Have you ever scrolled through ASOS or any other online store of your choice and immediately purchased an item not because it’s particularly cheap but because there are only two units left?
We’re sure you have.
This scenario is a result of scarcity marketing, a tactic that makes the shopper sit up, take notice and act without further delay.
Not only is scarcity marketing effective in driving conversions—it helps you keep your customers hooked in terms of experience and engagement.
In this article, we’ll be deep-diving into some crucial mistakes eCommerce businesses make while implementing the strategic tactic of scarcity marketing.
We’ll also elaborate on how some brands have figured out how to use scarcity marketing as a tool to make shoppers buy more.
Scarcity Marketing: What Research Says
Scarcity marketing is a tactic where marketers increase the value of a product by reducing the supply.
This type of marketing thrives on the economic scarcity principle, which states that limited supply equals an increase in demand.
It doesn’t end here. The more in demand a product is, the more the price rises.
Usually, in scarcity marketing, marketers create artificial scarcity so that potential customers can find it more appealing, exclusive and valuable - thereby leading to a rapid purchase or shelf sweep.
In an experiment quoted by Psychologist Stephen Worchel, 200 female undergraduates were studied based on how they perceived the availability of cookies.
At the end of this experiment, it was recorded that not only were the scarce cookies desirable but that they were more valuable when the quantity reduced.
What this study shows is that in scarcity marketing transitioning from available to scarce is key.
After all, if it has gone from available to scarce, what’s stopping it from changing from scarce to finished?
This is the logic that makes the shopper act immediately.
In yet another study, Syracuse University decided to study scarcity marketing through a limited-time beer products experiment.
What they noticed was that the tactic had the impact on all the limited-time products included in the deal—all of them sold better.
Here’s an interesting read: Prime Day Sale Marketing Ideas (Even if you are NOT Selling on Amazon)
10 Scarcity Marketing Mistakes That Make You Look Cheap
A research study in the scientific journal publishers notes that when customers detect product scarcity as a sales tactic, the value they place on scarce products become diluted.
To put simply, your customers won’t like it when they find out that you introduced faux scarcity just to increase the demand for your product.
Here are some scarcity marketing mistakes you should avoid, come what may:
1. Using it too many times
Let’s say you go into a store and find a pair of shoes tagged as “limited edition”.
The next month, you walk into the store and find these same shoes under the same tag.
You’re going to start doubting its authenticity right? That’s what happens when you overuse scarcity marketing.
Your customers will realize that these products aren’t that exclusive or rare.
They’ll start to understand that for your brand, there is always going to be artificial urgency.
This will hurt your brand name because you'll look desperate and scammy.
What's worse, you can end up losing sales and existing customers.
Pro Tip 💡
Utilize the most attractive real estate on your website for scarcity marketing—an obvious example would be the first fold on the homepage and product pages.
A less obvious location would be a sticky banner that’s minimally designed and highlights a countdown timer or hours/days left of a particular deal.
2. Pitching "Exclusivity” too much
Repeatedly using the word “exclusive” can be counterproductive.
The thing is if a product is truly exclusive, it will show up in:
- how the brand conveys the USP and UVP
- what differentiation has gone into building the product & brand
For instance, Hermes knows that it produces exclusive products.
Its marketing angle leverages how valuable and durable it gets over time, along with the limited units in each production cycle.
This helps shoppers get a whiff of how the brand creates only exclusive items.
Pro Tip 💡
Focus on conveying the quantity in stock and how long it will be available—instead of talking about exclusivity, show it!
3. Products that fail to deliver
So you’ve successfully integrated scarcity marketing into your sales strategy and it’s working.
Sales have gone up and the product is almost truly out of stock.
You might start strategizing on how to introduce an advanced level of scarcity marketing.
But hey, do you ever stop to think about what your customers think about the product?
As a standard, you need to ensure your product meets the expectation of your customers.
If it doesn’t, your brand image will take a serious hit.
This translates to poor sales and poor customer retention.
Pro Tip 💡
For products that aren’t doing well, run an analysis on how well-suited they are to the audience you’re pitching to—with the right analyses of analytics data, you can promote products to shoppers who’d actually want to buy them.
Looking for product page inspiration? Read: 40 High-converting Health/Beauty "Product Page" Examples
4. Pushy sales tactics
The key to scarcity marketing is to not sound salesy.
How do you influence prospects' perception of your product to subtly compel buying decisions?
Shoppers customarily lose interest in a product when they experience being pushed around to buy, come what may.
If you see a product discount available for a window, you obviously don’t want to see the same ad seven times a day.
A nudge can ignite the FOMO feeling in a shopper but when you constantly harass your customers, it makes you look desperate and the offer fake.
Here’s an example of how a brand can get relentless in chasing shoppers to buy.
Pro Tip 💡
Even with your initial emails, try selling the scarcity or rarity of the product in a non-pushy way.
The best sales pitch is one that doesn’t feel like a sales pitch at all. We created a few not so pushy sales email templates that could inspire you.
5. Extending the deal
If sales are going great with scarcity marketing, it is always tempting to extend the deal.
This applies to when the sales are poor as well.
You might think “Hey if I extend this deal period, more people will be inclined to make a purchase.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
Here’s the thing. Before you execute the scarcity principle, take time to thoroughly understand your audience.
Know what makes them react positively and negatively.
This will help you manage expectations as well as properly tailor your scarcity marketing campaign to your target audience.
Not being able to meet shopper demands with adequate inventory can lead to consumer anger, as this study found out.
Pro Tip 💡
Plan your inventory with care because, let’s say, even if you extend your flash sale for a few hours/days, there needs to be enough product to face a demand surge.
The context of the sale, the depth of discount and the nature of your product will tell you if extending an offer is a good idea.
For more inspiration on deals, read: Flash Sales Guide: 10 Proven Ideas & Amazing Examples
6. Not taking it one product at a time
While you might be inclined to pitch multiple products in one scarcity marketing campaign, it is a bad idea.
Here’s why - not only does it make your messaging seem gimmicky, but your offer and product also lose their value.
If a visitor can see about fifteen offers all at once, they’ll figure out that they’ll always get offers on your store—reducing the need to take immediate action.
It can also get really overwhelming for a customer. How are they supposed to make a choice when you’re squeezing them between multiple offers?
Pro Tip 💡
Start with one product first. When you welcome customers with one product, it’s more tailored.
Run a few such in a series, and then when you figure a pattern of success, mix it up—by this time, even the audience would’ve moved down the sales funnel.
7. Not quantifying the urgency
Let’s be clear about what we’re getting at:
To say “Hurry until stocks last!” is one thing.
Quite another is to say, “Get your deal now! Only 10 pieces remain!”
In the second, what’s different is that the message quantifies what shoppers experience as scarcity—they now have a reference point to act on.
Without doing this, you run the risk of wanting to suggest scarcity, but diluting it with no concrete number or anchor point.
Pro Tip 💡
How you quantify the urgency around the scarcity will depend on what you’re trying to focus on—if it’s the time remaining, quantify the number of days/hours left. However, if it’s the product quantity, say something like “last 5 in stock!”
Here’s a read full of actionable insights: 19 scientific strategies to increase your eCommerce conversion rate
8. No rewards for the first adopters
Many young and upcoming eCommerce businesses think scarcity is enough to wheel in shoppers.
What they don’t understand is that to fly with scarcity in the first place, they may need to do more as a new brand.
Under these circumstances, businesses that offer some additional rewards to the early birds or first adopters, stand a better chance at running such scarcity marketing tactics.
Be it an additional discount or a free sample “when you’re among the first 10 to buy”, rewards to buy into scarcity can be beneficial.
Pro Tip 💡
To make your first adopter or early access discounts work harder, make them time-sensitive. Here’s an example:
9. Not creating an exciting context
It’s not all that difficult to imagine that running scarcity offers everyday may not make your target audience sit up all that often.
The logic is simpler than you think: they’ll be so used to these promotions that they’ll believe more will come their way anyway, and that there’s no real urgency.
This is why creating these offers around a holiday or cultural context can be more helpful in driving conversions—it’s like shoppers are already primed to buy at a time like this, so when you present them with a strategic offer through scarcity, their buying muscles are more ready to take action.
Pro Tip 💡
Create a comparative context to drive one feature over another.
Like in the following example, the shorter time availability of the higher discount is set against the lower one:
10. Not bringing in A/B testing to measure results
Your intentions around your scarcity marketing strategy might be all on point, and yet they may not yield the right results.
For example, a mistake many new businesses often make is to plunge into the market with a single version of a scarcity tactic.
They don’t create variants that they can test on different audiences—experimenting on copy, CTAs, time duration, depth of discount etc.
Pro Tip 💡
Test out unusual scarcity elements such as free trials, free samples and free shipping—alongside the rest of your trials, do this to come to a more in-depth understanding of how you can make a deal interesting without creating a schism in your bottom line.
For more ideas on A/B testing, read: Email A/B Testing: Elements to Test + Mistakes to Avoid
7 eCommerce Brands That Run Scarcity Marketing Campaigns Like No One Else
Running scarcity marketing campaigns on e-commerce brands can be quite tricky.
Especially scarcity marketing that converts.
However, here are five brands that have done this exceptionally well.
1. Huda Beauty
One eCommerce brand that has taken “limited edition” to the next level is makeup brand Huda Beauty.
They are known for launching these “limited edition” products year round, and increasing the scarcity by offering attractive discounts.
This helps them sell out faster while keeping up with the regular cycle of innovating for products and launching them around events that not all brands cover (for example, the Lunar New Year).
Group on is a popular discount coupon site that partners with various brands across the world.
What we love about their scarcity marketing campaign is that it is short, direct and simple.
There is no pushy selling involved.
In this picture, you see that they highlighted the content of the value package thereby making the coupon sell itself.
The only element of scarcity on this page is the limited time remaining. And that’s all. This is why they are good at this game.
Amazon is proof that you can do it all. Unlike Groupon, Amazon incorporated multiple scarcity strategies to drive a sale.
You’d see the countdowns, the ticking tocks, the limited availability and also the discount.
There’s also the “#1 best seller” tag which connotes that this product is high quality and that it’s popular amongst other buyers.
It has everything that leads you to click on the add-to-cart button.
Booking.com is a brand that’s been using the power of scarcity for a while now.
While being known for their lowest price options for flights, car rentals and hotel rooms, the brand ensures they quantify scarcity in the more tangible terms.
They color code the call-out and declare the extent of the rush on the listing page itself.
Here’s a quick example: notice how along with “only 6 rooms left at this price”, they also drive at an even lower price, which is applicable only to members? Ingenious!
eBay auctions are the best example of scarcity marketing.
Here’s why; nothing screams scarcity than an auction. At this point, you know if that product is sold, it’s gone.
They add high value to their products through the compelling product descriptions, ticking timer and number of bids.
Kohl’s ensures a variety of ways to keep shoppers engaged around the year.
Amongst this is their signature style of calling out specific items as “closeout deal” in the sale section of their website.
In the eCommerce parlance, the label “closeout” naturally means something that will not be brought back once it’s sold out.
Through these closeout deals, the brand offers some very deep discounts on specific items until stocks last.
As a global brand that creates affordable clothing for younger women, Boohoo runs on great deals and discounts around the year.
However, what they do really well through scarcity marketing is to promote some of their more topical offers.
Like in the following example, they’ve attached a countdown timer to promote a discount sale that’s exclusively available only on their app:
Find more inspiration in: Boost Fashion eCommerce (Product Page) Conversion Rate: 16 Proven Strategies
People are also curious about:
1. Why the hell does scarcity marketing work?
Now you might be thinking, how can this be an effective marketing tactic?
Here are some of the reasons why scarcity marketing continues to work.
Customers Assume It’s Popular and of High Quality
In product scarcity, people think that everyone else wants a particular or that it must be a quality product.
Why else would it run out of stock so fast? And because people assume the popularity of the scarce product, they are more inclined to buy what’s left.
The Product Sells Itself
A product running out of stock often means there’s everything right with the product.
It’s a testimonial on its own. What’s left of the product tells you;
“Hey, I’m the best there is and if you don’t pick me right now, you’re never going to get the chance again”.
How many people can say no to that? So you don’t even have to promote a scarce product.
It sells itself. And that’s why it continues to work.
Shoppers love exclusivity and rare items
You see customers love it when they get a product that not everyone has access to.
For instance, you feel special when you have a fountain pen that no one else can get. It’s why people spend a lot of money on original art.
Exclusivity makes customers feel important like they are part of an elite group.
Creating exclusivity can be as simple as using phrases that imply exclusivity in your web copy.
These phrases are sensory words that psychologically compels site visitors to make buying decisions based on their emotion, rather than logic.
The good thing about using these words is that they are very subtle and do not make you sound pushy.
People Usually Experience FOMO
FOMO is short for the fear of missing out.
It perfectly describes the anxiety that one experiences when you’re not a part of an event or an exciting occurrence.
According to research, millennials are the generation that experiences FOMO the most and are more likely to create this feeling in others as well—60% of millennial consumers will impulsively procure an item, within 24 hrs, after experiencing FOMO.
Since this experience can be frequent and contagious, there’s a lot of reactive buying when this happens.
This is why scarcity marketing continues to thrive.
2. What are the four different scenarios of scarcity?
Scarcity could take up different forms. It can be any of the following four scenarios:
Recently, we came across a news article about a helmet being sold at a six-figure price.
Formula 1 racer- Sebastian Vettel wore it in one of his races.
You see this helmet is scarce because it’s exclusive.
When something is exclusive it means it’s available, but only for a select demographic.
Exclusivity is actually more common than you think.
Think about golf clubs, gallerias, signed photographs of your favourite celebrities, original albums, being sold for millions of dollars.
It can be in the form of exclusive memberships, pre-order and wait lists or even deadlines.
Now the point of exclusivity isn’t that your product or service will cost millions.
It’s about increasing the value by making it scarce.
The thing is people believe that if they miss an opportunity to buy your product right now, they will miss out and have to pay more when they buy it the next time.
While rarity is quite similar to exclusivity, there’s a thin difference between these two scenarios.
The difference is that with exclusivity, the quantity of the product isn’t exactly limited.
However, with rarity, the brand decides the quantity before going into production.
An example of this is the Adidas limited collections.
In this catalogue, you’d see very limited collections, sometimes a maximum of three items with a limited stock as well.
Another example is Nike’s collaboration projects.
During launch, the brands already have pre-existing units to be sold.
Once the stock is sold out, that’s the end of that particular product.
So the perceived lucky few who were able to purchase it, end up with a rare product.
The outcome is everyone wants to be among those few who will get the products.
Another variation of scarcity is when the demand is naturally higher than the supply.
So while the product might not be exclusive or rare, people might just like it.
When the Playstation 5 was released in 2020, gamers went wild.
The demand for the console went up the roof and of course, the supply started to dwindle before more were produced.
In this scenario of scarcity, customers deduce that if stocks run out fast enough, people must truly love the product.
It’s a type of indirect social proof.
If you go through a website and you see a recently restocked pair of headphones drastically reduced in available quantity, it simply means it must have a great sound and quality.
You’d be more inclined to buy it and see what the hype is about.
This scenario uses a countdown to push a product forward.
Customers understand that if they don’t get that product or service at a particular time, it is gone.
In this case, the units might be a lot and sometimes even slightly cheaper.
But the offer runs for a particular time.
A very popular example is Black Friday deals.
You see products you’ve abandoned all year in large quantities.
However, with Black Friday, you get a good deal that’s only on the table for a very limited time.
Another example is Amazon’s lightning deals.
Because of the urgency associated with each deal is high, it leverages the fear of missing out.
Customers are scared to lose out on this offer and that’s why a number of people make impulsive purchases during Black Friday.
You can introduce this scarcity by adding a timer on your website or making certain items available for only a specific period of time.
A trick here is to merge urgency with a discounted price.
Introducing scarcity marketing into your sales model will help you improve your brand name with your high-quality products and drive conversions.
The key is doing it right by not doing too much. Moderation in essence makes you less spammy.
98% of visitors who visit an eCommerce site—drop off without buying anything.
Why: user experience issues that cause friction for visitors.
And this is the problem ConvertCart solves.
We've helped 500+ eCommerce stores (in the US) improve user experience—and 2X their conversions.
How we can help you:
Our conversion experts can audit your site—identify UX issues, and suggest changes to improve conversions.