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Scarcity Can Trigger Better Conversions

Toilet paper flew off the shelves during the early days of the pandemic lockdown. Not a sheet could be found in any stores. Everyone stockpiled in fear of a two-ply shortage.

Covid toilet paper shortage.

Toilet paper and other paper goods were scarce in the early days of Covid-19. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Scarcity is a helluva motivator. Nothing ignites a fire under your butt like the fear of not having something you need or want.  And that’s something you can use to encourage your audience and boost your conversions. 

But scarcity is something you’ll want to use cautiously. Use it too much and your audience will wise up to your game.

What is the Scarcity Principle?

The Scarcity Principle is a psychological motivator where we want things more when we feel they won’t be around much longer. The more difficult it is to obtain, the more we desire it.

Janet Jackson parody.

We prefer things when they’re less available to us. Say you’ve got a jar full of cookies and another jar with even fewer cookies. According to one study, we’ll want a cookie from the fewer jar. 

The toilet paper shortage of the 2020 lockdown is an IRL example. Folks thought they needed to stockpile on TP, as well as a lot of other items. When the shelves emptied, everyone went into a panic. Brawls breaking out in stores fast.  

Scarcity is part and parcel of how our economy works. And it really messes with our FOMO

High-premium, limited-edition collectables are commonplace in the geek community. We all want to get that reservation to that exclusive, Michelin-star restaurant. The harder it is for us to find or obtain, the more we want it. 

And the digital realm is no different. Scarcity is a big psychological trigger you can use.

How and When to Apply Scarcity to UX Design

Okay, now scarcity is a good motivator for your audience. But you don’t want to use it willy nilly. Cause that would be… well, bad. And you could do serious damage to your brand perception and equity.

There are a few dos and don’ts you’ll want to keep in mind:  

  • Do: use it to increase perceived value to boost conversions and create awareness of limited offers or limited stock.  
  • Do: survey your audience to know if your scarcity messaging and UX work for them.
  • Don’t: fool your audience with fake numbers.
  • Don’t: use scarcity if you can’t deliver your product.

Now it’s time for a brief horror story. High-end cosplay outlet ANOVOS got into trouble using scarcity as their model. They over-promised and under-delivered on pre-orders, causing them to fold. And that left several customers waiting on backorders that may never come.

So don’t be like them.

5 Types of Scarcity You Can Use

Let’s take a brief look at the 5 types of scarcity you can use.

  • Time-limited scarcity. A ticking clock that lets your audience know they don’t have much time to get an item.
San Diego Comic Con limited ticket sales.

San Diego Comic-Con uses a literal countdown to encourage people to register for their limited badges.

  • Quantity-limited scarcity. Items that are in danger of running out do to low stock.
Amazon limited quantities.

Amazon often uses quantity-limited scarcity. Also, wow… that’s a price body fat loss monitor!

  • Ban or censorship. Our access to something is no longer available, making it even more valuable. 

  • One of a kind event. This is where we only have one chance and one chance only to attend something.

Now that you know the 5 types, here’s a quick-and-easy way to determine if scarcity is right to use. 

  • When you want to speed up desired actions. You need to boost conversions so you’ll want to make signing up feel exclusive and limited.
  •  When you want to increase perceived value. Indicating an item has low availability can impact your audience’s valuation of it.

Why You Should Always Test Scarcity 

Like we said, you don’t want to use scarcity as a motivator willy nilly. Because you risk destroying all trust and credibility with your audience. 

So before you implement this trigger, you’ll want to test before inadvertently turning off users. 

Questions and Techniques to Measure the Impact of Scarcity in Your Designs

Before you test amongst your audience, you’ll want to seek answers to a couple of key questions. 

  • What scarcity messaging increases conversions? You’ll want to test specific task flows combined with your messaging. Usability testing is great for this — e.g.”On a scale from 1-7, how confident do you feel with this selection?” — to gauge your audience’s emotional response. 
  • Does scarcity messaging reduce time duration visits to conversion? Here you’ll want to dig into your analytics to see where your users come from, the path they take, and whether they actually convert. 

You can use Helio to survey your target audience on your scarcity messaging. Simply get started with this easy peasy template! 

Message Testing

Put your messaging to the test and gather quick feedback before you go live with your carefully crafted copy.

Use this template for:

  • Concept Testing
  • See if Scarcity Messaging will increase your conversions
  • Quickly iterate on copy based on customer feedback
Use Template