While Supplies Last: How to Use Scarcity and Urgency to Increase Sales
by Corey Ferreira Conversion Apr 10, 2017 9 minute read Leave a comment Email Pinterest Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
The fear of missing out can have a powerful effect on shoppers. A split test done by WhichTestWon showed that when a countdown timer was placed on a product page, it converted nearly 9% better than a variation of the product copy without a countdown timer.
Creating a sense of urgency among your website visitors can help make more people buy and less people “go home and think about it”.
There is potential for visitors on your website to procrastinate and try to delay their decision to buy. According to a study done by Centre De Recherche DMSP, consumers that were seen as high procrastinators had a 73% chance to not make a purchase decision immediately. Consumers that were determined to be low procrastinators still had a 26% chance. Introducing a product or time shortage, your customers will be less likely to delay their buying decision.
A study done by DigitalCommons at the University of Nebraska in 2013 monitored and surveyed 14 shoppers. Study participants shopped at various stores, with most stores using perceived scarcity strategies such as limited quantities and limited-time sales. The study found that the retail stores that had perceived scarcity produced psychological effects such as consumer competitiveness, urgency to buy, in-store hiding, and in-store hoarding.
While your objective isn’t to turn your website visitors into rabid shoppers, you do want to encourage people to act immediately, and that’s where scarcity comes in. You can introduce perceived scarcity to your store by creating a product or time shortage.
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I’m going to share the two kinds of scarcity you can create in your store and a few actionable examples you can use to create urgency.
Limited time sales and offers
Creating a time restriction is one of the easiest and most effective ways of creating urgency and scarcity in your store. This is because customers don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to take advantage of an offer. For example, putting together an expiring sale or offer can force customers to make a decision faster than they might have without a time limitation.
As noted in DigitalCommons’ study, this plays into the theory of loss aversion, where most people prefer to avoid losses than acquire gains. Time restrictions ramp up that psychological trigger.
Offer flash sales
Pet Pro Supply Co. has recurring flash sales on their website, offering very limited-time discounts on hand-selected products.
Pet Pro Supply Co. also has a separate Flash Sale page which is prominently featured on their website. The product page is optimized for the flash sale by showing the sale price, and more importantly, the exact date and time the flash sale ends. This reminds the person browsing the product page that they need to act soon or miss out on the deal.
To really drive home that there’s a deal to be had, consider showing a price comparison between the sale item and what it would be at full cost. That could be the extra nudge a shopper needs to convert.
Include product page countdown timers
Instead of just showing the date that the sale ends, include a countdown timer on your product page, like MakersKit does for their items that are on sale:
This visualization helps increase the effectiveness of the time scarcity of this sale.
While sales under a time limitation work really well, they aren’t the only thing you can use to create urgency.
Create timed shipping offers
Express shipping offers, or even free shipping offers, for customers that act quickly enough, is another great incentive. Fab&GO, a womenswear shop, offers next day shipping if customers act fast enough.
If a customer wants to get her shoes shipped by tomorrow, she needs to act within the next 5 hours.
Another idea is offering free shipping to the customers that act quickly enough. Kit Out My Office, a store selling office furniture, uses a countdown timer across the top of their website.
This is a constant reminder to those browsing the website that if they want to take advantage of free and quick shipping, they need to order within the next 2 hours. This keeps customers from putting it off later, and more often than not, forgetting about it altogether.
You want the customer to purchase, ideally, the first time they come to your website. It’s very unlikely they will ever return, even if they are very interested in purchasing. According to MarketingSherpa, ecommerce companies reported only around 30% of their traffic was returning visits.
You can use stock shortages to your advantage. Instead of looking at limited quantities of your products as a limitation to the sales you can make, look at them as a way to show scarcity to your customers and increase the perceived value of your products.
Show stock quantity
The easiest way of doing this is to simply show the quantity of products in stock on the product page itself and bring attention to the quantity you have left. Tradlands, a shirt store for women, does this effectively by showing the quantity when choosing a shirt size on their website.
Tradlands also instills urgency in the way they describe their quantity. “Quick, only 1 left” is a far more effective way to describe how many shirts are left than “Stock: 1”.
Similarly, Retro City Sunglasses shows the remaining quantity on their product pages as well as on a page specifically for sunglasses that are “Almost Gone!”.
Sell limited quantities
Another way to create scarcity with limited quantities is to tell customers how many you have to sell instead of telling them what’s left. In most cases, using this strategy works best when selling a “limited edition” or “limited run” of a product, where you only manufacture and sell a specific quantity.
For example, Mindzai sells limited editions of some of their toys.
In this case, we see Mindzai is only going to create and sell 100 units, not only making this particular item special to own for collectors, but also create scarcity.
Create urgency in your copy
You don’t only have to show the quantity or sell a limited amount of a product to create scarcity. The language you use on your website, marketing materials and emails can create a lot of urgency as well.
Just look at this email I received from Mizzen+Main the other day.
Take note of the way that Mizzen+Main describe their new shirts. Instead of simply saying “hey, new shirts are on our store, check them out,” Mizzen+Main makes me want to head over to their store immediately by letting me know that “they’re going quick!”.
They also justify their scarcity claim with “Our last product launch resulted in our fastest sellout ever. Get them quick!” at the end of their email.
As I mentioned earlier, the way you describe your product or phrase you call to actions can create perceived scarcity as well. For example, across the top of JerkySpot is a call to action to “Order Now” but it also makes note that “Supply is Limited”.
Letting your customers know that your product can sell out at anytime helps create a sense of fear and urgency. Customers don’t want to regret not taking action when they could have, and using the right copy on your website can remind them of that.
Use scarcity responsibly
Finally, it’s worth noting that with great power, comes great responsibility.
With the right product and customer, scarcity can work really well. However, creating false scarcity or trying to trick people is not the best way to go about this practice.
Obvious manufactured scarcity can turn off customers and hurt your brand.
The scarcity you create needs to be based in something. Why are you only selling those shirts for a limited time? Why is this a limited-run product? You can’t just throw a countdown timer onto a product page and expect it to sell more. The countdown timer should show an expiring sale or an offer (such as next day shipping).
At the same time, scarcity is not always a remedy for poor sales. There needs to be some demand for your products in the first place for this all to be really useful. Much like when Apple launches a new phone or tablet, the demand for their products is already there. The limited amount of Apple products at launch simply intensifies the demand and desirability.
Lastly, don’t over do it. You don’t want to come across as if you’re pressuring your customers. The primary function of perceived scarcity in your business is to encourage procrastinators to make a decision, not to force people to buy things they don’t want. A consequence of creating scarcity, when used improperly, is that it can create buyer’s remorse.
If customers make a purchase they were pressured into, it can cause them to regret their purchase, want a refund, and feel differently about your business.
If scarcity makes sense for your store, consider applying one example to your business. Even a small change, such as how you describe the quantity left for a product, can have a big change on conversions. If you have any questions on how to create perceived scarcity and urgency, or you’d like to share how it’s worked for you, feel free to comment below. I engage and respond with everyone.
About the author
Corey Ferreira is a passionate entrepreneur, coconut water lover, and content creator at Shopify.