Scarcity Marketing and the Psychology Behind Black Friday Madness

Something big happened this Black Friday weekend. It wasn’t another brawl or crazy stampede; it was something so much better.

For the first time, Shopify merchants hit $1 billion in sales over the holiday shopping weekend!

While this record amount of sales is great news for online marketers and business owners, it also means it’s time to look at our holiday campaigns and strategies. The holiday season is saturated and you’ll have to run clever promotions to stand out from the competition.

To get the most out of your well-crafted promotions you should use every tool you have. One of your most powerful tools is scarcity.

Using Scarcity to Convert Leads into Sales

For decades, creating a sense of scarcity around popular products has led to varying levels of hysteria, especially during the holiday shopping season. Every year there is a new ‘must have’ item shoppers feel compelled to buy, from cosmetics, TVs, and toys like Cabbage Patch dolls

What drives shoppers to buy are the incredible deals and deep savings that they expect during the holidays. These “once-in-a-lifetime” holiday offers are only around for a short time though. Usually a day, but can sometimes be as short as a few hours. Psychologically, people don’t enjoy the feeling of missing out on a deal for something they had their eye on.

In the simplest form, when things are scarce, we want them. Scarcity is a psychological trigger that is incredibly motivating. It’s what compels us to act when we think that we might lose out on something.

Scarcity Marketing During the Shopping Season

There is no escaping the holiday madness that is currently in full swing. If you’re a marketer, you still have a few more weeks to make the most of the season of increased online shopping.

holiday marketing ideas

The holidays are perfect times for sales and promotions because consumers are expecting and budgeting to buy. Companies, big and small, use the holidays to build some fun “themed” promotions to push out to their email lists.

On the other side of things, some consumers are more inclined to wait to buy closer to a holiday since they can expect a great deal and new offers.

When it comes to creating a sense of urgency and scarcity during your holiday sale, scarcity usually comes from the short window of time (usually a day or a weekend) where consumers can take advantage of special promotions and low, low prices.

scarcity countdown timer

Creating a sense of scarcity in your holiday promotions can be effective for information and digital products. Above is an impressive holiday email from Jenna Kutcher, a photography educator, warning her subscribers the clock is ticking.

How to Stand Out in a Storm of Holiday Offers

Adobe has recently shared some of the stats from this year’s kickoff weekend to holiday shopping, and the numbers may, or may not, shock you. Three billion emails were sent on Black Friday alone this year.


Study the market thoroughly and set your discount level nearest possible to the lowest price offered. The best strategy for your online business to stand out on saturated Black Friday and Cyber Monday is discounts.

​Andrei Vasilescu

Andrei Vasilescu

The best Black Friday deals are, surprisingly, not on Black Friday. Many retailers, including Amazon, offer deals earlier and earlier, upstaging Black Friday itself. 

black friday sales

​The above screenshot is a piece of advice from a Shopify merchant who is on-board with the trend of starting their holiday promotions before Black Friday.

And the numbers back that trend up. ​Jenna's email from above was sent to me on Cyber Monday, a strong day for email marketing. In fact, this year 41% more emails were sent on Monday than on Black Friday. According to Adobe, Cyber Monday is continuing to increase as a huge day for online holiday shopping. Overall web traffic to retail sites increased nearly 12% over last year!


​This year, we prepping months in advance to aggressively grow our email list and social channels. We then relied on those channels to drive the majority of our sales instead of competing with the sky high CPM's that come with paid traffic over the weekend. By doing so we had our most profitable Black Friday Cyber Monday weekend ever.

This year we took a different approach to our Black Friday - Cyber Monday by spending a very limited amount on advertising (mostly retargeting) and instead prepping months in advance to aggressively grow our email list and social channels. We then relied on those channels to drive the majority of our sales instead of competing with the sky high CPM's that come with paid traffic over the weekend. By doing so we had our most profitable Black Friday - Cyber Monday ever.

​Ryan O'Connor

Andrei Vasilescu

​Even Thanksgiving Day online sales increased this year. Shoppers spent nearly $3 billion online on Thursday alone, an 18.3% percent increase over last year.

​You still have time to make the most of converting more buyers during the holidays. Push offers and promotions that capitalize on the principle of scarcity! Don’t run the same old sale or a promotion that won’t convert.

Next Steps: Build a Holiday Sales Funnel

A holiday sales funnel will maximize the power of scarcity as you present special offers to your list. It’s one you can mix up and turn into a promotion that is based around Giving Tuesday, Christmas, New Year’s Day, or any of the hundreds of holidays that exist other than Black Friday Weekend. 

holiday sales funnels

With this funnel, you always have a good excuse to put together a holiday promotion.

Running a holiday sales offer is a great way to convert more buyers during the holidays. Tap into the psychology of why the week of Black Friday is the biggest shopping week of the year. Once you start conveying a sense of scarcity in your holiday offers, converting people into buyers becomes much easier.


Caitlin is an Austin-based digital marketer and writer with a passion for content. She is the newest member of the Performance Marketer team and brings years of marketing experience, as well as the best recommendations for where to go for lunch.


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