11 Ways Businesses Use Scarcity Marketing

Are you playing hard to get with your customers? 

People crave what they can't have and putting a limit on your products is one way to create that desire.

Scarcity marketing is the equivalent of a business playing hard to get.

This strategy is by no means a new method in marketing though.

For decades, scarcity marketing has created hysteria over simple things such as coffee, cosmetics, beer, clubs, and of course, Cabbage Patch dolls.  

Most of the popular examples of scarcity marketing are from the big guys though; companies with a marketing team of 50 or more people.  Which is a shame!

There are plenty of small businesses, brick and mortar stores, and even digital information products making huge profits off of scarcity marketing.

These examples of scarcity marketing prove that you don’t need a massive budget to have people chomping at the bit to buy your products.

Keep reading to see examples from businesses of all shapes and sizes and how they're creating a demand for their products using scarcity marketing.

Scarcity marketing is the equivalent of a business playing hard to get with its customers. People crave what’s hard to get. This strategy though, is by no means a new method in marketing.

For decades, scarcity marketing has created hysteria over simple things such as coffee, cosmetics, beer, clubs, and of course, Cabbage Patch dolls.  Most of the popular examples of scarcity marketing are from the big guys though; companies with a marketing team of 50 or more people.  Which is a shame!

There are plenty of small businesses, brick and mortar stores, and even digital information products making huge profits off of scarcity marketing. These examples prove that you don’t need a massive budget to have people chomping at the bit to buy your products.
A successful marketing strategy incorporates many different ideas. And while the best marketing strategies contain numerous formulas, there’s one form of marketing that every strategy should include: scarcity marketing.

For many years, scarcity marketing has been a well-known marketing technique to make more sales. First discussed by psychologist Robert Cialdini in his best-selling book, Persuasion, scarcity drives action. In it he mentions a number of examples to the how and why it works, but really, you don’t have to look too far for examples of that.

Most of the popular examples of scarcity marketing are from the big guys; companies with a marketing team of 50 or more people.  Which is a shame! There are dozens of small businesses, brick and mortar stores, and even digital information products making huge profits off of scarcity marketing. Proving, that you don’t need a massive budget for scarcity marketing to make you massive profits.
urgency marketing words

Maybe you know some of these scarcity marketing examples, and maybe you don't.  Regardless, what they all have in common, is: 

  • The ability to boost sales.
  • Engage more customers.
  • Grow a brand.

These are objectives that every serious business wants to achieve, so read on to see how others have already done so. We’ve included a variety of businesses in this guide and they’re all using scarcity marketing effectively.

From household brand names to small brick-and-mortar stores, these companies are proving that scarcity marketing still works:

Scarcity Examples From Big Brands

When it comes to marketing, the trick is to take part of that scarcity principle, but instead of pushing the price up, use it to encourage an increase in demand. There are two main ways to apply a sense of scarcity:

  • You can highlight that an item or service is in high demand and that stock or availability will soon run out.
  • Place a time limit on the availability of a product or service, at a certain price or season.

Here are five examples of big brands applying scarcity marketing in an incredible way:

amazon prime scarcity examples

Amazon Prime Surprise Sweets Dash Button

The Prime Surprise Sweets Dash Button is a Wi-Fi connected device that orders Amazon Prime members a surprise box of delicious treats from small-batch artisans anytime they want, at just the press of a button. There’s just one catch: the button is available for purchase by invite only, for only Prime members. That's two levels of exclusivity if you're keeping count.

The idea of scarcity marketing is to show that your product or service is useful and needed by consumers, but, that it’s also not widely available. By making something seem in short supply or not available to everyone, consumers tend to instinctively attach a higher value to it and want it even more. 

And that’s when the boost in sales happens.

starbucks scarcity marketing examples

Starbucks Unicorn Drink

After checking out the name of this next example, you’re probably doing one of two things: rolling your eyes or reminiscing on your Unicorn Frappuccino picture that was a huge hit on your social media. Either way, looking at the coffee company’s bold promotion, there are big takeaways for marketers looking to cash in on scarcity.

First, capitalize on current trends in your niche and pop culture. The unicorn is having a moment right now, and Starbucks wisely jumped on that opportunity. With unicorn pool floats to makeup highlighter, and now even unicorn bagels, Starbucks saw there was plenty of room for them to cash in on one more unicorn product.

Secondly, the Frappuccinos were only available for a mere five days! This had nearly everyone clearing time in their schedule and making plans to swing into the coffee shop for a candy-colored frozen drink. Normally, we've seen Starbucks create scarcity by offering the special product for a limited time, like their Pumpkin Spice Latter offering in the. fall. This time the coffee company kicked things up with an very small window of time. 

If Starbucks had offered the drinks for any longer, the media, hype, and buzz surrounding their new product would not have had the same impact. Slowly, less and less people would talk about the new drink. We all know, it’s better to end things too soon, leaving people mad and wanting more, than it would be to let that sense of scarcity slowly fizzle out.

The unicorn madness is most likely a fleeting trend, but Starbucks knew what they were doing when they jumped at the opportunity to make their contribution: They found themselves in everyone’s feeds and covered as a major news story on all the major networks. And to think, all this coverage and sales for a pink drink that was only around for five days, and didn’t even contain the brand’s signature product: coffee! Thank you, scarcity marketing!

While aiming for a campaign on the level of the Unicorn Frappuccino might not be a possibility, look at the strategy and see how you can apply it to your next promotion.

Snap Inc. and Spectacles

Snapchat did an impressive job using the powerful force of scarcity to create a ‘cool factor’ around their first physical product.

No one asked for sunglasses that had social media and a camera built right into the frame. But when the app, Snapchat launched their Spectacles in late 2016, the limited availability of the mysterious Snapbots had early-adopters going wild.

Snapbots were the special vending machines had sold the glasses. These machines were nomadic, never staying in one spot for more than 24 hours. Not like that part mattered, long lines quickly formed as soon as one of these bright yellow boxs appeared. As word spread on social media, the glasses would usually be sold out in a few hours. 

Even cooler, Snapchat sold about 61,500 units of their Spectacles in the product’s first months. Their Spectacles brought in a significant amount of (much-needed) engagement on their app and made the company $4 million in revenue in the final quarter of 2016.

eBay

eBay built its entire billion-dollar business on this scarcity marketing principle. By allowing sellers to market items that, in many cases, aren’t available elsewhere because they’re old or part of a set that’s no longer in production, those items become more valuable.

Added to the lack of availability associated with items sold by their owners, is the transparency on price and bidding. It’s clear to everyone looking at that item, exactly how popular it is and how much others consider it to be worth.

eBay had a revenue of some $9 billion in 2016, making this a fantastic example of the simplest, yet extremely effective use of scarcity marketing.

fashion scarcity marketing example

TOMS and WildAid Partnership

“Shop our new shoe designs, profits from sales help us conserve and protect these cute, cuddly panda bears. But you better hurry because these prints won't last long!”

That’s basically the key to TOMS recent partnership with WildAid in the launch of this year’s WildAid Panda collection. Now, TOMS is known for ethically supporting a range of social and conservation organizations. Don't think this was some mastermind plan for the company to make more sales.

For the past few years, TOMS has been promoting this partnership twice a year, with new shoes benefitting different endangered species (African Elephants will be in the fall!). With each purchase of the limited edition vegan shoes, TOMS, “as always” will donate a pair to those in need, plus support WildAid’s conservation programs.

When it comes to marketing, TOMS is a multi-tasking machine! Here they’ve brought three principles of persuasion together for a campaign with positive, long-lasting effects.

For this partnership, the shoe company used scarcity to market their new line, liking to make more sales and build a better brand image, and reciprocity since TOMS is generously donating money and shoes to those in need. Multi-task in your business and find a clever way to bring scarcity marketing and charity together. We promise it will be a win-win

How Small Businesses Apply The Scarcity Principle

Of course, we’re not suggesting that you can only begin a new marketing strategy using scarcity with a million or billion-dollar profit as your expected return. But, it doesn’t hurt to aim high – as evidenced by the success of others who’ve gone before.

In fact, there are plenty of smaller businesses using scarcity in their marketing in ways that are catching the eyes of marketers (and consumers!) everywhere.

Brick and Mortar Stores

The Peached Tortilla's Milkshake Pop-Up

Austin, Texas Southern-Asian restaurant, The Peached Tortilla teamed up with social media company, SpredFast to create the unique and fun Mega Milkshake for SXSW festival-goers. “We knew we wanted to create something that people would want to discuss, not just on social, but also with the people who were immediately surrounding them,” says Spredfast’s senior events manager, Grace Gittinger.

Along with the fear of missing out and pop culture’s current fascination with anything bright and sparkly, the campaign was a massive success. So much so, that when The Peached Tortilla hosted another pop-up event a month later, the tickets were sold out almost instantly. Not just once, but all three pop-ups were sold out long before the event.

These Mega Milkshake’s aren’t available at The Peached Tortilla’s restaurant, ever. They are not even close to the Asian-infusion dishes the Austin restaurant is normally praised for. So why would anyone care if they made milkshakes? Simply put, many did not like that feeling and fear of missing out!

In Austin, and even across the country, consumers saw those sky-high Mega Milkshakes their friends at SXSW got to enjoy, and they wanted to be next. The Peached Tortilla saw that and jumped on the opportunity to keep up the buzz that was spreading about these shakes! 

eCommerce Businesses

ASOS' Regular Clearance Sales

By holding regular clearance sales, you’re highlighting that you have a limited stock of some items, which means that sizes and colors of that stock will be limited. And, voila, you’ve created the idea that some stock you’re keen on clearing from your warehouse is popular, due to the lack of its availability.

​Of course, you’ve lowered the price of that stock – not raised it. But, what ASOS does with its clearance sales is convince buyers they’re getting a good deal on something that is no longer widely available. Even if the stock is available elsewhere, in their warehouse, the stock is ‘limited’ and cheaper than elsewhere, which drives demand and sales.

Information Product Companies

Drop Ship Lifestyle's Fun Holiday Promotions

Holidays are one of our favorite times to offer discounts for our software and courses. It's fun working with the endless possibilites of holidays but using scarcity principle marketing shines in holiday promotions. Scarcity works best when the offer or promotion is for a short window of time.

The scarcity of a holiday sale comes from the short window of time that’s usually a day or a weekend, where consumers can take advantage of special promotions. Plus, there’s always some holiday coming up to build a scarcity marketing campaign around!

scarcity marketing holiday sales

​So we decided it would be the perfect time to run a promotion for a product every day leading up until Christmas. This is how you can be creative and have fun with holiday promotions and creating urgency.

One example of a holiday promotion we recently ran was our 12 Days of Christmas sale. Drop Ship Lifestyle has been in business for a while and there’s plenty of different products we have. If you don’t have 12 products yet, you can easily think of something else that fits your business and brand.​

Creating Scarcity in Your Business

As you can see from the few examples we’ve highlighted, scarcity marketing really does work. And, if it’s done well, it can net you a bigger profit than you ever imagined.

When it comes to creating a successful marketing funnel, you need to incorporate a number of different ideas. In an ideal world, those ideas should work in different ways to encourage a variety of consumers to make a purchase or opt-in.

But, while the best marketing strategies contain numerous formulas, there’s one form of marketing that every strategy should include: the scarcity principle.

Scarcity Marketing Strategies For Your Funnels

A sales funnel injected with a healthy dose of scarcity will help you maximize the value of your leads. Understanding the power of scarcity will keep your users in the funnel and boost your sales at the end of the day.

Here are some of the most effective  strategies we use to incorporate scarcity tactics into our marketing campaigns:

aida sales funnel

New Product Launches

Scarcity marketing is a great tool to use on a new product or service launch, with two possible ways to use it.

The first is to offer your new item at a set price for either a limited time or a limited number of customers. By doing this, you’re suggesting to potential customers that they’re getting a good deal on a great item, but they need to act quickly in order to secure it.

The second is to make or release a certain, limited number of the finished product, or a limited number of time slots or dates for a service. This is another call to action that people will feel they need to respond to quickly in order to get what they want.

information product waiting list

There’s no, “Buy Now” CTA on the Ramit Sethi’s Zero to Launch landing page. Just a bright orange button to “Join the Waitlist.”

Exclusivity 

By making something seem in short supply or not available to everyone, consumers tend to instinctively attach a higher value to it and want it even more.

Creating an air of exclusivity is a good scarcity marketing strategy to apply at the launch of a brand or new product or service. Or, if sales/take-up has slowed for no explicable reason, you can use it then too.

The idea is to make your product or service appear as an exclusive item that only select consumers are invited to download or use for free, or a discounted price. Note, you’re not making it unavailable to anyone, you’re just giving a special offer or deal to a particular audience or lucky few consumers.

Share Your Inventory Level

If you’re in a position where you can give a pretty reliable count of the exact stock you’re holding, then use it. If someone is searching for, or viewing a product that you sell, they’re likely to be encouraged to buy it then and there if they’re shown that only a few are left in stock. Sharing your inventory levels is especially helpful to those non-buyers stuck at the bottom of your funnel.

This can be done for a broad range of goods or, you can be more specific. For instance, with clothing or shoe sizes you can indicate which sizes, colors or designs are more popular.

By indicating the popularity of your products, services or business, you’re creating a sense of urgency among your potential customers to make a purchase of a popular item before it’s too late.

study showing effects of urgency on marketing

An example of how Drop Ship Lifestyle applies the scarcity principle to webinars.

During Webinars

We’ve been doing webinars in our businesses for years now. After all that time, we have become big fans of using the scarcity principle to drive engagement and attendance in our webinar funnels.You can also create a sense of scarcity by offering a promotion that’s only available during the webinar. Once again a time sensitive promotion made directly to people in that moment is a great start to using scarcity marketing in your webinars.

For us, every part of our webinar funnel uses scarcity. One example is we share the scarcity of our webinars in mentioning we only have a limited number of seats.

For Drop Ship Lifestyle webinars, we also mention if there are times where we won’t be able to offer a webinar replay. Meaning, our audience needs to show up live to get the information we’re sharing, or they’ll miss out on it forever.

If you have attended one of our webinars, you know that Anton leads a live 30 minute Q&A for any questions from the attendees. There is a live on-screen countdown timer that does a phenomenal job of conveying urgency and the importance of being present for the live webinars.

Even at the top of our funnels, we use the scarcity principle in our copy. The tip here is to ensure that your messaging, offer, and benefits remain the same and congruent as your leads travel through your funnel. The last thing you want to do is leave them confused and frustrated about what to do next.

Countdown Timers

how to create urgency when marketing services

We use Countdown Kraken in our businesses to quickly add countdowns to our sales pages, emails, and blog posts. Basically, anywhere we can edit HTML!

If you’re running a promotion or need visitors to take action, show a countdown timer, an actual symbol of time passing. 90% of all the information that enters our brain is visual. Countdowns drive action, making this scarcity principle example of the easiest.

A limited time offer and a ticking countdown timer creates a sense of urgency; this urgency leads to visitors feeling a sense of scarcity and fear of missing out.

Ticking countdown timers work wonders converting those at the bottom of the funnel to convert. Simply, the scarcity principle makes your leads think they could lose out if they don’t take immediate, now. And they know they’ll feel better quicker if they just go ahead and pull that trigger.​

Adding a countdown timer is so much easier than you thought too! In our businesses we use Countdown Kraken because it's simple, customizable, and quick. Anywhere we can plug in HTML or images, we can add the countdowns. We use countdown timers sparingly though, to ensure we don't create a false sense of urgency.

As you can see from the variety of ways to use the scarcity principle in marketing, it's powerful. These examples of the scarcity principle are powerful drivers of sales for any business, including yours.

However, you should never use the scarcity principle too often or in a way that is dishonest. ​

Si Quan Ong Referral Candy

Si Quan Ong, ​​Candybar

Scarcity works, and is a great way to get people interested in visiting your website, especially if you're doing giveaways, or limited time/quantity offers.

 However, always, always make sure that your scarcity is real and genuine. Never create some kind of false scarcity and lie to your prospects and customers.

Remember: Everything in Moderation

To wrap up, the important points of the scarcity principle must stay at the front of your mind if you wish to effectively use the tactic.

Before you apply these scarcity examples in your next marketing campaign, remember:

  • Scarcity principle tactics are not a quick fix
  • Too much pressure can backfire
  • Everything in moderation
  • Always test to know how effectively your marketing scarcity works with your customers

As you can see from the scarcity marketing examples we've outlined here, there are a number of great ways to include the principle as part of your complete strategy. It’s something that clearly works for lots of businesses.


Have any questions for us about scarcity marketing and using it in your business? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments.

Caitlin Johnson
 

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