If you’ve ever shopped online you’ve probably run into scarcity selling tactics at some point.
Whether it’s “only two left,” “Sale ends soon,” or other messages telling you why you’re going to miss out if you don’t act fast, you’ve been sold to using scarcity marketing tactics.
What is scarcity?
Scarcity is basically any selling tactic that motivates people to take action now instead of waiting, usually because of a lack of supply. It takes advantage of FOMO, or fear of missing out, and makes people want to get something if they think they won’t get it if they wait.
Scarcity is used in a lot of ways to make people want to buy things NOW, but it can also be abused as a selling tactic, so you need to be careful with it as a marketing method.
Why scarcity marketing works.
Using scarcity as a marketing tactic works because people don’t want to miss out on things.
People are very predictable, and even if they know all about scarcity as a selling tool, they’ll still fall for it.
Doing a live launch is an example of a very structured selling process that results in people responding to scarcity at many points along the way.
I used to do launches of my EShop Success program because launching classes sells more of them. If you do a product launch the right way, you can drive a lot more sales than if you have things available all the time.
It’s human nature to pause and consider before purchasing things, and scarcity is a little shove over the “okay I’ll buy it now so I don’t miss out” line.
What I saw every single time I launched the program was that I sold a lot right at the beginning of the open registration period, then it would slow down until the last day it was open, and a TON of sales would come in then.
Scarcity works to motivate people to make a move now instead of waiting. That’s why it’s used so much in selling.
Examples of scarcity marketing tactics.
Once you know about scarcity you’ll see it everywhere. The basic example is a limited-time sale, but it can be something as subtle as putting “closeout” on things that you’re selling.
1. Flash sales
The classic scarcity sales tactic is to run a flash sale, where you announce the sale for a very limited time only. That creates a feeling of “you’d better get it now” that makes people go buy things because they don’t want to miss out on the deal.
Flash sales should only be run for 1-3 days at the most or it stops being a flash sale and the sense of urgency dies.
If people don’t think they need to take urgent action, it won’t push them to buy now.
2. Product launches
Product launches are where you build up anticipation for a new product or collection through a series of “coming soon” type announcements, then release the new items for sale at a specified time.
Apple is the master of the product launch. When they release a new product they promote it for months beforehand, and people line up to get it days before it’s released.
Product launches work on scarcity because some people want to be the first person to have a new thing, and they feel like they’ll miss out if they don’t get it right away.
Even if they know that more will be made, that doesn’t matter, they want one of the first ones.
Some product launches work because the product will only be available for a limited time, so let’s look at that, too.
4. Limited-time offers.
Limited-time offers can be product launches or limited-time sales. Both work to make people want to take action and not wait to buy later.
The McRib sandwich is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this. It’s not a product launch because it’s not a new thing, but whenever they announce that they’ll be selling it, people run to buy it.
If you’re not familiar with the McRib, it’s a McDonald’s sandwich that just seems nasty to me, but people seem to love it.
My guess is that it gets a lot of its sales because it’s not available all the time, so when it is, the people who like it will go get one more often.
Scarcity with limited availability is also used for those webinars that you see advertised everywhere…”Join now, only 100 seats are available!”
We run to sign up for those, even though they’re prerecorded, available every 15 minutes, and we know full well they’re just going to be a big sales pitch.
3. Collection drops
Another version of the product launch is the collection drop, where an entire group of items, usually one-of-a-kind, are listed for sale all at once.
This involves the same kind of lead-up as the product launch does so that you can get people ready to buy.
Since the items are often OOAK, people know that they have one chance to buy anything at all, so they’ll buy whatever they can get.
People who sell their products this way might never have products listed on their website other than their collection drops, and those sell out within minutes of the sale starting.
I’ve watched one jewelry seller who does regular collection drops sell her entire collection within 20 minutes of starting the drop. She’ll then leave those things up on her website with “sold out” on it so that people see what they missed, and the next time she drops a collection they know they have to buy fast and not wait.
This kind of scarcity is powerful because it combines One-Of-A-Kind with limited availability, and adds a touch of competition into it!
5. One-Of-A-Kind listings.
One-Of-A-Kind (OOAK) listings have built-in scarcity since they’re unique and not available to more than one person.
Emphasizing the fact that there’s only one, and when it’s gone it’s gone, can make people more likely to buy the item.
Vintage sellers and artisans who make only one of each individual design can use this kind of scarcity to increase sales by pointing out the uniqueness of the product.
Etsy uses a badge that says “rare find” to indicate that there’s only one of something, and that’s designed to show scarcity, which then makes people feel like they should buy it.
6. Limited availability/Only-one-left messages
Related to only having one for sale is the limited availability, or the only-one-left type messages that you’ll see on Etsy listings when the stock drops to only three in stock.
“Only two left” style messages make people feel like they need to get things before they sell out.
The danger of this kind of message is that a lot of things are actually available all the time, so the “low stock” messages aren’t really true.
You should be careful to not overuse this type of scarcity messaging because people can figure out that it’s not true, and they’ll stop trusting you!
7. Countdown timers.
A countdown timer is a strong incentive to buy because it’s a physical representation of scarcity.
When people see the time ticking away, they’ll hurry up and buy whatever it is.
Etsy has started putting a “sale ends” countdown timer on sale listings, and it’s clear that it’s intended to motivate people to act now.
This is another thing where using the countdown timer can backfire if you let people buy after the timer is done, though.
Any scarcity tactics that are abused and used for things that aren’t really scarce can end up with your customers not taking you seriously. I’ll talk about that next.
Scarcity and consistency need to be paired.
When you use scarcity as a tactic to get people to buy sooner rather than later, you also need to understand that you have to be consistent with it.
I guarantee that after every sale or limited special event, you’ll get someone who says “I missed the sale, can I still get the sale price?”
Your inclination will be to say yes, but DO NOT DO THAT.
If you let people have deals outside the time that the sale was going on, you’re training them to ignore your scarcity marketing.
Yes, it will be uncomfortable, and yes, you’ll lose that one sale, but it’s REALLY important to stick to what you said about sale dates, availability of products, and not make exceptions.
I promise that after you say no to a few people they’ll learn that you can’t be manipulated, and that they have to pay attention to your sale dates.
And if you lead up to launches and sales the right way, nobody will be able to say that they missed the sale dates!
Scarcity is a powerful marketing strategy, but you need to use it responsibly, and you should stick to the limits that you’ve set.
If you do that, you’ll be able to increase your sales naturally because your customers will know that when you say it’s time to buy, it’s really time to buy!
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