The Power of Scarcity/Urgency in Sales

For the last few blog posts, I’ve been tackling the question, “What’s the best sales tool in your toolbox?”. It all stemmed from a social media post by Intentionally Inspirational founder Jason Wright who asked people to choose between emotion, logic, or scarcity/urgency as a sales tool.

In a previous post, I looked at each of the sales tools and how they work. You can read that post here. I also took an in-depth look at emotional sales and logical sales in previous posts. Now, it’s time to tackle the use of scarcity/urgency in sales.

What are sales based on scarcity/urgency?

Scarcity and urgency are often used hand in hand to make a sale.

Scarcity is when you make consumers think there is a limited quantity of something. “Act now, I only have 100 copies of my book.” Or “Register now, there are only 25 spots available in this exclusive training session.”

Whether there’s a limited quantity or not, scarcity uses the idea that there might be a limited quantity to create urgency. It is used to spur the consumer to purchase now or run the chance of missing out. You are banking on the idea that because the item is scarce and may not be available in the next hour or the next day, the customer will buy now.

How do scarcity/urgency sales work?

Scarcity and urgency are sales tactics that have been used for centuries and so they are not new ideas. Economists and psychologists have spent years studying these sales methods and trying to determine why they work. Numerous papers have been written on the subject and while they’re too dry to break down here, the site Sumo.com does a great job of summing things up.

According to Sumo.com:

1. Scarce items feel exclusive: Those who have scarce items have exclusive access, which is not openly available to others. This, in itself, makes a scarce item more desirable. This is why clubs have VIP areas, airlines have special membership lounges, etc.

2. Scarce items appear more valuable: According to the law of supply and demand, items in low supply often cost more, and therefore scare items are expensive items that act as status symbols. Example: To get one of the few Birkin bags produced by luxury brand Hermes, you’ll probably be waitlisted for years…just to pay the $10K+ price tag.

3. Scarce items make people feel powerful: Snagging a scarce item means you have access to something other people want but can’t have — which gives the owner power.

This scarcity also plays into the hands of emotional sellers. It creates feelings of envy, greed, and pride in shoppers. They think, “If an item is scarce, it is obviously popular.” The shopper doesn’t want to miss out. The shopper doesn’t want to be the only one who does not have the item. The shopper wants to feel like he or she was able to get their hands on something other people couldn’t.

Your goal with sales based on scarcity or urgency is to create a feeling that someone needs to act immediately or he or she will miss out.

What are the positives and negatives of scarcity/urgency sales?

Like all sales tactics, there are positives and negatives to sales based on scarcity/urgency.

Decisive Action

On the plus side, scarcity causes the consumer to take decisive action quickly.

“Scarcity naturally creates exclusivity and this builds urgency. What if it is never available again? What if the price goes up? What if I have to wait 3 months, 6 months, etc.?” said Intentionally Inspirational founder Jason Wright. “Scarcity creates decisive action faster than anything else…I feel like if I am too available, clients take my time for granted. Scarcity increases the value of the product and service in question and it is easier to justify logically as well.”

Extra Added Pressure

While you’re trying to put enough pressure on a potential customer that he or she makes an immediate purchase, if you press too hard you may end up hurting yourself in the end. If you make a decision too stressful, the customer may decide that it’s not worth the stress and simply leave your website.

It’s also possible that the customer will be turned off by your sales tactics and decide not to use your services or products. As with any sales tactic, scarcity/urgency will trigger some people to buy and others to walk away.

Setting Expectations

When using the scarcity/urgency sales tactic, discounts or deals are sometimes part of what makes the purchase urgent. While this is good in enticing a person to buy now, it can backfire on you in the long run. If you run too many discounts or sales, the consumer starts to expect that discounted price. The moment that expectation is not met, they may purchase somewhere else.

Too Much Competition

The scarcity/urgency sales tactic can backfire on you in an oversaturated market. If a customer feels like he or she has missed out, they may look for the next best thing. It’s one thing if you offer the only product or service on the market; it’s another thing if there are ten other companies just like yours out there.

If done incorrectly, the scarcity/urgency sales tactic can drive people away.

Don’t rely on scarcity/urgency alone

Whether you choose scarcity/urgency or not as a sales tactic, remember that a good deal of marketing is trial and error. You may try scarcity/urgency, but if it does not work, be prepared to try something else. What will work for some companies, will not work for others and vice versa.

You must explore your options and find the one that’s the right fit for you and your company.

Good luck!

Written by Erika Towne

We work with entrepreneurs and small businesses to help them automate their marketing.