5 ways urgency and scarcity can help drive conversions
"See it, want it, buy it." That's pretty much your dream customer, right? Someone who stumbles upon your product and proceeds directly to checkout. No detours, no distractions, no "I’ll think about it and come back later."
But that breed of clear-eyed, caution-to-the-wind shopper is an anomaly. You might get the odd impulse buyer, but most ecommerce purchases involve a significant amount of product research, comparison shopping, and good old-fashioned procrastination.
That said, there are ways you can speed up the process—like using urgency and scarcity to encourage buyers to act quickly.
Creating a sense of urgency and/or scarcity in your store can fuel consumers’ fear of missing out, making it seem like a product is in short supply, or like an opportunity is only available for a limited time. In other words, you can turn those heel-dragging window-shoppers into bona fide customers a whole lot faster.
Here are five tips for using urgency and scarcity to cut to the chase, seal the deal, and significantly increase conversions in your store.
Run limited-time sales and offers
"I work best under pressure."
How many times have you heard someone say that as an excuse for putting off a task or not getting something done in time?
The thing is, there's truth to it. For many people, there’s nothing like a deadline to get the needle moving. Or as cognitive psychologist Richard Boyatzis puts it, "A deadline allows you to clear away other stuff. Psychologically, you make a deal with yourself that you’re not going to worry that the washing machine that may need replacing. You focus on just this one problem."
The same goes for online shoppers. Give your customers room to dither and delay, and they probably will. But slap an expiration date on your offer, and you’ll find they make up their minds a whole lot faster.
Live Out There regularly runs sales where they offer deep discounts on outdoor clothing and gear—but only for a week at a time, and often only when you purchase multiple items.
In the screenshot below, Klean Kanteen advertises their Mother’s Day sale on their online store's homepage, showing the exact end date of the promotion. This reminds shoppers that they need to act soon, lest they miss out on the deal.
Use a countdown timer bar/banner
While showing limited-time offers with deadlines is a great first step towards building urgency, there’s nothing quite like a ticking clock to get customers moving.
Countdown timers give visitors a second-by-second reminder that time is slipping away. With the clock running, the natural response is to act faster.
A perfect example of this is TheCullt’s Mother’s Day sale timer, which counts down how long their "HAPPYMOM15" discount code is valid. The timer creates a sense of urgency, encouraging shoppers to take advantage of the discount before it’s gone.
Modified Tot also uses an eye-catching countdown timer to show the dwindling hours and minutes left to take advantage of their flash sale. Studies have shown that active, ticking timers are much more effective than simply stating a promotion will end at a certain time.
Both of these countdown timers were created with Countdown Sales Timer, our latest Shopify app that lets you promote flash sales and other timed promotions with a sleek timer bar at the top of your store.
Go check it out if you want a great way of adding urgency to your sales!
Display low stock messaging
Anyone who took economics in college knows that supply and demand have an inverse relationship: high supply creates low demand, while low supply creates high demand.
The latter half of this equation—the more important half for our purposes—means that by intentionally limiting the amount of stock available, you can actually make people want it more. As researchers from the University of Nebraska explain, "Strategically created scarcity conditions make the consumer realize that if they don’t get the desired product right away, they may not be able to get it in the future."
One of the best ways to tap into the scarcity response is to simply display the number of products in stock on the product page. Everlane does that by clearly showing the number of products left, and encouraging shoppers to buy before their size runs out.
Some themes (including our Launch and Pacific themes for Shopify) let you add low stock badges to collection pages. These badges, which are triggered once stock levels dip below a certain threshold, not only let shoppers know stock is limited, but also that the product is a popular one.
Highlight product demand
If you’ve been working in ecommerce for more than a day, you’ve heard of social proof and how important it is. In the words of Neil Patel, "people will copy others’ actions, assuming it’s the right thing to do." The more popular your products, the more people will want them, and the scarcer they’ll seem.
You’ve probably seen this strategy in action. Think about the last time you booked a hotel and you saw how many other people were looking at the hotel at the same time. If you’re more of an Airbnb’er, you probably saw messages like "This is a rare find" and "203 travellers saved this place to their wishlist."
You can translate this to ecommerce by displaying real-time activity on your site with a recent sales app like the one Taylor Stitch uses.
These updates serve not only as personal recommendations (according to Nielsen, 70% of shoppers trust the advice of strangers), they also create a sense of increased urgency. In other words, when consumers see how popular a product is, their desire for it is legitimized and intensified, and they’ll be more motivated to snap it up before someone else does.
Use an exit-intent popup
Exit-intent popups have been getting a lot of attention recently, and for good reason. They’re a super-effective means of re-engaging customers on their way out, and there’s a whole lot you can do with them: build your mailing list, introduce a new product, solicit feedback, recruit followers to social media—the list goes on.
If you ask us, one of the most compelling uses for an exit-intent popup is encouraging quick action with a limited-time offer.
The content of the popup can be anything—a free shipping cut-off, low inventory warning, complimentary gift with purchase. You may simply want to offer a discount, as Gentleman’s Swag does with their "Don’t Go Just Yet!" coupon popup.
Triggered when a customer moves their mouse to the top of their screen, this popup builds urgency and encourages conversions by offering a discount customers weren’t expecting.
Broya Bone Broth takes a similar tack, offering exit-bound customers a specially-priced intro pack of their product if they complete their order.
If you're interested in adding exit-intent popups to your Shopify store, may we recommend our all-in-one popup app Pixelpop. You can start with a 14-day free trial on the Pro plan, which includes premium features like exit-intent delays. Score!
Before we bounce
Urgency and scarcity are powerful tools for driving conversions, but they’re not without risk.
As Neil Patel points out in the article linked earlier, a furniture store that's constantly running "liquidation sales" will quickly lose the trust of their customers. Limited-time sales are effective, but they lose their power once shoppers see you’re always running one.
Like most things in life, the techniques outlined in this post are best used in moderation. Try creating a countdown timer for your next promotion or adding an exit-intent popup to your store, but don't go overboard with "once-in-a-lifetime" deals and other gimmicks. Always remember: your offer should benefit your customer as much as it benefits you.