing up for a list, they weren’t really a member of something greater because it’s not exciting to them.

Look again at Talbots’ Insider program, what do you see?

  • They give them sneak peeks
  • They give them early notice of flash sales
  • They invite their most important customers to events
  • They could offer free or reduced shipping to customers

It’s a small thing, but positioning this up-front helps Talbots separate their important customers from casual buyers and create an elevated, “velvet rope,” experience that makes “becoming a registered member” mean something other than “I’m going to spam you with offers every other day until you unsubscribe.”

Now, what if you went a step beyond Talbots and offered not only early notice but early — or exclusive — access, to a flash sale?

Rather than positioning these flash sales as a user acquisition cost that gets people in the door (which is what sites like Groupon, Gilt, and other deal sites do), these flash sales will keep your VIP customers wanting to come back and investing more time and energy in the brand.

What the Yeezy Boosts can Teach You About Retaining Customers

You might’ve heard of Kanye West’s shoe, the Yeezy Boosts.

Retailing at USD $200, they’ve been known to go out of stock almost instantaneously — with every single release. Their street value shoots straight up to four digits shortly after. This isn’t ridiculous, given that a pair of their predecessors, the Air Yeezy 2’s, had sold for over $90,000 on eBay.

Getting a pair of Yeezy Boosts is difficult. But rumor has it one guy has a bunch of ‘em. In addition to the Yeezy Boosts, this guy also sells some of the rarest and coveted items at his house. His name is Stefan, and he is always just one text message away …

That was the premise of streetwear retailer Stefan’s Head. And although the Stefan’s Head team retired the store a few months ago, they knew exactly how to position their brand story and keep their shoppers coming back for more.

Stefan’s Head didn’t use a store.

If you wanted to shop at Stefan’s Head, you texted him to get on a list. Every two weeks, when Stefan stocked up on new products, he’d text you with what was available.  

On your first purchase, you’d have to leave your credit card information with Stefan’s Head. After that, a “yes” or “no” response to “his” text messages would complete your transaction.

Stefan’s Head had one other “catch” — not everyone was their customer. Stefan would only select buyers by judging their Instagram and Twitter profiles gauging their social influence and clout.

Your store might not care as much about social influence, but the principle is here:

  • Registered users are more valuable than guests
  • Top customers are more valuable than average customers
  • Regular shoppers with large basket sizes are more valuable than inconsistent ones at varying sizes

Make sure you continuously engage these more valuable buyers with something exciting.

Imagine if you could get these customers as excited as they are on Black Friday or during the holiday season.

The whole point of building a retention program is to engage and develop top customers and increase the amount of big spenders.

Flash sales are exciting and even better when they’re exclusive.

Fortunately, running an exclusive flash sale is as simple as using the Frenzy app with a specific email segment, just like Kith did with their own supply of Yeezy Boosts.  Your flash sale doesn’t even need to be a loss leader, Nick Winkler covered how to profitably run a flash sale in great detail on this blog before.

Invite Customers to the Right Side of the Velvet Rope

Flash sales are typically associated with chaos and competition, but these flash sales to engage VIPs will have less of that element. Instead, it should feel more like a quiet private art gallery, stocked with products that they’ve never seen before.

This isn’t a new concept, it’s just underused. Amazon Prime members get access to Lightning Deals 30 minutes before the public. Ticketmaster’s tickets are released to American Express customers a few days in advance thanks to their joint Front of the Line program.

Shopify Plus customer Evy’s Tree, also capitalizes on this concept. Whenever they launch a new product, their VIPs get first access to the limited quantities available. Have a look at how they introduced their “Diana” wrap, their VIP email announcement, and a giveaway coinciding with the wrap’s launch. We go in detail on their launch process here.

Although it’s not entirely a flash sale, Evy’s Tree’s customers are enticed into signing up to be a VIP.

How to Position Flash Sales as a Value Add for VIP Customers

Ultimately, these “members only” flash sales are meant to develop an “ingroup bias” with your existing customers and leave people on the outside wanting more.

While your inner teenager may cringe at that, exclusivity drives curiosity, and when done well, can be a very powerful driver of word of mouth buzz that is difficult to pay for.

Because you’re leveraging ingroup bias, you don’t have to spend a ton to execute. If you worked with a geometry-based shipping strategy and made sure that all products in the flash sale fit into a single flat rate box, you can even find a way to profit.

You can link to your retention program everywhere (and people will naturally find out about the flash sales there):

  • In a section in your footer
  • In a product page “Special Offer” section (e.g., “This item could be featured in an upcoming flash sale...”)
  • In microcopy near high consideration areas
  • Link in the navigation design that goes to the retention program page

You’d want to announce and link to flash sales privately and only with people who’ve already invested time and energy into your store, or your retention program:

If you’re eager to start, and want to get really exclusive with it, identify your top 30 top customers based on their spending amounts, and send them a quick two line email. It could be as simple as:

Hey [name], we’re doing a flash sale for just you and 29 other customers. We’ve got stuff nobody has ever seen before. I want to personally invite you. Want in? Just reply back “yes” if you’re interested, and I’ll make sure you get access.

While some may cringe at how casual that message is, it’s also more direct and personal than sending an email blast to a segment. If you want to get really personally with it, try sending handwritten notes through Bond to your customers.

Final Thoughts

Your customers already shop with you. They want to keep shopping with you. Your job is simple: make sure they remember you. Excite and inspire them regularly.

Create experiences they won’t forget.

Of course, deal sites are still alive and well. That’s a reminder that flash sales are still useful for acquiring new customers…

But they’re just as — if not more — useful in retaining your most important ones. 

About the Author

Herbert Lui is the creative director of Wonder Shuttle. He was a staff writer for Lifehacker, and his writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail, the New York Observer, and Fast Company.