Flash sales are often conflated with daily deals but they are not the same thing at all. As I’ve written in recent months, there is something about the flash sale model done right that has staying power beyond the other ecommerce 2.0 fads we’ve seen come and go.
The growth of Fab.com, One Kings Lane, Rue La La, and Thrillist’s JackThreads in the face of a daily deals backlash should serve as proof enough. If ecommerce 1.0 was all about utility, ecommerce 2.0 was about creating demand.
In the early days of shopping online, sites like Amazon thrived because of their nuts-and-bolts efficiency. You knew what you want. You found it quickly. You bought and got out as fast as you could. Opensky CEO John Caplan likes to say search-driven commerce was designed “by men, for men.” There was very little browsing in the analog sense of meandering through a flea market.
Flash sales (and in Opensky’s case, social shopping) provide the direct opposite of that. With their immediacy (sale ends in 72 hours!), their limited inventory (items sell out quickly), and their curated selection, big, new brands like Fab have been able to create demand for frivolous things that no one would ever search for. A hat with a knit beard attached, for example.
Demand creation around a brand has paid off handsomely for many of these companies, including JackThreads, the men’s commerce arm of Thrillist. The profitable business sold $50 million worth of flash sale apparel to its 3 million users last year, and it continues to grow, adding 200,000 new members this month.
But there is one problem with this new wave of discovery-based commerce. Yes, it is super effective, but it is not the only way people shop. Based on feedback from this rant about the death of the search bar, I know I’m not alone in this thinking. I like to browse, yes, but that’s only half of the time. I’ve venture to guess that most clothing shoppers mix considered purchases with splurges. Often, after seeing a trend a few places, I know what I want. When I’m ready to buy a certain trend or item, I won’t go to the flash sale sites,because even if they have it, it’ll be a nightmare to find it. Without search, there is no way for me to tell the site what I want.
Fab has a search bar, and Gilt has a search bar, but many others — Rue La La, Ideeli, One Kings Lane — don’t.
Today JackThreads has introduced a search bar and non-flash sale inventory, marking a push into regular, no-frills, demand fulfillment commerce. It is not a move away from flash sales, CEO Jason Ross says. The company’s DNA is rooted there. This is a way for JackThreads to offer both kinds of commerce to its customers — what they know they want, and what they will discover.
Non-flash sale items will not be discounted, which means if JackThreads correctly predicts what its users want, this vertical will boost its margins. Ross said that each time the company has tested out seasonal shops that lasted longer than 72 hours, they drove 35 percent of business. Shoppers using the navigation and search aren’t being lured in by the sales, it’s because they know what they want and they like the JackThreads brand.
JackThreads last year built a planning team to prepare it for the risks associated with taking on more inventory and to predict what users will want. That’s why JackThreads’ parent company Thrillist raised $13 million last fall. He didn’t need the money, but he did need a safety net when taking on inventory risk. JackThreads and its business model is almost five years old. It’s about time flash sales grew up.
[Main Image: stephenjohnbryde on Flickr]