Before we talk about scarcity and how it relates to marketing, let me ask you a question:
Have you ever stayed in over the weekend, and had a bout of depression imagining how everyone’s out there having fun?
We’ve all been there, even if we had a good reason to not go out, or just simply weren’t in the mood for it. This fear of missing out, or FOMO, is a legitimate psychological phenomenon, and it is only the tip of the iceberg that is known as loss-aversion theory.
There are two main driving forces why people show interest in things – pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. This might have been obvious to you, but the interesting part is that fear of loss is almost two times more powerful than the satisfaction of winning.
Scarcity marketing leverages this, as the feeling that there isn’t enough of something is a very powerful driving force to obtain it. We’ve all heard or felt “the grass is greener on the other side” at some point in our lives. We’re simply naturally inclined to want what we can’t have.
There are two factors that can be limited to artificially create scarcity:
By limiting these factors in your offer, the fear of missing out on something good translates into fear of loss, and then the fear-loss aversion instinct kicks in. Your prospects feel more inclined to act now, even without you pressuring them outright.
In other words, scarcity is an extremely powerful tool that can greatly increase your sales, conversions, and overall customer engagement.
So, let’s take a look at this comprehensive list of successful scarcity examples and at the same time analyze why they work so well.
One of the two straightforward types of scarcity marketing, putting a time limit on your offer can be found everywhere, because it is so effective. There’s a million ways to go about this, but they can all be roughly grouped up in several distinct categories.
Offer Lasts Until xx
Nothing creates urgency like having a huge countdown timer that says “this is how much time you have to make a decision”!
When you put a time-limit on your offer, you put pressure on people to act. If done well, this can greatly increase sales and conversion rates as it can nudge your on-the-fence prospects in the right direction.
When they launched their webinar, Omniconvert, originally Marketizator, added a floating bar that counted down. When you hover your mouse over it, it expands to add sign up options. If you’re appealing to FOMO, you need to make the decision-making process as straightforward and as fast as possible, as we crave an instant result to release us from the subconscious fear.
As little text, and one-click sign ups with active language work great, like in this case.
Best of the Best
Best of the Best is a car competition site that operates in a fairly simple manner – every few days they have new offers you can choose from and you buy as many tickets you’d like to try and guess some predetermined value. The one that gets closest to it, wins the car.
They used to have a counter up all the time to show when the old offer is closing and new one is up, and they decided to test if adding a counter only 3 days before the end of the competition will increase the sales.
It turns out that adding a counter increased sales of this JEEP by 5% compared to the control sample, which is huge, considering the value.
Daily and Weekly Deals
The same principle can be done on a smaller scale, by creating a lot of small scarcity events. Time limiting is an extremely effective technique even if it’s used often, but it has to be honest in its urgency and scarcity.
In addition, the aggressiveness of the scarcity campaign you’re creating has to correspond to the frequency and value of your deals. It is obvious that daily or weekly deals should be less pushy than the one-of-a-kind countdown deals.
TigerDirect has honed the daily deals game to perfection. They have a huge counter that tells you when the daily deal ends, along with prominent large red numbers that show the discounted price. In addition, it shows how much you save percentage-wise by taking the deal.
The tactic works great because:
a) the value of the deal is great. Most of the products are 40-60% off.
b) it isn’t pushy.
No one is forcing you to take the deal. It is simply there for you to take it. The counter seems a bit friendlier that way, because it just states when the deal ends, and urgency is only implied.
Urgency tactics don’t have to be used in sales alone. A very creative way to encourage people to act was done by a dating app Bumble. They added a 24hr reply deadline when the match is made – in heterosexual matches the woman makes the first move and has 24hrs to contact a guy that caught her eye, and then the man has 24hrs to reply.
This plays into Bumble’s “life is short” philosophy and creates urgency that can get people out of their comfort zone when it comes to initiating contact.
Frank and Oak
You can even create urgency, without actually creating real scarcity. The following example just imitates scarcity and uses social proof in tandem to create that feeling. And it works. That’s how powerful our fear of missing out is.
Frank and Oak have weekly highlights that show off some of the products in their stock. There is nothing special about these – they are not on discount, they will not disappear after the highlight week is over, and it still works.
Again, this tactic is effective because it is passive, and it leverages social proof. You will automatically assume that the highlighted item is of good quality and popular because someone took the time and effort to point it out to you.
Holiday Specials and Seasonal Offers
Displaying counters and creating a bit of panic works great, but there is a tolerance limit. People can get fed up or desensitized to your tactics if they are being used too often, or do not address their needs and fears.
That being said, there are some more subtle ways to go about creating urgency, especially if you want to have a more consistent increase over a defined period. Typically, holidays and yearly events are an awesome time to create tailored, targeted products that can boost your revenue significantly.
Starbucks is a master of this type of marketing. Whether it’s a seasonal offer like pumpkin spice lattes or a holiday special like Christmas Frappuccinos, they increase the value by limiting the availability.
In addition, they use pretty strong messaging in their copy to emphasize that the offer is not going to be there forever. “Enjoy it while it lasts” is a very powerful message, because it points out that there is something pleasant you can experience NOW. For a limited time.
After all, you do want to enjoy, right? It would be such a shame to miss out on it!
This works great because these drinks are usually too much of a hassle to replicate at home which means that the scarcity is real, and by extension your fear of missing out is, too.
Even less traditional holidays can be used to leverage scarcity with a bit of creativity. Chubbies plays on both patriotism and festivity of 4th of July by having special deals and giveaways every year. They offer special thematic products, like star-spangled banner shorts for pre-sale with guaranteed shipping.
Besides targeted products, they also leverage 4th of July to increase sales of their usual stock by having hourly giveaways with every purchase.
Mother’s Day has a gift-giving component which makes it an interesting candidate for scarcity campaigns. Besides making special deals or products, you can also make use of tardy and last-minute shoppers.
In this case, a simple message “there’s still time for Mother’s Day delivery with expedited shipping” does exactly that. It is very low-key and helpful, but at the same time puts pressure on shoppers by using trigger words like “still” and “expedited shipping” to indicate that the possibility might end soon.
Don’t forget that certain non-holiday events can also be used for your scarcity campaign. For example, back-to-school spending is second only to winter holidays.
Don’t forget that certain non-holiday events can also be used for your scarcity campaign. For example, back-to-school spending is second only to winter holidays.
When we create time-limits to create urgency, we also implicitly limit our stock. After all, there are only so many units that can be sold in a given timeframe. Obviously, this premise works the other way around, too.
If we limit our stocks we implicitly limit the timeframe during which said stock is available. Thus, scarcity creates urgency and vice-versa.
Only XX Left
The prototypical “hurry while the stocks last!” principle, having a limited number of items creates urgency in a similar manner to a countdown timer, but it has an added benefit:
People have a feeling that they are racing others to get the product which makes them create internal countdown timers that are often much shorter than the ones you would put. In addition, it also plays into the need for uniqueness (or conformity, depending on your message) in people that are wired that way.
Using this method is particularly easy and logical when there are physical constraints to the number of products you can sell. ConversionXL, a marketing agency that focuses on conversions, organizes a conference every year and the number of tickets is limited.
When the event draws near, they put up a counter with a number of available tickets, which serves as both social proof and urgency trigger.
An interesting take on the previous model, this one shows a live counter of the remaining stock for all of their limited runs. This way, not only do you see how many articles are remaining, but how fast they are being sold as well.
This indicator works as a hybrid between the stocks counter and a countdown timer, but that doesn’t necessarily make it more effective. After all, it eliminates the self-imagined countdown timer, but the honesty of the approach can have a more positive impact on your sales, based on the target audience.
This approach replaces that feeling of panic with a feeling of helpfulness but still caters to the reptilian “must have shiny things” part of our brain. Obviously, these methods work best when you have a real reason to limit the numbers, but you can even limit digital products.
Ministry of Supply
Surprisingly, even a lack of products can be used to create urgency in your marketing. First of all, it shows that the article in question is in demand and thus valuable, and it also triggers the fear of missing out.
If your size is in stock you will be more inclined to buy it as you see that the item you’re looking for is popular. You might even consider yourself lucky that your size is in stock. On the other hand, if your size is not available this social proof still works, and you have an option to leave your email to get a notification when it’s in stock again.
So, the company either gets a sale or a very interested lead this way.
People often put items in their online carts and use them as a sort of a wish list, where items can reside until they’ve decided that they want to make a purchase for sure. In order to discourage this behavior, you can add a quantity counter that shows the availability of the item as well as a number of items in stock.
This way, people might feel more urgency to make a decision and buy the products they were looking at.
The Next Web
Instead of having one stock counter for your products, why not have three?
Next Web used a fairly popular pricing model where a preset number of tickets for their conference were sold at one value, and later batches were sold at a higher price. In addition, they created an additional sense of urgency by using phrases like “last call” in their ads.
Since the price difference was significant, this created high demand, which also served as a good promotional platform for their conference.
In theory, this model can be used with more than two steps, but there needs to be a good reason for it.
Invite Only and Exclusive Clubs
Exclusive clubs have existed since forever, and our need to belong to a group or a tribe should not be underestimated. Creating a product or a service that is invite-based can create both a feeling of scarcity and exclusivity in people.
The good news is that this has become particularly easy today, since people need to fill in online sign up forms, and this lack of hassle has further improved the effectiveness of this approach.
SocialCam is a video sharing service founded in 2011 which managed to gain over a million users in 4 months. Founder of the company, Justin Kan, stated that they owed success to their closed invitation process that started the ball rolling.
They started with a core group of users that they believed would spread the app further, and it seems that their strategy paid off.
A year or two later, SocialCam was acquired by AutoDesk for $60 million.
When Spotify came to the US, they decided to limit the influx of new users. They rolled out a limited number of invites for their free service and interested people were put on a waiting list. Of course, you could skip the waiting process if you opted to pay for their unlimited or premium offers.
This worked well for Spotify because they were already hugely popular in Europe, and hype was big enough. Furthermore, Spotify has over 50 million paid users, partly because of this wait-skipping practice.
People wanted to be a part of a seemingly exclusive group and at the same time, they didn’t want to miss out on what everyone else was doing.
Another twist to the same basic principle, Mailbox played the social proof card as hard as they could. If you wanted to try out their service you had to sign up and reserve your spot on the waiting list, where you could see how many people have signed up before you.
You could also see how many people signed up after you.
Same as Spotify, this strategy worked only because the perceived value of the product was high enough to begin with, and there was solid reasoning for the wait – controlled influx of users prevents server overload.
Invites can work with physical products too. OnePlus is a smartphone company that launched their first products via invites only. Since they couldn’t be found in the stores, this created both a feeling of scarcity and mystery.
The Invite-only strategy paid off for them, as they sold over a million phones and had over 25 million visits to their websites in less than a year since the phone was launched.
Another way that exclusivity can be used is to increase the quality of service. Quibb is a news network that has a very strict vetting process. All the applications are reviewed by the network’s founder, Sandi MacPherson, and less than 50% of people are accepted as members.
Being a part of Quibb can greatly increase social status in certain circles, which means that value is once more dictated by rarity and exclusiveness.
The 11K Club
A true social experiment, the 11k club goes to show how far people would go in order to not miss out on something. The premise is simple:
11k club offers 11,000 membership spots to gain one exceptional benefit. No further information is available to non-members, even what the club is for. In order to find out more, you have to sign up.
As ridiculous as this sounds, it actually worked. The club received far more than 11,000 applications for membership. Similar to OnePlus exclusivity was reinforced by the sense of mystery which is a very powerful motivator – people can imagine their fears and needs much better than you can, after all.
Limited Editions and Customized Items
Besides high demand, scarcity can be induced by low numbers in the first place. Unique and rare items can be very attractive to people that want to stand out or show their loyalty to a certain franchise, brand, or a movement.
In addition, people that are passionate about their hobbies and interests are often also interested in showing that, which explains the whole collectibles industry and standing in line for newest apple products or movie premieres.
This Texas based company has their whole business built around the scarcity principle. They produce limited editions of movie posters that are designed by contemporary artists, and their products are highly coveted by movie enthusiasts.
However, their runs of 400-500 prints are considered extreme by some, simply due to the company’s popularity. The reason?
They announce the sale a day earlier via an email newsletter, but you still have to follow their Twitter for the exact time on that day. This creates an incredible feeling of competition and exclusivity, and their model is so effective that most of their stock goes out in a matter of minutes.
HAiK and Kaibosh Collaboration
Two Norwegian fashion companies have teamed up to make a special limited edition of reversible sunglasses. This concept was interesting as an idea, but more importantly, the emphasis was on the uniqueness.
Collaboration ads to social proof, as it gives an impression that more people and more effort have been put into making this product. Since it is unknown if these companies would collaborate again, and when, these sunglasses gain additional value from scarcity standpoint.
Kanye West + Adidas
A perfect example of how limited editions and scarcity can drive sales, these running shoes were sold out on the day of the launch. Even though they were priced at $200, most of them were sold in pre-orders, and the US stock that was available online was sold out in less than an hour.
Not only did this workout great for Adidas, the shoes were resold and over 5 times the price on eBay and some people were happy to pay.
Typically, exclusive or premium products are perceived by the public as something that would help and improve their social status, and their value can be perceived as even higher as people themselves build up hype.
Similar to seasonal and holiday offers, various internal milestones can be used to create limited and rare products that can both serve as a promotion of your brand, as well as a powerful buy trigger. In this case, an apparel and sport equipment company EVO decided to celebrate their 13th anniversary with a huge sale.
The promotion lasted for around 2 weeks, during which you could save up to 60% on their products if you bought them online or in their Seattle and Portland stores.
Anniversaries and milestones can be very powerful promotional tools, but they themselves have to be fairly rare occurrences. Otherwise, scarcity effect is lost, as people will simply wait for the next one that’s right around the corner.
The New Yorker
Sometimes, you can create a scarcity campaign seemingly out of nothing. When New Yorker was restructuring their website in 2007, they made their full archives available for free to all their readers.
While there was no direct revenue generated by this event, it did serve a very important purpose. It brought in a ton of new subscribers, of which some renewed their subscription after the free-trial period. But more importantly, it served to collect user data and test out their new pricing models.
Ralph Lauren Team USA
Sporting events in general are a great example of scarcity marketing. They last a limited period of time with specific geolocation and their occurrence varies in rarity. Obviously, NHL regular season games that are held every two days or so are much less valuable in this sense s than an F1 race that happens once a month.
To this effect, Olympics are probably the best event to create a limited edition of your products. Ralph Lauren created special team USA closing ceremony uniforms that you could pre-order on their site. This way, if you ordered it in time, you could wear it at the ceremony. Since this is such a specific product for a rare event, they could also put a decent price tag on it, and still expect good sales.
This beauty products subscription service offers special edition boxes with unique designs which increase the perceived value. In store, these boxes have an “exclusive” tag that is meant to trigger the feeling of prestige and it also points out that these boxes are limited edition which increases scarcity.
People like to feel good about themselves. They also sometimes like to feel unique and sometimes as a part of a closed group, both of which feed the “I have something others don’t” mindset. When you combine scarcity triggers with prestige, social justice, and causes that are important to your target audience, you can get a truly powerful weapon to incentivize that same audience to act.
Preorders and Being First
Crowdfunding as a whole is partly based on creating urgency around it. Since almost all crowdfunded projects allow for pledges even after the funding deadline, counters and deadlines that are set up on these platforms mostly serve to create urgency.
Indeed, if you observe a life cycle of a typical crowdfunding campaign, you will notice that most of the pledges come few days into the campaign. Also, during the last 2 or 3 days when the ticking timer nudges reluctant fans to act.
Besides having traditional pledge levels that offer various benefits to their backers, Memobottle also included a special benefit if certain milestones on their Kickstarter project have been reached. Since this product appeals to environmentally conscious people, the emphasis of their whole campaign was on positive impact on the environment and style.
To that extent, each of their reusable bottles were to be shipped with a special limited edition green cap, if they managed to raise $250,000 in their campaign. Even though this might not seem like a strong incentive, it was limited to these pre-ordered bottles and symbolized the eco-friendliness of their backers.
Hush Smart Earplugs
Obviously, early bird discounts can work as well as emphasizing the prestige and uniqueness that comes from buying your product.
In this particular Kickstarter, there was a number of tiers that offered different discounts.
Discounts were based on a number of headphones you wanted to buy, but there were also several tiers that were hard-capped to a certain number of pledges. It is no wonder that all but the most expensive of the limited tiers were sold out.
Auctions are by default based on scarcity and urgency principles. Typically, rare or unique items are auctioned and the window to purchase them is very small. But even if you’re not selling an original Picasso for millions of dollars, auctions can still be a great tool to increase sales and customer engagement.
eBay actions have both a counter that shows for how long the item is available, as well as a number of bids that serves as yet another social proof. It all plays into our desire to own something unique and beat other people to it.
Creating Urgency in Your Sales and Discount Offers
While sales also utilize other marketing principles, the fact that they are typically limited by remaining stock or by a certain end-date means that they are also another example of scarcity marketing in action.
A prime example of a limited quantity strategy, clearance sales last while the articles are in stock. Typically, these are last-season clothes or older models that are out of production. Interested shoppers know that they have to act fast because if they don’t, they might never get a chance to buy that item again.
In this case, a combination of price anchoring coupled with scarcity can convince even the thriftiest people to buy.
Discounts and freebies can also be a great way to attract new customers and to generate leads that can then be a part of your future scarcity marketing campaign.
Groupon is a site that partners with various business and offers coupons for their services at a discounted rate. They gain a portion of the revenue and the business gets new customers. The catch?
All of their offers are time limited to generate scarcity and you can also see how many others have viewed that particular offer to create social proof.
All of these strategies can be used independently, but the truth of the matter is that there is no clear and distinctive boundary between most of them. As it can be seen from all the listed examples, they are intertwined and almost all of them use some combination of creating added value through:
- Limited numbers
- Social proof and status
- Appealing to different personality traits, fears, and desires
Of course, there is no reason to limit yourself to only one particular strategy or principle. Even though emotional triggers like FOMO, or fear of missing out, are powerful, people will grow numb to your numerous attempts to create scarcity and urgency. Especially if you just repeat it over and over again.
Successful brands typically utilize a wide array of different strategies. Both to cater to different demographics and personality types and to make their campaign more subtler and efficient.
The biggest eCommerce site in existence probably knows a thing or two about increasing their sales. With that in mind, it is no wonder that they have scarcity triggers sprinkled all through their pages.
“Only X Left in Stock”
Amazon shows when an item is low in stock. This is both helpful to customers and creates urgency. They do also point out when there’s more on the way. This honesty doesn’t hurt the initial sense of urgency much. Additionally, due to their high traffic, it would do Amazon more damage than good not to point that out.
One-Day Shipping Deadlines
When you’re making an order on Amazon, you are also notified that you can get the item you’re interested tomorrow if you order it in the next x minutes. This is a very light urgency trigger that provides a minor benefit if you act immediately.
Since it is a fairly unassuming offer it works better than expected as potential shoppers don’t put much thought into it.
Weekly Discounts on Prime
Besides all the usual benefits of subscribing to Amazon Prime, it also offers weekly discount deals. These prominent ads highlight what is offered and how much you save, but everything else can be found out only when you click on it.
Amazon Lightning Deals
These daily deals last for a few hours and have a prominent countdown timer. Again, this is a low-pressure strategy to create urgency, since you only lose out on the discount if you don’t take the deal, but it still works. You see a ticking clock, and you know that you are losing out on something, which is enough to trigger the fear of loss.
A hotel and travel booking giant, Booking.com is less timid about using scarcity to pressure people into committing to a purchase.
In High Demand
One of the first things you might notice when you browse through their offer is an alarming red text field with words “high demand” followed by how many times that particular thing was booked in the past 24 hrs. While this by itself could better work as social proof, the red letters create a sense of urgency, which in turn will make you more prone to book it now, before the date you had in mind becomes unavailable.
Sometimes, just below this unsettling red box is another, friendlier, orange one that signifies that it’s a daily deal – another typical scarcity tactic. It is important to note that the positioning of this information is intentional and the contrast will make you see the daily deal more favorably.
Out of Stock
When the property is fully booked for your selected date, red letters will greet you again. In this case, they will politely point out that “you missed it”, just in case that your FOMO wasn’t already kicking in.
Booking.com doesn’t shy away from pointing out when there is low availability on certain dates for areas you’re looking at. It gives you an exact number of similar lodgings that are already fully booked, again in their tell-tale nervous red font.
When you combine this with the previous triggers, Booking steadily creates pressure and a sense scarcity and high demand.
Now that the stage is set with the feeling of low availability and high competition, Booking goes one step further and tells you how many people are looking at the offer at the same time as you, as well as when was the latest booking.
While the previous tactics were focusing on high demand and scarcity, this one is designed to create a sense of urgency.
In essence, the message you get on their site is that you have to act immediately and that there’s a ton of people looking at the same offers as you, with the supply already low.
Modcloth is a bit more niche than the previous two cases, but they are a great example of how scarcity marketing is used in more traditional online stores.
This indie and vintage female clothes retailer knows their audience very well and have their scarcity triggers tailored to get the best engagement they can.
Low Stock Counter
When an item is almost sold out, a red indicator appears which shows how many pieces are remaining. This is a typical scarcity trigger and it works well for them. Furthermore, they also show items that are out of stock, to serve as a reminder that it can happen.
Back by Popular Demand
In this case, a combination of social proof and scarcity tactics are utilized when Modcloth announces the return of ‘highly coveted pieces.’ The basic thought process when a prospective buyer sees this is that the item is popular and it is likely that it will go out of stock again. After all, if it happened once, it will happen again, right?
Scarcity is implied in this particular technique and combined with low stock counter and out of stock notification. Building a sense of scarcity here works to create an overall picture of high demand and popularity of products on site.
ModCloth has a whole line of holiday sweaters every year. As with all the other brands, seasonal scarcity works well here. Since every year sees new designs, these sweaters are fairly rare and thus highly coveted by the fans of the store.
Marketing is in essence applied psychology, but it would be unbecoming to prey on people’s weakness in order to make a gain for yourself. Thankfully, there are ethical ways to use avoidance of pain in marketing, and scarcity marketing is simply a tool that is used to that end.
Besides scarcity and urgency, some personality traits also dictate what kind of approach will suit your business or brand the best. For example, people can be divided into those that have a need for uniqueness and those that have a need for conformity.
Taking this into account will both affect the message and framing of your offers as well as the type of an offer you should create for your campaign.
Scarcity marketing can backfire if it’s dishonest or too aggressive. For example, If you offer something for a limited time, and then make the same offer a few weeks later, two things will happen:
- People that bought the item because of its rarity will feel cheated.
- People that didn’t will not feel the urgency, as they will assume that you will make another offer like that later on.
The best approach is to create a campaign that would use multiple approaches and balance out the value and helpfulness of the deal with the urgency and scarcity you create.
Finding the right mixture can be a fine balancing act, but this is a tried and true method that has been proven to work over and over again. The good news is that it does get easier with time, so tie that marketing tightrope and take the first step!