Clocks on pink background

Urgency and scarcity are highly compelling psychological triggers, which can influence consumer decision making processes. Urgency and scarcity in essence establish a sense of FOMO in the would-be customer(the fear of missing out, to those of you not down with the vernacular). This in turn encourages them to take action then and there, to avoid feelings of regret by delaying and subsequently missing out.

The ecommerce landscape is extremely competitive and therefore rife with scarcity and urgency triggers. With consumer journeys often spanning multiple channels in a non-linear way, creating a sense of urgency and scarcity can serve as a propellant pushing people towards the desired action of making a purchase. 

Psychological Foundations

Behavioural economics shows that the pain we feel from losing out is twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. From a psychological perspective then, urgency and scarcity triggers can actually be more convincing than just having great products at competitive prices. That’s not to say that your offering should ever play second fiddle – we are also rational beings after all – but making consumers feel that they are avoiding missing out on a deal can be an extremely strong motivator. This is known as loss aversion.

Alongside loss aversion, and the aforementioned FOMO principle, there is the scarcity principle. This is the idea that items perceived as scarce are also perceived as more valuable. This principle could be said to underpin much of modern economics, but its effect as a psychological motivator in marketing is undeniable too.

Scarcity and urgency can also cut through another modern phenomena: decision fatigue. This is something I suspect we’ve all experienced when shopping online when presented with too many choices. Scarcity and urgency can help bring certain products to the fore, tipping the balance in the decision making process and allowing people to settle on a product more easily (even if this wasn’t the choice they’d have made in a level playing field).

Urgency tactics can, therefore, play into our in-built subconscious psychological biases, when it comes to capturing our attention and convincing us to buy something.

Best Practices for Implementing Urgency and Scarcity

Hourglass and coins on wooden table

When utilised correctly, urgency and scarcity tactics can effectively capture the attention of an audience and boost conversions. Here are some established best practices to keep in mind in order to drive positive outcomes.

1. Leverage Social Proof

If you want to convince your audience that your product or service is in high demand, leveraging social proof is one of the best ways to back up your claims in an authentic way. There are a variety of ways to approach this, including prominently displaying ratings, reviews and/or testimonials on your sales pages and on social media.

2. Conduct A/B Testing

When it comes to driving results from urgency and scarcity tactics, the specific messaging you choose can have a massive impact on the results you get. Too light a touch and the tactic may not land, but go in heavy handed or overuse it, then you could undermine its authenticity causing it to flop.

It’s therefore important to conduct A/B testing on key elements, such as CTAs, the special offer or promotion you’re running, and headlines. This testing will provide you with valuable data, which will help you to determine which versions generate the most sales, conversions and revenue.

3. Utilise CTAs Responsibly and Authentically

We’re all exposed to constant promotional offers and sales and the trend is for this to increase. This has made it much harder for digital marketers to cut through the noise and separate genuine deals from fake, manipulative clickbaity marketing. 

Strong CTAs, used alongside scarcity and urgency triggers, have the power to motivate consumers if they are crafted judiciously and with authenticity to drive positive outcomes. The more precise you can be, in this respect, the stronger the CTA. So, displaying something like ‘only 10 left in stock’ beneath the price of your product or service will likely drive more conversions than a more ambiguous ‘only a few left’. 

Real-World Examples of Urgency and Scarcity

Let’s look at a couple of real-world examples of urgency and scarcity being used in the right ways.

1. Booking.com

Booking.com often displays messages indicating that only a few rooms left at a particular hotel. A typical message might read, “Only 2 rooms left on our site!” 

Another scarcity trigger they employ are exclusive deals. These show certain deals as being limited or exclusive to Booking.com. This tactic not only creates a sense of scarcity, but also of loyalty through exclusivity, by suggesting these offers are not available through other booking channels (so don’t go looking in other words).

Other messages prompting action from would-be customers, include “In high demand!”, and recent booking alerts like “Someone just booked this” and “Booked 100 times in the last 24 hours” beneath popular hotel listings.

2. Amazon

As an agency who works with small to medium sized e-commerce businesses looking to grow, I always cringe mentioning Amazon as they’re effectively a monopoly over the whole e-commerce landscape. But they haven’t become the world’s largest e-commerce business by accident and are extremely adept at leveraging a variety of powerful sales techniques to motivate consumers to make a purchase. 

Scarcity triggers include limited stock indicators indicating when items are low in stock with messages such as “Only 5 left in stock” or “More on the way” and exclusive availability, especially during special Amazon events like Prime Day or in their “Deals of the Day” section. These latter two tactics present products as exclusive to Prime members or available only for a limited time. 

Urgency triggers are where Amazon really ramps it up though. These include: 

  • Lightning Deals: One of Amazon’s most prominent features, these are time-limited offers on specific products that come with a countdown timer and a progress bar showing how much of the product has been claimed. This visual element not only signifies the passing of time but also visually represents diminishing availability, enhancing the urgency. Although I hate to say it, Amazon kinda wrote the book on this.
  • Last-Minute Deals: Similar to Lightning Deals, these are promoted during holiday seasons or special sales events, emphasising the limited time remaining to take advantage of the offers.
  • Delivery Time Messages: Amazon often enhances urgency by informing customers how long they have to place an order to receive their item by a certain date. For example, messages like “Order within X hrs and Y mins to receive it by [date].” This is particularly effective because it ties the urgency directly to immediate gratification or getting a product by a certain deadline (ie in time for Christmas)..

As these examples highlight, authenticity and trustworthiness are key to ensuring that the urgency and scarcity triggers drive positive results and don’t risk jeopardising how audiences view the brand. 

Ethical Considerations

Waiting for time to pass!

While it might initially seem as though urgency and scarcity strategies are pretty low risk, there are some important ethical considerations to keep in mind. It is imperative to ensure that your messaging never sounds manipulative or pushy, which can quickly turn people off from your brand.

You need to respect that your prospective customers are intelligent and have their own autonomy. In order to demonstrate that you value your audience, your urgency and scarcity strategies should never rely on claims that are exaggerated or presented in ways designed to guilt-trip people into making a purchase.

Yes, urgency and scarcity can be powerful sales tools, but it’s important not to overuse them or get carried away with the messaging. Never lose sight of the fact that your biggest motivating feature will be your product and how your brand is perceived by customers, so you still need to showcase value, authenticity and trust to your customers above everything else. 

Leveraging Urgency and Scarcity: Some Takeaways

Ok let’s wrap up then with a few quick takeaways of how you can start using scarcity and urgency triggered to, starting with urgency:

  1. Providing discount codes with a fixed use-by date
  2. Offering free next day delivery on orders placed before a certain time
  3. Displaying how many people have purchased a product in the last 24 hours
  4. Using impactful copy, such as ‘offer ends soon’ or ‘don’t miss out’
  5. Displaying related items that are out of stock

There are numerous ways to leverage scarcity, which include:

  1. Accepting limited pre-orders, allowing consumers to guarantee their purchase
  2. Launching limited edition products to combat consumer hesitation and procrastination
  3. Utilising compelling copy, such as ‘only 5 left in stock’
  4. Adding a ‘bestseller’ banner to popular products or services
  5. Accepting limited pre-orders, allowing consumers to guarantee their purchase
  6. Launching limited edition products to combat consumer hesitation and procrastination
  7. Utilising compelling copy, such as ‘only 5 left in stock’
  8. Adding a ‘bestseller’ banner to popular products or services

Creating a sense of scarcity around your product or service can prompt your audience to view your offering as being of a higher value than other comparable products or services that are more readily available. Additionally, consumers who are interested in your offering are more likely to start seriously considering the pros and cons of making a purchase if they are told stock levels are low and delaying their decision making process might mean missing out entirely.

At Superb Digital, we work with e-commerce stores, as well as other online focused businesses, to improve their search presence and grow their online traffic, whether that be from organic SEO, Google Ads, or other online channels. 

But we’re also all about maximising conversions once those new would-be customers land on your site. This is why we’ve created our fantastic Conversion Rate Optimistion Checklist. It’s free and it’s flipping brilliant so if any of this article resonates, then this is definitely for you (as there’s so much more to conversions than scarcity and urgency triggers).

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