Scarcity and Urgency Should Coexist in Your Marketing

Scarcity marketing is nothing new to the eCommerce space. At this point, scarcity marketing is hardly scarce at all. But, there’s a reason marketers are using this philosophy and for many retailers, it could be just what your strategy needs to hit this quarter’s goals (and perhaps even win over some customer loyalty).

So, what is it and why is it working?

Scarcity marketing plays on the psychological effects of urgency, low supply and high demand. Consumers have shown they’re more likely to buy when they fear missing out on a deal or product. We see these tactics in play everywhere from the online retailers we browse to the slew of marketing emails we receive in our inbox every day. But, just because urgency and scarcity are key components of so many marketing strategies doesn’t mean they’re always being used effectively.

In this post, I’ll review some successful ways businesses are leveraging scarcity and of course, some of the flops you may want to avoid.

3 Examples of Scarcity Done Well

1. Amazon’s Product Page


Amazon employs scarcity and urgency on their product pages. Take a look at all the green font on this product page. This watch can be found most anywhere. I’ve seen it at City Sports, on the Garmin site and it’s almost always available on Amazon. But, for this particular vendor through Amazon (Bike A Mile), they’ve set limits to the product in order to increase sales. I have no doubt it’s working.

First, they tell you how many are left. Sure, ten watches isn’t that scarce but in the whole wide world of Amazon? That’s a small number and if you really, really want this watch, you’ll be more inclined to buy it. Second, when do you want it? Tomorrow? Well, today’s your lucky day, but only if you order in the next six hours.

Marketing Takeaway: Creating a sense of urgency is both in your control and does not need to come with lots of bells and whistles. Amazon isn’t plastering exclamation points, big font or any flashing text at you, they’re just highlighting a few lines that might catch your attention. It works.

2. Shutterfly’s Secret Offerings


The subject line of this email was, “Morgan, find out your secret savings.” Not only is it personalized to me, but Shutterfly included a sense of urgency, some mystery, and most of all, exclusivity. There’s some fun in finding out which percentage I get, which makes me want to click and while 10% may not be enough to get me to purchase, 25% certainly is and they’ve successfully gotten me to click through to see what they’ve got.

Marketing takeaway: Segment your lists and use personalization to offer rewards or special offers to certain select groups of customers. And, make the offer desirable enough that it warrants some attention. Like Shutterfly, putting a time limit on the offer adds the urgency that may be just what your customer needs to get them to click, or even buy.

3. Asos’ Time Ticker


Asos isn’t entirely new to using discounts to promote more sales, but what’s great about their emails is their variety. When they send an email with “Hurry!” or “Today Only”, you aren’t yet sick of it because you really don’t see it much from them. And that’s why it works.

In this email, they hook you with the subject line donning urgent language and at the top of the email, you get the ticker (I quite obviously missed the boat on this one). On top of all this, the sale works because it’s for a time-sensitive item (it’s getting colder and consumers are likely in the market for warm shoes), they’re posting a big discount at 60%, and of course, you have a very limited time to make your purchase.

Marketing Takeaway: If you’re going to startle people with exclamation points, urgent language like “Hurry”, and a ticking clock in your emails or on your product pages, do so sparingly. The last thing you want is subscribers to become numb to your messaging, or worse, to wind up in the spam box. But if you play this card right, there’s no question your sales will spike.

An Urgency Flop – Bed Bath & Beyond


Bed, Bath and Beyond is known for its 20% coupons and due to their incessant use of them, something must be working. However, their urgency does nothing for me at this point because while this 20% off a single item offer expired, I know for certain that in the coming weeks I will get either an email or a direct mail piece with the same exact deal.

Marketing Takeaway: If you are yielding great results from continued urgency offers, then by all means, continue using them. But, when urgency comes with no amount of scarcity like in this case, you could be missing out on easy revenue.

Taking It With You

There’s a lot to gain from scarcity and urgency in your marketing both on your website and in your email strategy. Here’s a rundown of the key do’s and don’ts.

Scarcity Marketing Do’s

  • Use it sparingly. The more scarce your urgency emails are, the more power they’ll have in driving sales. It’s easy to get over-excited about a flash sale that drives 40% more revenue in one day than your typical day. But, remember that even if this works the first few times, it will inevitably decrease in effectiveness and you could be left with irritated customers and poorly estimated goals.
  • Let urgency and scarcity work together. If you’re going to use time to your advantage with day-long sales or offers that last a very finite amount of time, take the opportunity to leverage items are in high demand and shorter in supply. The added factor of scarcity is what makes the urgency work – without it, you’re just blending in with the rest of everyone’s inbox.

Scarcity Marketing Don’ts

  • Advertise falsely. If you’re going to add a ticker to someone’s shopping cart or show them that there are only two of their desired item left, then be sure you’re telling the truth. No customer wants to feel manipulated and with the power of online reviews, you’ll be losing a lot more than just one customer if they catch you. Check out this example of urgency gone wrong.
  • Abuse the demand. There’s a fine line between doing what works and pushing your customers over the edge with redundant offers. You certainly want to test and iterate and if you find that a scarcity email with “But Hurry!” in the subject line drives the highest conversion rate, you’re naturally going to use this in the future. That said, be more selective with your veteran customers and use your data to target new customers instead of sending identical emails so often to your loyal buyers.

How are you using this popular marketing tactic? Share your successes in the comments below!


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