Chapter 6: Scarcity Marketing

Posted on October 28, 2019 | Updated on October 31, 2022

Scarcity marketing is about limiting how much of something is available to consumers so they want what no one else can have. For example, you might offer a limited-edition color or a limited-time promotion of one of your most popular products. Scarcity marketing isn’t a new idea. As far back as 1975, psychologists Adewole, Lee and Worchel conducted a study using two cookie jars. They placed two cookies in one jar and 10 in the other. Though the cookies were the same, participants preferred the cookies in the jar with only two because they saw them as more desirable. Over the years, marketers have utilized scarcity marketing to drive sales, grab interest and make their products coveted by their target demographics. If you haven’t yet tried scarcity marketing, consider implementing it in the following ways.

1. Define the Urgency

If you’re new to marketing, you may think the discount on an item is what drives sales. In actuality, it isn’t the discount but the urgency of the discount that causes people to buy. The user must fear they’ll lose out on a limited deal if they don’t go ahead and make a purchase right away. Price cuts work on the psychological principle of scarcity. The customer must know when the sale ends to feel that sense of urgency.Mamaison Hotels and Residences’ website features a limited-time offer for the Mamaison Hotel Riverside Prague for 25 percent off a booking. For all of their limited time offers, they list the specific dates the offer is good for, so users know there is a definite time limit to when you can get the rate. Limiting dates also protects their peak-season bookings and applies the discount to their off-season rates to drum up additional business.

2. Use Images

People process images much better than text. Whenever possible, use an image to highlight the special offer. If you’re giving users a percentage discount, then add an infographic image to illustrate the discount. It is also helpful to define how much the user saves. For example, instead of writing “10 percent off,” write “save $100 now.” Play around with the wording and conduct some split testing until you find words that resonate with your audience.

3. Limit Quantity

Another effective scarcity marketing technique is limited to the number of items available. Come out with a limited edition of one of your products or limit the number of registrations for a conference. A limited quantity makes your audience feel they are part of an exclusive club not everyone has an opportunity to join. Quantity scarcity is accomplished in many ways, but one of the most common is simply showing how many of something is left, such as “only two of this product remaining” or “only two seats available.”The 2019 Generali Berlin Half Marathon limits registration to 34,000 runners. They list how many slots are left to create a sense of urgency and to ensure all spots are filled. In addition to listing how many spots are left open, they also place a counter at the top of their home page, which counts down how many days until the marathon. The counter creates an additional sense of urgency, while also reassuring people they still have time to train.

4. Start a Ticking Clock

Another tactic you can utilize for abandoned carts is to email the shopper and let them know you’ve saved their cart but will only keep it for the next 48 hours or whatever your designated time limit is. If you also want to offer a discount at this time, you should limit the discount only to apply while the cart remains saved. Start that ticking clock, and let the user know they have X hours to finish their purchase and receive a discount, which can be completed with just a few simple mouse clicks.

5. Offer Limited-Time Bonuses

Another way you can utilize scarcity is by offering free, limited-time gifts with purchase. This tactic works well on websites, in physical stores and on social media. The item you’re offering as a bonus must be desirable enough for invoke the user’s fear of missing out — or FOMO — and jump on the bandwagon. You’ve probably noticed department stores and retailers such as Ulta and Sephora often offer gifts with purchase. The rewards are limited while supplies last and vary from month to month and season to season. This type of limited bonus could be offered with both physical goods and intangible services.Macy’s offers gifts with purchase and even has a particular area in their beauty category which shows their current offers. Offers typically match a specific brand of beauty products, such as Clinique or Elizabeth Arden. In the offer above, when you purchase a certain amount in Clinique products, you receive a free makeup bag and products from the brand.

6. Show What’s Left in Stock

Another way of showing scarcity is by listing how many of a specific color or size of an item are left in stock. Showing quantity, especially as it begins to dwindle, creates a desire for a particular product. You could even slightly discount a color shirt that isn’t moving as fast as the others. As it begins to sell at the lower price, show its scarcity, which should make it more desirable to buyers.

Urgency and Scarcity Go Hand-in-Hand

Scarcity marketing is all about creating a sense of urgency. If the consumer doesn’t jump at the opportunity, they are going to miss out on something special. You can use numerous methods to instill FOMO in users. Try one or several of the methods listed above. Be honest and upfront about what you do and don’t have available and how long a discount lasts. Users prefer authenticity to any other marketing method. If users can’t trust you, they’re unlikely to do business with you. As with any marketing method, be genuine and truthful while applying the above techniques. 

CHAPTER 5: Brand Marketing       CHAPTER 7: Transactional Marketing


The Small Business Marketing Guide: Introduction

Chapter 1: Successful Viral Marketing Campaigns
Chapter 2: Influencer Marketing
Chapter 3: Conversational Marketing
Chapter 4: CMS Marketing
Chapter 5: Brand Marketing
Chapter 6: Scarcity Marketing
Chapter 7: Transactional Marketing
Chapter 8: FOMO Marketing
Chapter 9: Neuromarketing
Chapter 10: Close Range Marketing
Chapter 11: Guerrilla Marketing
Chapter 12: Word-of-Mouth Marketing
Chapter 13: Target Marketing
Chapter 14: Diversity Marketing
Chapter 15: Undercover Marketing
Chapter 16: Cause Marketing

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About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

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