While Supplies Last: 7 Clever Ways to Use Scarcity and Urgency On Your Store

Phrases like while supplies last create urgency that drives customer action. Discover 7 urgency-based marketing tactics to help you get more conversions and sales.

  • Fintan
  • June 22, 2021
  • 8 minutes

Imagine you’ve had your eye on an advanced Facebook ads course for weeks now.

You know it’ll help you become a better marketer and boost your store’s profitability. But it’s just so darn expensive that you can’t bring yourself to buy it.

Then, one day you get a worrying email. It says, ‘Enrollment for 2021 closes in 24 hours. In 2022, the price will rise by $500.’

All of a sudden, you get intense feelings of pressure. You don’t want to miss out. You don’t want to pay $500 more next year. You need to buy the course, and you need to do it now! 

These compelling feelings you’re experiencing are the product of two psychological quirks known as scarcity and urgency.

The good news is that you can leverage these principles to boost your conversion rate and increase your sales.

In this post, we’ll cover what scarcity and urgency are, why they work and how to implement them in your ecommerce store for maximum results.

Whatever you do, don’t leave this post till later because there’s a chance we’ll take it down tomorrow (see what I did there?)

Let’s not miss out!

Why Saying ‘While Supplies Last’ Boost Sales

In 1975 scientists Worchel, Lee, and Adewole ran an experiment to see how people would react to two jars of cookies.

The researchers showed half the participants a jar packed with cookies. Then they showed the other half a jar containing just two cookies. Which cookies do you think participants found more desirable?

If you said the jar with just two cookies, you’re right. 

The scientists concluded that we have an innate tendency to place a high value on scarce things as humans. What’s more, this tendency is heightened if we perceive that the scarcity results from high demand. 

For example, look at how H&M tells shoppers that there are only a ‘few pieces left’ to compel them to take action and checkout now.

while supplies last example

If I want these jeans, this scarcity tells me that I may not be able to order them tomorrow. So I should really take action now while supplies last.

Along with scarcity is another related tactic called urgency. Urgency is when you use time-bound offers to nudge shoppers to make a purchasing decision.

For example, here’s one of the (many) ways Airbnb uses scarcity to jack up their conversion rates:

while supplies last scarcity and urgency

When I’ve got a limited time to book, I’m much more likely to book it now instead of putting the decision off till later.

In a nutshell, scarcity and urgency eliminate your shopper’s procrastination (shop-crastination!) when they face a buying decision.

If shoppers ‘go home and think about it,’ there’s a chance they’ll miss out. And the idea of missing out is enough to boost conversion rates and close more sales.

How to Get the ‘While Supplies Last’ Effect on Your Store

Now that you understand how scarcity and urgency can power up your conversion rate let’s look at specific tactics you can use to create the ‘while supplies last’ effect

1. Use Stock Counters to Boost Scarcity

The most straightforward way to create the while supplies last effect is to show shoppers the number of items you have available.

Bliss effectively uses a simple Shopify app that shows customers how many products have been bought and how many remain in stock.

while supplies last example

Similarly, Wolf & Badger show shoppers when there’s only a few items remaining which encourages them to purchase immediately to avoid somebody else snapping them up.

2. Sell Limited Product Quantities

Another tactic to boost scarcity and induce a sense of FOMO is to deliberately sell limited quantities of your products.

For example, Lamborghini only makes around 650 cars in an entire year which creates a buzz around who’s going to get one.

In many cases, the best way to implement this tactic in eCommerce is to create ‘limited edition products’.

For example, Converse drops small quantities of unique shoes every couple of days. For sneaker fans, the fact that there’s only a limited amount in each drop means they almost always sell out within a week.

limited edition marketing example

Remember, as with cookies, Lamborghinis, and diamonds – what’s scarce is valuable.

3. Use Copy Loaded With Scarcity 

Beyond specific tactics to create scarcity, the language you use in your ads, emails, and on your website has a profound impact on your conversion rates.

For example, here’s an abandoned cart email from Hammit that tells me I’m about to miss out on the items in my cart:

while supplies last email

Notice how it doesn’t just say, ‘You left some items in your cart’, but instead emphasizes the fact that I’m about to lose something if I don’t take action. This offeris only available while supplies last.

Here’s another example of copy riddled with scarcity from Yeti:

While supplies last facebook ad

The phrases’ we don’t do this often’ and ‘Grab one while you can’ spurs shoppers into action immediately 

Whenever you’re writing copy for marketing materials, think about how you can incorporate a sense of scarcity and urgency. Let shoppers know that your products could sell out at any time.

Remember, according to the principle of loss aversion, customers are more scared of losing something of value than they are of gaining something of value. Let them know what they might lose with your copy.

4. Create Urgency With Flash Sales

If you’ve ever been to a department store on BFCM weekend, you’ve witnessed how powerful short sales are for creating a sense of urgency.

Flash sales put a fixed time limit on deals and offers, which drives shoppers to buy now or face losing the bargain.

The key with flash sales is that you build up tension before the event. For example, Target advertises their flash sales weeks in advance, so customers are chomping at the bit to buy:

Another clever tactic is to update your flash sale with new deals and surprise offers over the duration of the event. This sparks curiosity and gets shoppers to come to your site to check out the new offers.

Of course, the key to successful flash sales is how you promote them. Build hype with your email list and social media channels so you can launch with a bang and earn some urgency-driven profits.

5. Crack up Urgency With Countdown Timers

Suppose you find a bomb. Its timer is ticking down. There’s one red wire and one blue wire. You must cut one to stop the explosion. As the timer approaches zero, how likely are you to put off your decision till later?

Well, it turns out countdown timers in your store can have a similar effect. Just like defusing a bomb, countdown timers add palpable urgency to the consumer’s purchasing decision.

And while a nuclear warhead isn’t going to blow up in their face, they’ll still feel a slight pressure to complete their transaction now instead of later (read: probably never).

One of the classic ways to implement countdown timers is to put them directly on the product page. This tactic works well when you’re running a flash sale.

However, many retailers use countdown timers in a more subtle way to boost conversions in non-sale periods. 

Adding a timer to your shopping cart or checkout can dissuade shoppers from thinking they can come back at any stage to complete the purchase.

6. Add Time-Limited Shipping Offers

Customers love fast shipping. Entice shoppers by highlighting a limited-time shipping offer on your product page or website banner.

For example, notice how John Lewis reminds shoppers to ‘order within the next 1hr and 34 mins’ to lock in their product for next-day pick-up.

This subtle form of urgency is non-pushy. Plus, it doesn’t cost you anything. All you need to do is highlight your shipping cut-off times and watch your conversions rise.

Using shipping cut-off times is especially effective around holidays when shoppers want to ensure gifts arrive on time.

7. Add Scarcity to Your Thank You Page Offers

Your thank you page is the prefect place to offer post-purchase cross-sells. Seriously, thank you page visitors are in peak buying mode. Plus, as psychologist Robert Cialdini will tell you, customers are much more likely to convert on your offer if they’ve already bought from you.

So, adding a little scarcity or urgency into the mix can transform great conversion rates into outstanding conversion rates! A simple pop-up and timer can encourage customers to spend more and boost your average order value.

Genuinely, it amazes us how many brands still sleep on thank you page offers – especially when you consider that stores like Amazon and eBay take full advantage of it to make more profit.

Use The ‘While Supplies Last’ Tactic Responsibly

It’s important to use scarcity and urgency responsibly and sparingly. Creating false scarcity to deceive customers might net you a few quick sales, but ultimately it can cause greater damage your brand.

Seriously, the scarcity you create needs to be genuine and grounded in something. You need a genuine reason for why customers need to take action now. 

Simply slapping an evergreen countdown timer on every product page isn’t only lazy and dishonest. It will also scuttle your customer retention efforts (which is where the real profits are).

Remember too that scarcity is also not a cure for low sales. If there’s no demand for your products or your marketing stinks, no amount of scarcity will help you. Scarcity and urgency simply intensify the demand for your products. They don’t create it.

Finally, use scarcity and urgency sparingly. The goal of using scarcity and urgency is to get procrastination-prone shoppers to take action. It’s not to pressure people into buying things they don’t want.

If you’re spamming customers with over-the-top scarcity, you’ll not only have to manage a massive amount of returns, but you’ll deliver a shockingly bad shopping experience.

How Will You Create the ‘While Supplies Last’ Effect?

It’s no secret that scarcity marketing works wonders. Even before we stood on two legs, homosapiens have always coveted scarce things.

Most stores can see a boost in revenue by lighting a small fire under procrastination-prone shoppers’ backsides.

However, it’s also important not to overdo it. Too much scarcity comes across as being pushy and damages your brand’s reputation.

Now over to you! Does scarcity make sense for your store? How do you plan to implement it? Or maybe you have a clever tactic we forgot to include? Let us know in the comments below!

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