Flashback? Retailers likely to resort to flash sales again in the run-up to Christmas

LONDON - Last week Marks & Spencer kicked off its mid-season sales as did House of Fraser with an 'up to '50% sale' and Debenhams undercutting its rivals with an 'up to 70%' sale.

Flashback? Retailers likely to resort to flash sales again in the run-up to Christmas

There may not be much of a gap, however, between the autumn sales and the return to the ‘flash sales' that became a fixture of retail marketing in the run-up to Christmas last year. Retailers had a tough final quarter last year with sales between October and December falling 2.7% compared with the previous year, according to the British Retail Consortium.

This year the market is likely to be even tougher. Not only are consumers less willing to take on debt, the potential disruption to deliveries of a Royal Mail strike may force online retailer to bring forward their sales.

In recent weeks there has been increase in the use of the world `sale' in internet searches, according to research company Hitwise.

One of the drivers for the increase in sales periods could be consumer desire to continually hunt for money-off vouchers. Voucher searches on the internet last Christmas had trembled compared with the previous year and have already increased a further 40% this year.

According to Robin Goad, research director at Hitwise, the rising frequency of sale periods is in response to a consumer need for low costs.

Of course these sales come at a cost.

‘When retailers run sales they are hit twice in terms of cost - firstly with the money they are loosing on sale items and secondly the cost it takes to advertise the sale. There's been a decline in ads because of the power of the word-of-mouth tool now, which retailers can harness more effectively and as a result make the sale more profitable,' says Goad.

But with consumers looking for sales more than ever before, retailers may need to up the dose to keep them happy.