By  on August 8, 2011

NEW YORK — Saks Fifth Avenue is getting serious about flash sales.

Starting Tuesday, the luxury retailer is launching a regular flash sale site at saksfashionfix.com operated by its Saks Direct team.

The retailer isn't exactly a newbie to the market since it has been doing a handful of events each quarter since 2009. What will be new on saksfashionfix is the frequency of the events — all day, every day.

According to Denise Incandela, president of Saks Direct and executive vice president at Saks Fifth Avenue, "There will be five events in the first week, then seven events the following week, and nine events the week after that."

By the last week of August, the operation will have ramped up sufficiently so that there will be multiple events each day, she said.

The events will typically last 24 hours. After last year's pilot program, Incandela said her team has been collecting data from that experience and is confident of being able to offer "appealing and relevant events" to the Saks customer.

Understanding the Saks customer should give the new business some advantage over the competition as there's certainly no paucity of flash sale sites, or even its cousin the daily deals events from sites such as Groupon and Living Social that feature group discounts.

Top flash sale sites include Gilt Groupe, HauteLook, Rue La La and Ideeli, although the competition is intensifying. HauteLook was purchased by Nordstrom Inc. in February for $270 million; Amazon launched MyHabit in May, and while eBay launched its flash sale destination site Fashion Vault last year, its mobile applications now provide access to shop the flash sales. And in May, American Express linked with French flash sale pioneer Vente-Privée.com to form a still unnamed site to be launched in the U.S. later this year or in early 2012.

At Saks, the new platform for saksfashionfix.com lives on the saksfifthavenue.com site, but also has its own URL. That means that while shoppers can access the flash sale site's home page either through the Saks site or the fashionfix URL, they won't be able to enter the site and take advantage of the different sales until after they have signed in as members.

As for membership, anyone who has already signed up for Saks Fifth Avenue's e-mails is automatically grandfathered into the new flash sale e-mail list. Anyone new who signs up for e-mails will have the option of electing to receive just fashionfix notices or both fashionfix and Saks e-mails.

"We're excited about this phase. Consumer behavior is changing rapidly and they're embracing the flash sale market. This is a tremendous opportunity to attract new customers and increase the existing customer's spend [on our site]," Incandela said.

Catherine Malandrino and Elizabeth & James are representative of the contemporary brands aimed at Saks' flash sale consumer. Past events have included shoe and accessories, as well as product categories in men's, women's and children's, Incandela said.

One of the concerns is whether there's enough merchandise to go around, given the growing number of flash site players. That doesn't seem to be a concern at Saks, where the retailer has long-standing relationships with its vendor partners.

So far some of the Saks flash events include out-of-season merchandise no longer available in the retailer's doors or product created by its vendor partners for the special sale. At some point an event could even involve the testing of some private-label designs, the Saks Direct president said.

Unlike stand-alone flash sites without the benefit of a full-price option, Saks also plans on leveraging both its full price and flash sites in hopes of migrating the event-oriented consumer to the higher-end price points. That means someone checking out an Elizabeth & James or Catherine Malandrino event, for example, could also see a banner across the top of the page where the shopper can click on full-price product shots from the same brand available at saksfifthavenue.com. Another option could be follow-up e-mails to event buyers suggesting that they can see more brand product highlights at the full-price sites, Incandela said.

Next on the drawing board for Saks Direct is the launch of mobile applications in September for Saks Fifth Avenue and fashionfix. Also on the horizon may be an e-commerce option for the retailer's Off5th.com site, which is currently an informational site, Incandela said.

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