3 little-known perils of using scarcity marketing

You’ve been thinking about making this purchase for a while now. It has been at the back of your mind and you’re almost ready to make a decision.

You visit the website and see there are only TWO left! Or maybe, you see that countdown clock is tick, tick ticking.

Your hypothalamic lights up and you scramble to pull out your credit card.

The decision is made.

You are not going to miss out!

That’s scarcity in action.

Professional copywriters and internet marketers use the idea of scarcity to heighten the appeal of an offer. It covers tactics such as limiting supply, offering a discount for a certain number of people or a tight deadline for receiving a bonus.

With the shrewd use of scarcity, customers feel the urgency to act now rather than to bookmark the sales page and come back later.

But … and it’s a big but … scarcity holds several serious pitfalls that can backfire on you, sending a potential buyer skittering off into the sunset without a purchase.

The curse of scepticism

Customers may be naturally sceptical of scarcity claims.

Scarcity is most believable with physical items, where a company had too many copies printed or only a few, has some slightly irregular merchandise or got a special consignment of goods from a certain source. It also makes perfect sense for physical events can’t accommodate more than a set amount of people because of factors like available space and fire laws.

When it comes to digital items, like a PDF report, an MP3 audio course or downloadable videos, you need a keen imagination to make your scarcity condition believable. Customers know that if you have one to sell, you have ten thousand or a million. Such things simply don’t run out.

Accordingly, the two most believable reasons I’ve seen for digital scarcity either blame the limit that can be sold either on a contractual agreement with a third party or say that, like classic Disney videos, they’re set to go back into the vault on such and such a date. Another legitimate reason I like comes into play when you bundle a digital product with access to someone’s personal advice, which of course has natural capacity limits.

Don’t expect customers to fall for the scam of a deadline for a discount or availability that automatically changes on a website because it’s programmed to do so. With today’s instant round-the-world social media, this kind of blatant trickery can sink your company’s reputation in a flash. Your fake deadline could also be construed as false advertising.

You’d better check twice

If you’re going to make your scarcity ploy work, you need to make sure there isn’t anything to contradict you. If you say the item is going back in the vault on October 1 yet other sites continue to sell it on October 2, or worse, offer it free, your credibility will be dealt a mortal blow.

Count down clocks are the worst for this. You see the clock ticking and you make your purchase, feeling pleased and slightly smug about your discount. Then you check back the next day only to see the count clock has reset. LIARS!

Leniency boomerangs

You might be tempted to fudge your announced scarcity if sales don’t go as expected. You thought you’d sell 40 conference seats before the early registration discount deadline, for instance, but only 15 bookings came in. It seems like a win-win to let people know they can still receive the discount for an extra week.

However, that can really backfire.

It leaves a sour taste in the mouth of those who bought before the deadline and those who buy during your extension.

I discovered this effect in a marketing survey I conducted, where 52 percent of respondents said they extremely or somewhat dislike it when a previously announced deadline for buying something at a certain price gets extended – even though they might personally benefit from such an extension.

Scarcity works in the world of marketing. Sometimes like gangbusters. Just use it wisely, ok?

Have you used scarcity to great effect? Or are you a sceptic when it comes to “limited offer” deals? Let me know in the comments!


3 Responses

  1. Nice post. I’ve used limited-time scarcity when promoting my ebooks. But it was clearly just me making a random or season-based (e.g. mother’s day special) decision to discount my books for a limited time. So it was all up-front. Those offers were also always very good (big discounts).

    I did, however, extend one of my specials, due to actual popular demand. Quite a few people contacted me saying they missed out. From memory, I think time-zone issues were to blame.

    1. Time zone extensions make sense…. I’ve balls up more than one purchase decision because of time zones!

      Being up front is the key. I think most people respond well to actions based on a sense of integrity. They just call bullshit when they’re played once too often. And quite right too.

      Thanks for commenting Glenn!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Want to Hit Turbo on Your Copywriting Business?

Want to Hit
on Your Copywriting Business?

Of course you do.

Find out your copy biz shortcut so you can focus on the actions that will accelerate your business growth.

You’ll learn what YOU should focus on right now (spoiler alert: it’s not all the things) and get a bunch of tips, advice and extra resources to help you take action.

Have Some Feedback?

Let us know if you see any missing content, weird bugs, or just have general feedback about the new site design!