Have you ever purchased something on an impulse, simply because of a blinking “Only 1 remaining” text next to the “Buy Now” button?
Or because that 50% off coupon expired in just a few hours?
Most of us have. And it’s not always because we deeply needed or wanted a specific item. This is the scarcity principle at play.
And if you’re not yet using this principle on your ecommerce store, you’re missing out on an effective marketing strategy that could multiply your sales.
What is the scarcity principle?
The scarcity principle refers to the usage of scarcity – meaning that something is scarce or in short supply – to make it appear more valuable to consumers.
You may have already used this principle without knowing it.
For example, did you ever run a limited-time sale? If so, you were hard at work with the scarcity principle.
Scarcity can be both real and simulated, and only the ecommerce store owner will know the truth. For example, you can choose to tell your potential buyers when only a limited quantity of something is left. However, some ecommerce marketers display “limited quantity” tags for a certain item even when it’s not scarce. In this case, it’s just a marketing trick used to sell more.
Scarcity isn’t just limited to product supply. It’s often paired with the sense of urgency and can be time-based, too.
Here’s what I mean. There can be a limited amount of time left to take part in a sale, participate in a contest, purchase a limited-edition item, or snag a discontinued product.
In this case, it isn’t so much the number of items that causes scarcity, but the amount of time the consumer has to make up their mind about whether they want it or not.
Scarcity can also work with exclusive products or sales that are only available to certain people in your audience.
For example, if you have a members-only sale or a tier of products that are only accessible to people who are part of your loyalty club, scarcity lies in the fact that it cannot be accessed by everyone.
How scarcity influences consumers
Marketers don’t just use the scarcity principle for fun. They use it because it’s been proven to be quite effective at increasing ecommerce sales.
Science Daily spoke about this phenomenon in their article about consumer preferences: “Psychologists have long known that you can make a consumer good more desirable by making it appear rare […] When people perceive a bunch of items to be scarce, they choose relatively more of their favorite item”.
They specify that this effect is present whether the scarcity was real or simulated.
Scarcity also makes consumers feel like they have access to something that other people want but can’t have, which in turn makes them feel privileged and lucky.
But as we mentioned above, scarcity is not only about limited item supply, it can also stem from limited time supply.
In fact, the reason why ecommerce stores set up a time limit on their sales and promotions is not just because they can’t afford to sell items at such low prices all the time (because some of them can).
It’s because it makes the sale more valuable.
If the sale was to continue forever, consumers would have the choice to push their purchases to “later”, because the sale isn’t really special or urgent. And “later” may never happen.
On the contrary, when there is a clear deadline, time becomes scarce. Consumers see this as a limited-time opportunity (because it is). As a consequence, they feel the pressure to make a decision quickly, and they have less time to consider their choice and possibly talk themselves out of the purchase.
In the case of time scarcity, it’s not so much the value of the specific items that is increased in the consumers’ eyes, but rather the value of the sale itself. If you have a year-round sale, the importance and value of this sale won’t be as high compared to a sale that lasts seven, five, or even three days.
Why do people go crazy on Black Friday? Because of how short it is, plus it only comes around once a year.
Whether the scarcity lies in item supply or time, the principle remains the same: people hate missing out, and this is reflected in their purchasing decisions.
Effective scarcity marketing examples
Now that we’ve explored why the scarcity principle makes consumers tick, it’s time to see it in action. I’ve compiled some brilliant scarcity marketing examples used by ecommerce platforms big and small.
You probably won’t want to miss these. (See what I did there?)
1. Insert limited time countdowns and sales
Let’s start it off with an example you’ve probably used yourself – a limited-time sale!
As mentioned before, there’s a reason most sales aren’t evergreen. The shorter the sale, the fewer impressions you might make, but the more effective those impressions will be.
However, you don’t have to simply stick a date on your site and let it do its job. Take inspiration from TigerDirect and use a countdown timer to amp up the hype!
Every day, TigerDirect runs a new sale on a different item. If you want the item of the day, you have to get it – today.
And the timer makes it feel more real. You can see the seconds going down, and it lets you know exactly when you’re out of time.
A countdown timer is better than a simple date because not all consumers are great with dates and timing. Yet everyone understands what “Ends in 10 Hours” means, and it takes no mental effort to do the math.
2. Play with shipping countdowns
Unless your ecommerce store always provides free shipping, you can play with a “free shipping” offer using scarcity.
Amazon is well-known for instilling a sense of urgency into its consumers by letting you know exactly how much time you have left if you want your item shipped to you the next day for free.
If you look at this text early in the day, it’s not so bad. But the later it is, the more urgent this will become.
Amazon isn’t the only one who plays with scarcity and urgency in shipping. Kohl’s has recently run a one-day free shipping offer on its website too. They advertised the offer with a banner on the homepage to make sure visitors couldn’t miss it:
As you can see in the screenshot above, the limited-time free shipping is not the only scarcity tactic Kohl’s is using on its website. On the left, there is another banner featuring a 25% discount code with an expiration date. The two offers combined are quite tempting for any visitor who is considering a purchase.
3. Create special seasonal offers
You don’t have to be a clothing brand to offer seasonal scarcity. No matter what type of ecommerce store you run, you can use scarcity marketing throughout the seasons to increase the perceived value of said seasonal items.
David’s Tea constantly releases seasonal collections, and many of them are only available during certain times of the year.
So if your favorite tea is a Holiday tea, for example, you’ll need to stock up during the holiday season, because you won’t be able to buy it in the middle of the summer.
Even restaurants can take advantage of seasonal offers. For example, I received this newsletter from my favorite restaurant that advertised their Valentine’s Day only menu:
I hadn’t been there in a while, and my partner and I love treating ourselves to this place, so guess what I did when I was reminded of this menu?
Yup – I made reservations.
4. Make your low stock obvious
Are you running out of something?
Might as well make the most of it.
There’s no real urgency in purchasing something if your sale goes on for a long time, but if your consumer is coveting a specific item and the stock is running out, they’ll need to make up their minds or forever hold their peace.
Nordstrom makes it obvious when you browse their site. You really can’t miss the fact that there are only 2 remaining dresses:
This tactic is popular in the hospitality industry as well. Booking loves to remind users that only 1 or 2 rooms remain for a specific location.
In the above screenshot, there are two examples of hotels running out of available rooms for a selected time period (scarcity!). But I’ve highlighted the second one for a reason.
Not only does Booking make it obvious that this room is in demand, but it reduces the friction for me to book it, since I can cancel it later without losing any money. If I like this room, I can jump on the occasion, literally risk-free. Nice job, Booking.
Bonus: Did you notice the “members-only” deal they’re taunting me with? This is another use of scarcity. Because only members get to access these deals, they are perceived as more valuable.
5. Launch-limited edition items
Limited-edition items are the cream of the crop when it comes to scarcity. Not only is there a limited supply, but they’ll NEVER come back.
This makes these items much more valuable. The cost of NOT buying? You’ll never have access to this specific item again.
Whistles uses this principle brilliantly below:
They don’t just add a “limited edition” sticker on these pieces and leave it at that. The copy on this page makes it obvious that these items are:
Made from luxurious fabrics
For consumers who like to stand out, this offer is enticing for two reasons:
If they like one of these pieces, they need to buy it now or miss out on them forever
If they buy these pieces, they’ll be one of the few people in the world who can wear them
The only way to make these items more valuable would be to create handmade, unique pieces!
Obviously, this scarcity tactic cannot be “faked”. If you were to offer “limited edition” items over and over again, your customers would probably realize you were lying to them and would lose trust in your brand.
6. Display how many people are interested
Here’s another scarcity marketing tactic that the hospitality industry is great at implementing – social proof! This acts as a double-whammy by not only showing consumers that their item is scarce, but also that it is good enough for other people to be interested as well.
Remember Booking? They’re great at doing this, too:
You also have the option of using real-time pressure to show consumers how quickly their coveted item could disappear from their grasp. For example, if you hover over the highlighted text in the screenshot above, it displays when exactly the room was booked the last time:
Suddenly, the possibility of losing this room becomes very real, because I can see that someone has booked a similar one for my specific date only 13 hours ago.
And when you click on the listing, they keep reminding you of the scarcity:
But let’s see what this can look like for products. We have already mentioned Kohl’s earlier in this article. Let’s go back to their website for a moment, and take a look at this great example of real-time social proof:
The fact that 21 people are viewing this item right now will let the consumer know that they risk the chance of missing out on this sale if they don’t hurry.
Notice that they also use urgency on the same page. Once again, they blend scarcity tactics together for a more powerful effect.
Implement scarcity the easy way (without a programmer)
Don’t have the bandwidth to completely rehaul the pages on your site, but still want to include the scarcity principle in your marketing efforts?
In this case, simple tools like popups, sliders, and countdown timers can do the trick and help you add that element of exclusivity without touching the script that runs your site.
In the next sections, we’ll show you how to use Getsitecontrol to create a scarcity popup for your website in a few simple steps. Getsitecontrol is an app that allows you to create captivating popups and banners without a single line of code and drive the attention of your visitors to the ongoing sale. Keep reading to follow our tutorial.
Step 1. Register an account
First things first, you need to create an account on Getsitecontrol. When you create an account, you’ll automatically start a free 7-day trial. You can do it right now if you want, and then follow the steps of the tutorial as you read.
Once you’ve created an account, follow the instructions from the Help Center to install Getsitecontrol on your website.
Step 2. Choose a template
It’s now time to choose the base for your popup. Visit our template gallery and choose a template that is as close as possible to the result you’d like to get. This is our choice:
Don’t worry if it doesn’t look exactly as you need. In a moment we’ll show you how to customize the copy and appearance of any template.
Step 3. Customize content and appearance
Start by typing the text you’d like to see on your popup. You can do that from the
Design tab by clicking on the relevant sections on the preview:
Check the button’s settings to make sure it performs the necessary action(s). In our case, the button is set up to drive customers to the sale page. This means you’ll need to paste the URL of that page in the corresponding field 👇
For other scenarios, you may need to use other types of actions: for example, you may want to let customers copy a discount code to the clipboard or submit a form. To select a different action, click the
+ Add action button and proceed to the menu.
When you are satisfied with the content of your popup, it’s time to make it match your website’s style.
Theme section of the dashboard, you can apply a pre-made theme or change the font and colors of the popup’s elements individually.
To change the image on the template to one that aligns with your offer, click on it and proceed to the built-in image gallery or upload a picture from your device. Adjust its settings if necessary:
Now that the content and appearance of your popup are ready, let’s move on to the
Step 4. Program the behavior of the popup
Targeting tab, you can determine where your popup will be displayed, who will see it, and when.
To make sure your visitors won’t miss it, you can display your scarcity announcement popup sitewide. This is Getsitecontrol’s default setting, so you won’t need to change anything in the page targeting section (
Display widget on):
Next, add a condition to the
Start displaying widget section to have your announcement pop up at the right time. You can trigger your popup:
- When a visitor scrolls down a percentage of the page (
- When they spend a certain amount of time on the page (
Time on page),
- When they spend a certain amount of time on your website (
Time on website).
Lastly, don’t forget to schedule the popup to appear on your website only when the deal is on.
Ours is just an example of the targeting conditions that you can set; feel free to choose different ones to meet your needs.
When you are done with the settings, hit the
Save & close button and follow the prompts to activate your popup from the dashboard. As soon as the offer starts getting views and hits, you’ll be able to see its performance in the Getsitecontrol dashboard.
Boost your sales with scarcity tactics today
Popups can be a powerful tool when you need to notify all store visitors of a limited-time or limited-quantity offer. And now you know how to create one without a single line of code.
With Getsitecontrol, you can display banners announcing your sale and retain abandoning visitors with exit-intent popups. But better yet, you can add an email capture field and pop your email list using these widgets, too.
Why does growing your list matter for scarcity marketing? All the scarcity tactics in the world won’t work if nobody knows about them.
When you grow your email list, you gain a direct line of communication with your loyal customers to let them know about your products’ scarcity.
With Getsitecontrol, growing your email list and developing a relationship with your customers is straightforward and easy. Try it out yourself for free!
Charlene Boutin is a freelance content writer & email marketing strategist for hire specializing in helping Ecommerce and SaaS businesses increase conversions by growing authentic relationships with their audience. She loves helping business owners tell their unique stories to capture the hearts of more customers.
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