How to Use Urgency and Scarcity Principles to Increase E-Commerce Sales

How to Use Urgency and Scarcity Principles to Increase E-Commerce Sales

At the core of every business lies one intent – profits. A lucrative business always manages to make enough sales to rake in the desired revenues. E-commerce businesses are no different. Just like every money-making venture, e-commerce websites aim to improve conversion rates for furthering their business.

To do so successfully, it is critical that entrepreneurs pay attention to consumer psychology. It is only when you begin to understand your customers’ predispositions, and thought and behavioral patterns (when they’re either moving through your sales funnel or are exposed to your products and services), that you will be able to devise a plan that will help you generate more business.

Ever since we’re born, we’re conditioned to preserve and covet objects that display the potential to disappear/deplete. Further, we always strive to acquire that we feel we may lose out on, if we don’t act immediately.

Successful businesses recognize and understand this psychology and use it to boost their sales. They’re well aware that presenting products/services as scarce or under the threat of being taken away in a short while will immediately become more valuable to the customer.

Companies have been exploiting urgency and scarcity principles to increase sales since years now. E-commerce websites can learn a thing or two about them to increase their sales.

Let’s delve into the details of the two.

The Urgency Principle

Urgency comes with importance. Behavioral psychology explains it as a situation that cause us to abandon deliberate thought and act impulsively. It is a form of persuasion, which becomes even more effective when clubbed with promotional offers, thereby creating anxiety within buyers, which makes them feel that they may miss out the benefits if they fail to act immediately.

E-commerce can tap this emotion by creating a strong sense of urgency on their landing page and eventually turn customers into conversions.

Many a time, conversions are affected by cognitive friction. This happens when people take a long time to think about buying a product, or simply wait and don’t respond to the company’s calls-to-action. Companies minimize such delays by increasing the urgency level, which leads to conversions.

How It Works

How many times have you come across a webpage on an e-commerce site with words that go ‘Hurry! Limited Period Offer’ attached to their products. This is the perfect example to demonstrate how websites use the urgency principle to make customers act, thereby ramping up their sale figures. Urgency offers usually focus on a shortage of time (till stock lasts) and availability.

Apart from the above phrases, here are a few other common words and sentences used to express urgency –

  • Only
  • Just for today
  • Buy now
  • Act now
  • Rush
  • Last chance
  • Last day
  • One day only
  • Final close-out
  • Clearance
  • Now or never
  • Never again
  • Don’t miss
  • Don’t delay
  • Introductory offer
  • Offer expires
  • Once in a lifetime
  • Prices going up

Apart from these, non-verbal ways of expressing urgency include displaying images of ticking clocks, hourglasses, and countdowns.

Wondering how you can create urgency on your e-commerce website?

There are specific tactics smart marketers employ to raise the urgency level on a site. These include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

1. Setting a Deadline

Who doesn’t look forward to saving money and still getting the product they want? You can take advantage of this and offer discounts to encourage such sales. Make sure to set a time limit to the discount though, as indefinite ones will lead your customers to expect a frequent or permanent price cut. To evade the effect of depreciating the value of your product, and still leveraging the power of a discount, set a deadline.

2. Advertise the Deadline on Your Home Page

Ensure that your customers know that your special offers and discounts are time bound. Display the product and the discounted deal prominently on your website’s home page to arrest their attention and generate interest and urgency.

3. Restrict Deals to ‘Offer Open till Stock Lasts’

An alternative to having a deadline associated with a specific period of time, consider associating it to the amount of inventory available with you. This comes across as less contrived and more appropriate to create urgency as running out of stock is more natural than not extending your discounts.

4. Offer Daily Deals

Sometimes, being bold and aggressive in your approach can help you make sales. While we have already discussed time-bound deadlines in one of the above points, you can also consider being extreme with them. You could announce value deals or lowered prices for your products for a very limited period of time, say twenty-four hours, with the offer expiring post that.

5. Create Urgency on Cart Page

Many a time, customers go on an online shopping spree and fail to realize the total cost of their purchase until they see the list of items in their shopping cart. This can, sometimes, lead to sticker shock, which may lead the customer to abandon the cart. Help them fight this impulse by reminding them on the cart page that the special prices offered by your website are available only for a short while.

6. Provide Free Shipping for a Limited Period

This makes sense as shipping prices are only disclosed at the time of checkout, which can drive the total cost substantially higher. However, if your customers know that you will be providing free shipping for a limited period of time, they will want to buy within that period to save money on shipping.

7. Let Your Customers Know That Stocks Are Limited

You will do well to indicate to your customers that your products are available in limited quantity. This works at a subconscious level by creating a mental deadline in the customer’s mind.

Further, it also creates a sense of competition to acquire the product before others do and can spell the difference between a customer making a purchase or leaving your website.

The shopping cart is also a crucial point in the buying process. If the customer stops to think over the price or decides to postpone the purchase, you could be looking at the loss of a sale. Creating urgency at this point by indicating the exact quantities remaining coupled with using phrases such as ‘Hurry’ or ‘Limited Period Offer’ can increase the likelihood of a sale.

8. Use Holidays to Create Urgency

Certain orders need to be delivered by a specific date. This applies to holiday-gift orders the most. If your buyers want the product delivered within a specific time frame, remind them of the delivery deadline and enhance the chances of them making an immediate purchase.

The urgency principle becomes more effective when it is clubbed and used with the scarcity principle.

The Scarcity Principle

Scarcity implies any limitation placed on the sale of a product/service, with the intent to grow sales by placing pressure on the consumer. This principle states that when people think that they will fall short of something, they tend to want it more as its subjective value increases.

The fear of losing out on a great offer leads buyers to make an impulsive decision to purchase. This limitation can be time-bound or based on limited quantity.

The scarcity principle works best when combined with a certain perceived benefit, such as a freebie, a lowered price, or a sense of achievement stemming from buying something that others missed out. It also effectively boosts a sense of urgency among customers.

Scarcity can be created by manufacturers. If you’re a manufacturer, you can intentionally restrict your production or delivery of services in order to boost demand. For instance, if you announce to your customers that there are “only two more” of a certain product left in stock, the desire to acquire that product will increase because of the fact that soon it will not be available anymore.

How It Works

What do websites do when they realize that their products are not selling well? One may say that they cut prices in a bid to generate more demand. Doing so, however, can have an adverse effect on the bottom line. There is a better way to handle such situations.

They create scarcity, which works well by making customers believe that the product is in short supply and as human psychology would have it, people will want it more when they’re told they cannot have it. The fear of missing out on the benefits can be a powerful motivator.

And if you thought that e-commerce sites use this tactic only to push their slow-moving items, think again!

The scarcity principle can be included in the normal marketing cycle to boost the sale of products. Most e-commerce websites always display the number of items remaining to the customers. Indicators that convey that only a few of them are left often result in the item getting sold quickly.

So how can you apply the scarcity principle to your website?

1. Present Limited Time Offers

Probably the most widely used approach, this entails advertising sales with a specific time limit, post which customers have to pay full price for the same item. To stir things up further, you can announce an outrageous deal or a flash sale that lasts for a shorter period of time, for example flat 50% off for purchases made within a specific one-hour window. This is bound to create more buzz than a week-long sale.

2. Display Quantities Left

This is one of the most popular approaches used by websites to spur up their sales. All you will need to do is display a signage next to your products, which will alert the buyer that there are only a few items left, and there will be no more for a long time to come. Interested customers will snap up the item in question instantly.

3. Manufacture in Limited Quantity

Most fashion websites use this tactic to generate interest in their offerings. The idea is to present their products as unique and something that not everyone will end up owning. If most people end up possessing/sporting the same mass-produced items, then the novelty of owning the item would be lost.

When it comes to fashion websites, only the uniquely stylish items stand out. Show this to your customers and they will make a beeline for your offerings. Small businesses can employ this tactic to sell their products on their website. It’s as simple as producing a quality and a unique item in a limited quantity and selling it at a high price.

4. Make Your Customers Compete

If you’ve ever been to an auction, you would know about making customers compete for an item. This is one of the best ways to not only sell an item, but also get a premium price for it. You can apply this approach to selling on your website as well. If you’re selling used cars, for instance, show that their availability is scarce and have potential customers bid against each other to get the best possible price.

5. Highlight the Loss

When you highlight the loss, you bring to the awareness of your customers not just what they will gain by buying your product, but also what they will lose out on if they don’t buy it. So, for example, if you’re selling a high-speed laptop, tell them how much they will lose out by buying an inferior product. Juxtapose this with the advantages of owning your product. Ask them if it is worth saving a few extra dollars and they will realize that your superior product could be their best bet.


The concept of e-commerce and online shopping may not be new, but entrepreneurs need to come up with more and more effective ways to get customers to buy from them. The urgency and scarcity principles can help tremendously. This post should help you generate and increase your e-commerce sales. Feel free to apply these principles, either together or individually, to your website pages and watch your sales soar.

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One thought on “How to Use Urgency and Scarcity Principles to Increase E-Commerce Sales

  1. Pingback: Top 6 CRO Hacks for eCommerce Entrepreneurs - Creately Blog

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