By AnnaMaria Andriotis
Wall Street Journal
November 19, 2013
When shares of Zulily (NASDAQ:ZU) soared 71% Friday following its initial public offering, investors seemed to be betting that flash-sale sites are here to stay. Consumers, however, are having trouble sorting out whether the limited-time offers they peddle are really a good deal. Zulily, the first such startup to go public, is part of a growing industry of high-end flash-sale sites geared toward more affluent consumers. The business model is fairly simple: offer consumers a limited period of time—typically from as little as one hour to two days—to buy high-end inventory at a discount. But the process hasn’t worked out so smoothly for shoppers.
In a sign that consumers are growing wary of the industry, one study found shoppers’ complaints to be widespread: Forty-four percent of comments on flash-sale Facebook pages were negative earlier this year, according to findings released in May by Dotcom Distribution, which provides fulfillment services, including serving as a warehouse, for companies that sell products via e-commerce. Just 29% were positive. Meanwhile, a look at the unique desktop visitors of 10 popular flash sale sites (data supplied by comScore, an analytics firm that tracks consumer behavior) reveals that they declined for all but three of them in October compared with a year prior.
Part of the problem is that these sites grew popular as a response to the downturn—and those conditions are no longer in play. As store sales tanked, high-end manufacturers were stuck with excess inventory and looking for ways to unload it. That’s when many flash-sale sites popped up offering high-end luxury brands, along the lines of Gucci and Chanel, at discounts that consumers could not previously find elsewhere. Those market conditions created a new category of discount sites that have been marketing to relatively affluent consumers who are looking for a steal on what (even with a discount) is still a relatively pricey product.
But that high caliber of retail is harder to come by on these sites now, says Maria Haggerty, president of Dotcom Distribution. Manufacturers have since scaled back production so there are fewer grade-A products on these sites. While most items are still relatively high-end, they don’t inspire the same excitement and flurry of demand. “There isn’t enough inventory of the type of products these sites want to sell because it’s doing well in stores,” says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, a New York-based research and consulting firm for the luxury industry.
Click the link to read the entire article including a quote from Luxury Institute’s CEO Milton Pedraza: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/are-flash-sale-sites-a-flash-in-the-pan-2013-11-19/print?guid=5A07C5D6-5086-11E3-AD6E-00212803FAD6