Have you ever wondered why things in limited quantities are strangely appealing?

I’m willing to bet that “Only two left in stock” message next to the Add to Cart button on Amazon gets your attention, and if you’re anything like me, it’s probably provoked a few (dozen) impulse buys.

You see, scarcity drives urgency.

As human beings, since the dawn of time when our ancestors fought over shares of crops, until now, when we’re subconsciously overpowered by countdown timers, it is our innate desire to “have” rather than “have not.”

In marketing, it’s also the #1 most effective tool for persuading prospects to buy now rather than later. Nothing motivates a potential buyer quite like the possibility of losing out on a purchase they’re on the fence about.

There are two types of scarcity marketing:

  1. Quantity limited – Only 4 left in stock!
  2. Time limited – Sale ends this Saturday. Shop now!

So how can you make it work for your business? Here are my top five favorite ways to use scarcity marketing online to motivate buyers.


1. Purchase Countdowns and Flash Sales

I’m willing to bet that almost every bad decision you’ve ever made happened because you didn’t slow down and take time to think about it. While I’m not saying a buyer shouldn’t take the time to weigh the pros and cons, over-analyzing can be just as detrimental as acting fast. By utilizing purchase countdowns and flash sales, we shorten the window of “analysis paralysis” that many buyers find themselves experiencing before making a purchase.

free shipping timer

2. Free shipping timers

Nothing really irks a customer quite like having to pay to receive an item they’re on the fence about already. If you offer a generous return policy, naturally, the next easiest way to get the sale is to remove the cost of shipping, to make the transaction completely risk free for the buyer. But don’t just stop there. Put a timer on that offer! By doing so, you’re giving the prospect control, but letting them know it won’t last for long.

amazon low stock notice

3. Low stock notices

Naturally you want your prospect to make an informed decision. Low stock notices are a courtesy letting them know your product, or your appointment calendar, has limited availability. Car dealers are notorious for doing this when trying to move inventory. “Well, sir, I had two buyers interested in this vehicle. Why don’t we go ahead and get you approved today so that it’s yours? I can’t guarantee it will be here tomorrow.”

Your website is the best tool for displaying a low stock notice. I recommend adding prominent text above calls-to-action, add-to-cart buttons, and phone numbers. For an extra surge in interest, be sure to blast out low stock notices to prospects on your email list and social media.

kanye west sneaker exclusive

4. Limited editions and exclusive promotions

Releasing a new edition of a product or service is similar to a low stock notice. It means you have a limited supply of that particular premium item, and no additional quantities will be available. This is extremely effective for retail – think: designer sneakers, celebrity endorsed apparel, and VIP seating for events.

On a related note, it can also be a great tactic for cross-promoting a product or service to a particular segment or buyers who might not have previously had interest in your product, but now do, because it overlaps with something they’re interested in. I think back to Kanye West’s Adidas Yeezy Boost 350. The shoes were released in limited stock for a limited time only. If you were one of Kanye’s fans, you wouldn’t want to miss out on buying the shoes, no matter how expensive they were.

5. Consumer’s real-time activity

This one is killer. Not only does it use scarcity, it also uses the bandwagon mentality to boost purchases for select items. By displaying real-time activity, typically through pop-ups on your website, you’re able to communicate which products, services, or purchases are most popular. Think about that time you visited a third-party travel booking website like Priceline, and were bombarded with messages such as, “Frank in Denver just booked with XYZ Hotel” and “Mary just booked with ABC Hotel.” No time to waste… better book fast!

Scarcity marketing is a GOOD thing!

A lot of people equate scarcity with being a negative thing, but in terms of marketing, it’s not bad at all. Using a little pressure to entice your customers to buy your products or services may be necessary to get them to make the right decision. After all, if you have the best product or service to meet their needs, and it solves a problem or provides value to their life, it’s your duty to ensure they get it.