5 Forms of Scarcity to Skyrocket Your Sales

Scarcity is a glorious form of persuasion and when exploited can yield incredible benefits to your conversion rate. Here’s a Merriam Webster’s definition of scarcity…

The quality or state of being scarce; especially: want of provisions for the support of life”

That’s extremely useful…but in a nutshell if you reduce the quantity supplied of a product or its availability you create a scarce product. This perceived scarcity then allows you to sell more.

Here are some clever and awesome scarcity techniques to increase sales.

1. The classic limited stock

Displaying low amounts of stock available creates a sense of scarcity. Revealing a number between 1-3 in stock usually converts better. Here’s an example of hotelclub.com implementing this classic style.

“Act Fast! Only 3 rooms left at this price!”

2. Interactive limited stock?

Revealing low stock levels is a simple and great win but the visuals could be much better. If we look at Argos these guys make scarcity much more interactive.

You can check the stock in your area and reserve it. If you enter a postcode and click on the check stock button you’ll receive this pop up.

Notice how it’s in stock on home delivery, out of stock in one area but only 1 left to collect in another branch close to my location. These guys are integrating framing with scarcity in clever way. Also pay attention to the fact that these guys give you the option to check stock in another area on the pop up. When you make scarcity interactive in particular and show something being generated it makes it more trustworthy to your users.

3. Real time scarcity

Booking.com utilise a clever scarcity technique which is to show the number of stock, the number of people viewing the page and when the last purchase was just made.

Notice the 2 messages that pop up at the bottom corner. Combining the stock level with the last purchase and how many people are ogling up my hotel is awesome but the execution could be much better.

Those messages can be argued to look like a windows error message, a site error message or even some type of spyware on a quick glance. When you make scarcity real time it becomes more believable and is much more powerful than some of the classical methods.

4. Auctioning and scarcity

Bidding fee auctions utilise the principle of scarcity whereby a user bids incrementally against other bids and against time. When time runs out the final bidder wins and pays for the product at a fraction of the retail price and the auction company generate a skyrocketed profit margin on the product. A really good online example is Madbid.

Each product has a timer countdown and pits users against each other. The concept of scarcity is used in an extremely powerful state on this site.  Imagine this technique being used on retail site for clearance items?

5. Treasure hunts and scarcity

Everyone loves a good old treasure hunt. But how do you relate this to scarcity and sales?

Create competitions that require intelligence or solving a something such as a riddle or mystery. For example solve the riddle to receive the hidden code – which can be used to obtain a unique limited edition item. A recent example of this is Jimmy Choos.

Here’s what they did…

“Shoe lovers in London have been glued to their mobile devices and computer screens in a race to win a pair of free Jimmy Choos.” (Reuters 2012)

Jimmy Choos created an internet style treasure hunt. A picture of the bag is left at a random location on the site with clues provided on social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare. Once a user has figured out the clue it’s a mad dash to the location to claim their prize.

Awesome right? For those that miss out there’s a real desire to get it the next time. The integration of social, competitions and scarcity are seen in one campaign. The result a 33% uplift in sales! See the case study!

The Hoxton Hotel $1 sale is an awesome case study using similar principles check out Sam Crocker’s post!

Final thoughts

Scarcity is a powerful sales tool and can create a “Black Friday” effect.

We implemented a simple scarcity technique for a retail site and got a 30% uplift in conversion rate which is proof it does indeed work but it needs to be executed properly. Its success depends on your audience and how it gets executed. It’s only when you pit people against each other and create competition for a product that you skyrocket your sales.

I’d love to know your thoughts as always drop me a comment below!

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13 thoughts on “5 Forms of Scarcity to Skyrocket Your Sales

  1. Richard says:

    Great post Fabian – I’d love to see how gamifcation strategies (game mechanics points / status) could be developed influence conversion rates – particularly in a checkout / sale period.

  2. Thanks Rich – Sounds like another blog post idea :)

  3. Great post Fabian, in your research did you see (or do you know of) any good examples of using scarcity in a B2B environment?

    Also, do you know how ‘genuine’ the reported scarcity is? When you look at 10 hotels on the same site and they all have only 1 room left, it seems rather suspicious (or do you call that over-scarcity??)

  4. Hi Patrick
    Scarcity rarely gets used in the B2B world. I haven’t come across any examples to be honest. However there is scope for scarcity especially when promoting white papers, video, podcasts etc.

    Your second question is exactly what this post refers to. Its all about the execution having 10 hotels does indeed look suspect! Loads of ecommerce site “milk it” when it comes to scarcity. Yet the biggest potential does lie with B2B sites.

  5. Robby says:

    Thanks for this post it is useful information. I particularly like the Treasure hunt component that is fantastic way to generate social engagement.

  6. Glad you liked it Robby! Treasure hunts really capture the integration of scarcity, competiton and social.

  7. Dan says:

    As much as I’ve known about these “scare” tactics which I see used on far to many squeeze pages (“only 6 copies left at $49 instead of $99” – pretty common to see something like this), I’ve never actually tried implementing it into a real shopping situation. So far I’ve tried limited promo/giveaway-contests on one of my sites that has basic gamification but it’s always involved virtual currency and a fairly small test group.

    I’m glad I stumbled across this post with a few real world examples of this tactic being used, should provide me with some deeper insight to how to apply more of it into my own system.

  8. Nick says:

    These strategies definitely work in the automotive sector.

    Presenting a strong offer + real time scarcity on the same page can create a very strong message to procrastinators who have not yet signalled that they’re ready to order or start thinking about stock.

  9. Totally agree Nick. The automotive sector really utilise scarcity well especially offline. A typical car sales man used scarcity on me when I was buying a car!

    His line “I can do a £500 discount but only if you buy today.”

    It worked unfortunately I bought it…

  10. Ben Hunt says:

    Or making a page with only a million pixels for sale.

  11. Jon Stokes says:

    Great post Fabian – I came across this and expected it to just be ecommerce examples but seeing Jimmy Choo on there was a very nice surprise.

    I work for FreshNetworks who ran the campaign – the main use of social for it was with Foursquare, so the shoes would “check in” to a location which would then announce it to all the followers – it definitely had the element of real-time scarcity and competition, as players were racing all over London to be the first!

  12. Yeah it works really well in aviation and the travel industry. When a product / service actually has limited stock then it’s no brainer to use. I guess its all about closing the sale and thats what scarcity brings to the table.

  13. This gave me a lot of good ideas. Thanks Fabian! I’ve been thinking of new ways to integrate social proof into our call to actions, and I think this might be the answer.

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