What is scarcity marketing?

Scarcity marketing tactics make consumers desire a product, service or offer more by highlighting its scarcity, exclusivity or limited availability. This increases the likelihood of the consumer making a sale, doing so more quickly or for a higher price.

Why is scarcity marketing effective?

Scarcity marketing is based on basic human psychology called “commodity theory”. Instinct tells us that a scarcer item is more valuable and desirable than one that is more abundant.

This theory was tested in 1975 in the study “Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value” (Worchel, Lee & Adewole). The researchers tested how desirable subjects found identical cookies in two different jars based on their abundance and whether the cookies were always in low supply or had started out abundant before quickly becoming scarce.

The researchers found that the subjects found the scarcer cookies to be much more desirable than the more abundant cookies, especially if the cookies were initially plentiful but quickly became scarce.

In short, when we see something is running low on supply due to its popularity, the item is more desirable to us and we are more likely to buy it.

What are some examples of scarcity marketing?

Scarcity marketing can be used to highlight an item or service’s limitations in either time or stock. For example, a reduced price may only be a limited time offer (for example on Black Friday), or the items themselves may be sold in limited quantities to the point of demand outstripping supply.

Businesses have long used these scenarios to improve sales figures, creating a sense of urgency to sell items more quickly or at a higher price. This tactic can be applied across marketing channels as well as at the point of sale.

Using the scarcity principle of adding a simple strapline or message within any marketing such as “Hurry, this offer won’t last forever!” or “Don’t miss out!” can be enough to plant the idea of scarcity in consumers’ minds.


“Only two left in stock”

There are also more subtle ways of planting the idea of an item or offer being scarce or of limited availability.

One of the more common scarcity marketing tactics in eCommerce is displaying the current stock levels or sales activity of an item on its product page. Messages such as “Only 2 left in stock” or “100 sold in the last hour” are usually dynamically updated and placed over or near the product image, where most consumers’ eyes are first drawn on the page. This social proof of the popularity and scarcity of the product encourages faster conversions.

This product page messaging can be made even more subtle to push conversions through the online checkout. Messages like “Order in the next 5 minutes for next day delivery!” add a timed incentive to convert, especially on pages where retail analysts have seen carts abandoned previously.

Limited time offer

Every sale event such as Amazon Prime Day or Black Friday works because of “commodity theory”. Prime Day deals must be special because they are exclusive to Prime members and only for a short period of time. Black Friday deals are also time limited; consumers are encouraged to act now or miss out on the deals.

In most cases the items for sale aren’t themselves high quality or particularly scarce. Instead, it is the low price that is the limited commodity, so when this is constrained by the limited time it is available, consumers are pushed to buy more quickly.

Limited editions

In some cases, the quantity of items available for sale is constrained, either because the item is inherently limited as with concert tickets, or because only a certain number will be produced, such as sneakers or hyper cars. This is where hype, pre orders and limited supply creates high demand and boosted sales. While die-hard sneakerheads and petrolheads might argue these rare items quickly sell out for extortionate prices because of their high quality, their popularity is usually due to classic scarcity marketing tactics and manufactured scarcity. Everyone wants to be one of the lucky few to own the rare item.

Worth waiting in line for

One of the most famous and successful marketing slogans is Guinness’s “good things come to those who wait”. The longer wait for a pint of Guinness to be poured and ready to drink became seen as a sign of its quality, and Guinness has become an iconic and premium brand since.

Similarly, when we see a queue or are made to line up for something, we often assume there must be something worth waiting for at the end of the queue. Even if we know nothing about the product or experience people are waiting for, the size of the line is an indicator of its worth and quality.

Online queues create curiosity

Virtual queues on websites are also used to create a sense of intrigue and allure. Luxury retailers are now using online queues to not only control the flow of web traffic to their websites, but also to increase the feeling of exclusivity around their products with artificial scarcity.

Virtual waiting rooms can artificially limit the capacity of a website or a particular product page, creating exclusivity and driving up the desirability of an item or offer.

For example, TrafficDefender will begin to direct new visitors to a page into the virtual queue once a defined number of users are active within the website. This threshold can be set to any number the website owner chooses, to either maximize throughput of visitors, or in this case limit the availability of the item.

Get a demo of TrafficDefender and we can help you create the perfect virtual waiting room for any scenario.

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