Call them flash sales, secret sales or private sales, they all mean one thing: deals that promise heavy discounts for a limited period of time. A concept that is extremely popular abroad, online flash sales have now found their way into India.

But how is an online flash sale different from a store sale that luxury brands and designers often hold? Vehbi Sinan Tunalioglu, CEO,, an Indian flash sale portal, explains the difference: “While both processes help suppliers liquidate their excess inventory, our main difference (when compared with brick and mortar stores) is the reach that we provide as our customers can buy the merchandise from any part of the country.”

But are these ‘super-saver deals’ as great as the online sellers make them sound? Let’s take a look at what lies beneath.

The Lure of Discounts
It’s hard not to reach for your wallet instantly when you come across a deal promising a 50% discount. Such heavy discounts are par for online sellers, who even claim to offer up to 70% discounts. But it’s tough to determine the genuineness of these. As most sceptical buyers will tell you, sellers often hike the mark-up price and then offer a heavy discount. For instance, a flash sale portal was offering a designer handbag from Coach on 23 February at a discounted rate of Rs 16,999, claiming the original shelf price as Rs 33,525.

Evidently, the rate has been slashed by about 50%. However, when cross-checked on the US retail website for Coach, the same bag was priced at $298 (Rs 14,602). Amazon too had a similar bag which it can ship to India for a total delivery charge of $47 (Rs 2,303). Obviously, your total expenditure would be Rs 16,905. So, would you actually end up saving money if you buy from the sale?

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The tag of exclusivity
Indian luxury flash sale portals claim to offer exclusive memberships. However, this is just an illusion. You don’t strictly need to be ‘invited-in’. Anyone can become a member by registering directly on the portal and then inviting anybody they want. In fact, some websites reward you with credit points each time one of your referrals makes their first purchase on the portal. So, if boasts about four lakh registered users, it would make your ‘exclusive access’ seem like a pin in the haystack.

Another hitch is that though you’ll get trendy designer wear, it’s going to be, unfortunately, last season’s trends. Most of these sites, such as, mention clearly that they sell previous seasons’ garments which have not deteriorated in quality. Other sites, such as, will offer products from up-and-coming designers like Namrata Joshipura, Anaikka, and Raakesh Agarvwal, who would like to liquidate their unsold and excess inventory through these sites. Abdul Halder, a Bangalore-based fashion designer, says, “Usually, the products offered on flash sale sites are from a designer’s existing collection. They often include products that haven’t been showcased previously but are included to widen the product range, and, to an extent, make the deal more viable economically.” So, if you are coveting a designer dress for less, be prepared to compromise a bit on the ‘current season’s trends.’

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There is no race
Flash sales cash in on the urgency factor. They last for a day or two, or a week at the maximum. The deals are available for a limited time, but, you must ignore the ticking clock before you buy. Says Naina Singh, a 30-year-old advertising executive: “I came across a so-called exclusive deal on a sale portal, which was offering a six-piece Giordano travel combo set for about Rs 7,000, for only three days. I was still trying to make up my mind when the deal got over. After almost a month, I saw the deal again on the same website. What’s more, the same set was also being offered under my credit card reward point scheme.”

Though most websites feature only a handful of deals at a time, they need to constantly bring out new deals every week. There’s no guarantee that their inventory will be sold, which is why the old deals get repeated after some time.

Check whether the product being sold for a limited period is also available on other sites. For instance, at a perfume sale for four days on, a 100 ml bottle of Hugo Boss No. 6 eau de toilette was available for Rs 2,975, while the online retailer is offering the same product for Rs 2,790. The more interesting part: While the former claims the original price to be Rs 3,800, the latter says it’s Rs 4,900. No wonder, buyers are wary of the claims made by most online sellers.

Should you go with the crowd?
Flash sales on a group deal site, such as and offer discounts on restaurants, trips and events only if a certain minimum number of buyers opt for the deal. So, the first thing you need to check is whether the booking amount will be refunded to you if the deal is cancelled due to a lack of buyers. Some consumer forums have complaints lodged by buyers of how the travel vouchers they had bought from deal sites were not honoured by the hotel or tour organiser, which claimed that they had no vacancies.

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This led to the vouchers expiring and a loss for the buyers. However, sale portals are taking measures to resolve these issues. Says Ankur Warikoo, CEO, “We have proactively taken steps to review our customer policy which has led to a 90% drop in complaints. For travel deals, the merchant contact is always visible and we have put in place a 100% refund policy on travel deals within 14 days of purchase.”

So, check the fine print carefully before opting for a travel deal from any flash sale portal. For how long is the travel voucher valid? Is it inclusive of everything or only the room rate? Will you have to pay a penalty if you cancel after booking?

Flash sales work best for discerning shoppers who can trawl the Net or those who are well aware of the retail store prices. For the newbie who wants to indulge in retail therapy online, it might be better to visit lots of similar sites and compare the prices of the deals before zeroing in on one. #KhabarLive