Before we get into scarcity marketing, we need to cover a basic economics lesson.
Supply and demand.
To put it simply, the law of supply and demand details the relationship between sellers and buyers – specifically, the relationship between the availability of a product or service and the desire for the priced item or service.
So essentially, low supply and high demand raise prices, and low demand and high supply drops prices.
This is where scarcity comes into play with your marketing.
What Is Scarcity Marketing?
The scarcity principle is the theory that shows a limited supply of goods combined with a high demand that leads to a lack of pricing equilibrium. Scarcity changes the way potential buyers value certain purchases.
Scarcity marketing is based on a simple principle that addresses the psychology of your audience. On a primal level, fear motivates human beings to take action. People want things that are hard to obtain.
It’s a simple concept, and it’s pretty damn effective when marketers can leverage those emotions to guide their audience through the buyer's journey.
Why Scarcity In Marketing Is Effective
Scarcity marketing works for three main reasons.
First of all, buyers who purchase scarce items feel exclusive. Owning a product or buying a service that is in low supply also makes you feel a sense of power and earn a sense of high social status.
Plus, people tend to view scarce items as more valuable that things that are in high supply.
Second, buyers fear the feeling of non-purchase regrets. If they get a shot at buying something rare and don’t take the opportunity, they’ll feel regretful about letting it slip through their fingers (especially if their social circle gets it instead of them).
Last but not least, the fear of missing out (FOMO) rears its head. FOMO was first identified by Dr. Dan Herman, who defined it as the following:
A clearly fearful attitude towards the possibility of failing to exhaust available opportunities and missing the expected joy associated with succeeding in doing.
In other words, FOMO is the psychological stress you experience when you're feeling excluded or left out of enjoyable experiences.
These three reasons highlight how scarcity can influence buyers in certain ways, but using this approach in your marketing comes with both advantages and disadvantages.
The Pros and Cons of Using Scarcity Marketing
As with every marketing strategy, using scarcity in your efforts can either deliver big wins or backfire on you. Let's look at the good and the bad of scarcity marketing.
- You can position scare items as a hot commodity to drive interest and purchases.
- You can adopt a new angle on positioning your goods and services and tell an engaging story to explain why there is a scarcity.
- You have the potential to drive a ton of sales in a short amount of time, especially if you're using tactics like countdowns and inventory warnings.
- You might push away prospective customers, especially if they like your brand but aren't accustomed to feeling pressured by scarcity.
- Your strategy of creating the illusion of scarcity might feel deceptive or downright dishonest.
- Your reputation is on the line, so if you’re promoting low value products or services as a hot commodity, expect a big backlash from paying customers.
Scarcity Marketing Tactics You Need to Try
There are plenty of methods for generating a lot of demand through the scope of the scarcity principle.
Limited Time Offers and Countdowns
This gives buyers less time to second guess. They will see when the exclusive offer is ending and either make the purchase or move on.
The time crunch emphasizes that they need to make a decision before the product or service goes away forever.
Similarly, you can use sale price countdowns, showing a spike in price when the clock strikes zero. Also, try using expiring price discounts that add value for the buyer, like free shipping or an extra 10 percent off their next purchase.
Customers can look forward to the open date of a recurring seasonal offer. So they're coming to you with a buying decision already in mind.
Also, you might see bigger order sizes because buyers understand the limitations of the seasonal deal.
By showing how many items are left, it tells buyers how fast something is selling and generates more interest. They certainly don't want to miss the chance of joining the crowd of happy customers.
Activity in Real Time
Buyers can see how many people are viewing and buying deals. Other engagement activity, like social media shares in real time, highlights the popularity and demand for something.
Small batch goods and services (like only selling 100 seats to a thought leader workshop) tap into the desire for people to feel unique, special, and be seen with a renewed sense of status.
5 Examples of Companies That Thrive With Scarcity Marketing
The tactics listed above, when used strategically by the right companies for the right audience, can yield massive results. Here are five of the best companies leveraging scarcity to drive big profits.
This clothing brand has reached immense heights with fans of fashion over the last couple of decades. They’re known for high priced, fun collaborations with top brands, including The North Face, Playboy, Nike, and everything in between.
Check out these $200 slippers they created with Frette, an Italian luxury linens brand.
Source: Street Wear Official
The price is high, the quantity is limited (only sizes 8 through 10 remain), and there’s a banner with a countdown promoting an order code. If you're in their target market, you're going to feel enticed to buy right now.
By waiting, you risk missing out on these slippers forever and you also forfeit big savings you could enjoy with the coupon code.
This is a rare case for Supreme. Many of their collaborations sell out instantly. When they launch new collaborations (fans call these “drops”), there is an immense amount of hype in their massive cult-like community.
There is a massive market for resellers, some of whom make hundreds of dollars each month flipping it.
The ecommerce giant continues to enjoy being the king of online marketplaces, thanks in large part to how well they use marketing tactics.
When buyers are considering a purchase, they’re enticed by shipping dates. In this example, you can see if I order these headphones within 22 hours, I can get it for one-day shipping.
This encourages me to order quickly because I want to guarantee that I’ll get my new headphones before Monday.
In other listings, you’ll see other scarcity marketing tactics, like listing inventory information (“only X left in stock”) to encourage a purchase decision immediately.
Another dominant force, Starbucks always releases seasonal offerings, like holiday themed mugs and other merchandise.
But of course, their pumpkin spice latte is the most notable example.
They launch aggressive marketing campaigns to promote the limited offer, but diehard PSL fans already know and count this launch down.
In fact, they even created an Instagram account solely for their PSL.
This keeps their audience engaged with the seasonal offer so it's top of mind long before the official release date is revealed.
Another huge ecommerce marketplace, Groupon thrives on using scarcity to drive sales for vendors.
For example, the Tampa Bay Rays are offering half off tickets.
Check out the top right content that creates urgency and shows social proof. They list out the following:
- Limited time
- Selling fast
- Over 5,000 bought
Plus, they display the original price cut in half to $14, calling out the 50 percent discount. This all very engaging for interested buyers.
The golden arches launched a huge scarcity marketing campaign for their limited-edition Szechuan sauce, which they brought back for one day only in October 2017.
Acclaimed TV show Rick and Morty sparked renewed interest and demand for this sauce, which was first launched in the 90s.
For the limited rerelease, McDonalds added a bunch of limited edition sauces to their Buttermilk Crispy Tenders domain, which has since been taken down.
Source: Wayback Machine
The result – massive lines of fans and a reseller market where people were listing unopened sauce packages for hundreds of dollars.
The craze was so prominent that McDonalds had to address it on their site and announced they were relaunching it in December 2017.
Source: Wayback Machine
While a lot of fans were displeased about the limited quantities, the marketing campaign was clearly a big win.
Is Scarcity Marketing Right for You?
The power of scarcity marketing is immense. But don’t do it just to do it.
Be true to your company and determine if applying these scarcity marketing tactics is right for you and your customers. If it is right for you, get started now, before it's too late.