[E-commerce Scarcity] Tips to use it as a sales strategy

Imagine the situation.

You’ve decided to buy a product online and, after comparing a few models, you finally make up your mind – but decide to wait a couple more days to think it over.

The typical “just in case”.

And then, a message pops up:

 “Only 3 items left in stock”. 

You know it could be a trap, but you can’t help that feeling of doubt that arises. What if there are actually only three items left in stock and when you come back there aren’t any left?

So you decide not to take any chances and buy it that very same day.

Sound familiar?

This strategy is known as “scarcity” and it’s used by many businesses. It’s a rather old sales technique that remains as effective as ever even in days of online shopping.

In fact, if you use it properly, it can be a very powerful sales tool for you.

That’s why in this post we’ll tell you:

  • What exactly scarcity is
  • 5 ways to implement it in your e-commerce shop
  • Tips to get the most out of it

No client will ever again tell you “I’ll think about it”. 😉

👉 What scarcity is and why it’s so effective

Scarcity is a psychological trigger – a tool that gives a person a little push to execute a particular action (like completing a purchase).

This trigger generates a sense of urgency in the user by letting them know they stand little chance of getting a product (because it’s about to run out, because stock is limited, etc.).

So why does this trigger work so well?

Because, at a psychological level, the scarcer something is, the more precious it seems.

As a consequence, the fear of losing that “something” (and the urge to get it) increases.

Let’s see a few examples.

If you’ve ever booked a hotel room on Booking, you’ll know just how much they excel at using scarcity to create a sense of urgency.

Look at the results we get if we search for accommodations in London in August.

booking e1599728220271

According to Booking, some hotels only have few rooms available. And they use a red font so it doesn’t go unnoticed. 😉

We see the same story with e-commerce sites like Amazon:

amazon scarcity ecommerce 1

Right next to the “Buy now” button, there’s a warning that only one item remains in stock.

How many users do you think will put the purchase off for later?

Not many. 😉

👉 5 ways to use scarcity in your e-commerce shop

The most basic way to use scarcity is to tell a client that a product is about to be sold out, like the Amazon and Booking examples.

But there are many other ways of using the scarcity trigger to get more sales in your online store.

Let’s see some of them.

✅ 1. Publish time-sensitive offers

Scarcity is not only effective with products but can also be a good strategy to increase the conversion rate of your offers.

Here are three different ways to apply it.

➡️ A. Add a countdown to your offers

We already told you about it in this post on sales promotions.

You just need to add a countdown on the product card saying it’s temporarily reduced price (or put it on a discount voucher) to let users know how long they have left to get it.

For example, this is how they do it at Groupon.

scarcity ecommerce groupon e1599727742156

In this case, the feeling of scarcity comes at you in two different ways:

  1. With the “Limited Time Remaining” note
  2. With the exact number of people that have visited the page on that day

This tells you not only that the offer is temporary but also that it could expire before expected if most of those 600 people use it before you do.

➡️ B. Discount for new subscribers

This is a variation of the previous example.

In this case, the offer only applies to those who subscribe to your autoresponder sequence.

This kind of offer is known as “Tripwire” and has a clear primary goal:

Turn a new subscriber into a customer as soon as possible using the scarcity tactic.

Because, as you know, when users buy from you once, it’s easier to foster loyalty in them and get them to buy from you again. 😉

➡️ C. Discounts for complementary products

Imagine a customer has just bought a T-shirt in your online store.

Instantly, they get an email with a 12-hour discount voucher to purchase some pants that go along with the shirt.

This increases the chances of them buying the pants (even though they weren’t initially shopping for them).

The reason is that you’re not only offering them a complementary product to the one they’ve just bought but also giving them the opportunity to get it at a cheaper price for a few hours.

✅ 2. Limited editions

Every now and then, some brands launch exclusive limited editions of their products with a very small stock.

And if any of your clients love that brand, rest assured they won’t let the opportunity slip away.

Whenever this happens, send your subscribers an email telling them that a new product has been launched and that its stock in your store is limited.

This also works with seasonal products.

Starbucks and their pumpkin spice lattes (which can only be ordered in fall) is a good example of this.

✅ 3. Quick-turn products

It’s normal for certain online stores to have part of their catalog devoted to products with a very limited stock.

For example, that’s the case for outlet stores, or those selling factory-restored products.

So how can you use it to generate a greater sense of urgency?

One example is to create a “Daily Updates” section to promote such products.

So when users find something of interest on that page, they’ll know they risk losing it if they don’t buy it immediately (with no need to remind them with a countdown next to it). 😉

✅ 4. Out-of-stock items

Some e-commerce shops hide the cards of products that have run out of stock if they’re not thinking about replenishing them anytime soon.

However, take a look at what Amazon does in those cases:

amazon out of stock scarcity ecommerce 1

When a product is out of stock, not only do they keep it advertised but they also use it as a tactic to get more sales.


By offering the user the possibility of buying it in advance and getting a notification when it’s back in stock.

It’s a subtle (but extremely effective) way of telling the customer: “You’ve already lost it once; are you going to risk it a second time?”

I bet not many will take the risk. 😉

✅ 5. Time-sensitive free shipping

The usual, “Buy today and don’t pay for the shipping” message.

In these cases, the difference tends to be minimal (about €5 or €10 depending on the product’s weight) – but it works. 😉

Here’s a post on the power of free shipping and how to use it to increase your sales.

👉 Tips to get the most out of scarcity

You’ve already seen the different ways to use scarcity in your e-commerce shop and how powerful a sales tool it can be.

That said, you should bear these tips in mind if you want to use this trigger properly (and avoid having it work against you).

1. Fulfill your promises

Don’t attempt to fool your customers.

If you say that there are only 100 items left of a given product or that free shipping is only free for the first 20 buyers, it must be true.

Otherwise, your clients will find out sooner or later. And this will be devastating for your brand image.

You should also avoid making exceptions.

We’re talking about, for example, those clients that contact you asking to let them take advantage of an offer that expired a few hours ago.

If you accept, you may get one additional sale, but you will have lost all your credibility for the next time you launch a time-sensitive offer.

2. Notify your clients through different channels

When one of your products is on offer, don’t settle for adding a notice on the product card. Apart from that, you can also:

The goal here is to let each and every customer know about the offer. 😉

3. Clearly explain the product’s benefits 

No one will buy anything unless they have an idea of how useful it could be for them, no matter how great the sense of urgency you generate is.

And even if they end up buying, the product may disappoint them and they may return it.

The best way to avoid that is to make sure to optimize your product cards before launching the offer.

4. Use in moderation

This must have happened to you at some point: you subscribe to a business’ mailing list but the only thing you get is daily email after email with flash offers.

What do you do?

You most likely become so overwhelmed that you unsubscribe. 😉

If you use scarcity too aggressively, you’ll just create an unpleasant customer experience, and your e-commerce shop will end up giving users a bad impression.

👉 Ready to apply scarcity to your e-commerce shop?

The scarcity tactic is a very effective way of boosting your flash offers and turning a lack of stock into a sales tool.

Now is the time to implement it into your online store – don’t let customers leave your site without buying. 😉