Does "limited availability" really mean limited availability?

36 replies
I'm doing a bit of research on marketing and psychology, and I'd love your opinions on a concept I came across.

This time of year it seems like every merchant, online and offline, is running some sort of limited time seasonal sale. Most are legitimate sales, but others seem a bit fake. I found an article (here) that talks about the use of scarcity and limited availability, and how it might actually hurt someone's credibility. (It's actually a good read).

I think earning and maintaining the trust of a market is essential to making money online, so it might be important for us to understand how to use certain tactics like limited availability.

What do you think warriors? When is the use of scarcity is most effective, and when do you feel it is off putting?
#availability #limited #limited availability
  • Profile picture of the author gepisar
    Interesting!! I recall many a year ago...........

    I ran a computer shop in ye olde high st. And the flavour of that year was Wii.

    There was all sorts of hype about shortages... and there was.

    Only, there wasn't. The suppliers had stockpiled thousands of units, but TOLD us they were having trouble getting them - "So scarce!"... so, we put in a large order just in case it was fulfilled.

    Of course, four days before Xmas, we got them ALL.......

    then we had to play the "scarce" game in the shop window to shift em all.

    So, is there ever such a thing as scarce? Well, no. The earth provides, but commerce runs on scare-city. Fear of this, fear of loss, fear of fines... its all b/s.

    And its also what "we" (sheeple) are used to - so "we" react to it.

    Now, things like pinnacle brands are scarce. Lamborghini, and Koenigsegg will only make 200 or Breguet will only make so many of their "Skeleton" wrist watches.

    Of course, the materials, resources and skill so make those things are abundant.

    Patents, licencing and limited production runs make them scarce - but the customer expects this.

    So, its all about "expectation management"... this years "must have Xmas toy" is no doubt going to be scarce. It wouldnt be the "must have toy" if it wasnt. Therefore, we expect it, the supplier manages that expectation, the parent goes on a "hunt" and feels good about paying over the odds for plastic widget; child happy....parent happy...supplier happy and Santa has an ear-to-ear grin... and even Rudolf has that knowing twinkle in his eye!

    "SO, you best all be good this year or else Santa wont...."

    Installed at an early age!
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  • Profile picture of the author Anton543
    Most do it to project a sense of 'I need to buy it now or it will be sold out' conditioning in the minds of their visitors. It has become very cliche.
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  • Profile picture of the author Mwind076
    On our first AD/WSO I did it a little, bit, but to be honest, since we provide a service, it is a bit of a scarcity as we can only do so much. However, I've noticed that NOT putting it on there doesn't make it sell any slower or faster. I think if people are going to buy, they will buy. If they miss out, they'll wait for it to come out again, or they will find something else comparable.

    I don't think it works for normal adults. Maybe for those parents looking for that one Christmas toy for their spoiled child lol.
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    • Profile picture of the author RogueOne
      It depends on the niche. The desperation of the market and actual scarcity.

      In a desperate niche, "scarcity" whether real or fake will increase sales.

      If you say "this info. could be taken down anytime without notice." that's true. It might be twenty years from now, but it's still valid.

      When it comes to digital products the idea of "scarcity" is ridiculous. But offers can be "pulled" and that's where the fear comes in. Better buy now.

      The average person has a tiny, little attention span. You want them to buy "now" before they flit off to something else that has momentarily captured their interest.
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      • Profile picture of the author Steve B
        Joey,

        "Does 'limited availability' really mean limited availability?"

        Good question. The answer has to come from the marketer as only he/she knows if there really is scarcity involved or not.

        Many dishonest marketers use the phrase as a scare tactic hoping that the prospect will purchase something based on his fear that he might "miss out" if he waits on pulling the trigger (clicking the buy button).

        Now some marketers will rationalize the dishonesty of the practice and say "it's OK to use scarcity, even if it's not the case, since it won't hurt anyone."

        My personal feeling is - if trying to fool the customer into a purchase is what you're all about, I'd rather deal with someone else, someone I can trust to tell me the truth all the time.

        Many of us sell digital products and it's hard for me to understand how they can have "limited availability." I suppose there could be an exception or two, but for the most part I must assume that those who claim limited availability are not being honest in their marketing.

        In the case of providing services or physical products or seats at a seminar - yes, in those cases limited availability could very well be legitimate.

        Steve
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        • Profile picture of the author Frank Donovan
          Steve,

          Originally Posted by Steve B View Post

          Many of us sell digital products and it's hard for me to understand how they can have "limited availability." I suppose there could be an exception or two, but for the most part I must assume that those who claim limited availability are not being honest in their marketing.
          Of course digital products can have limited availability. They take up server space which one might not want to continue paying for; the information contained in the product may become outdated - there are many reasons. But foremost is the simple fact that a product owner gets to decide exactly how long to keep that product available, whether for marketing reasons or just on a whim. There's no obligation to keep it available indefinitely just because it's digital.

          It's only dishonest if one claims limited availability when having no such intention.


          Frank
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  • Profile picture of the author johnrone
    It is just another marketing strategy for me to buy a product before it is out of stock.
    The truth of the matter is that the availability of the product is not really limited, but it's just a trial to see if this works out or more people would ask for more.
    Another thing, is that it is the prerogative of the consumers, and that would depend if they really need this thing or not.
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    • Profile picture of the author Steve B
      "They take up server space which one might not want to continue paying for; the information contained in the product may become outdated - there are many reasons."

      Frank, let's be realistic here. Are you telling us that limited server space is a legitimate reason for limited product availability? If you had a hot selling product that was making hundreds or thousands of dollars a day, you would let a cheap thing like server space dictate the availability of your product? Of course you wouldn't. Amazon S3 is less than a dollar a day.

      And if your product is selling great you would take it off the market because it was outdated? Of course you wouldn't - you'd simply update the product and keep selling it over and over again to make a fortune.

      You stated my point very nicely, "It's only dishonest if one claims limited availability when having no such intention."

      Steve
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      • Profile picture of the author Frank Donovan
        Originally Posted by Steve B View Post

        Frank, let's be realistic here. Are you telling us that limited server space is a legitimate reason for limited product availability?
        No, I'm telling you that it's my product and I can do what I like with it. If I want to delete it after it's sold 500 copies or after three months' sales I'll do so. Maybe I believe that I'll sell more by limiting it that way, but ultimately, I don't really need any excuse. Because it's my product.

        Again, we don't disagree about being totally transparent with our prospects. I was just challenging your suggestion that anyone who claims limited availability is likely to be dishonest.


        Frank
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  • Profile picture of the author MRamocsai
    It's definitely just a marketing ploy in a lot of cases. People want what they can't have. The fact that they can get something now filters out the possibility of the the offer being fake I suppose.
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  • Profile picture of the author guypeleides
    Originally Posted by Joey Mason View Post

    I'm doing a bit of research on marketing and psychology, and I'd love your opinions on a concept I came across.

    This time of year it seems like every merchant, online and offline, is running some sort of limited time seasonal sale. Most are legitimate sales, but others seem a bit fake. I found an article (here) that talks about the use of scarcity and limited availability, and how it might actually hurt someone's credibility. (It's actually a good read).

    I think earning and maintaining the trust of a market is essential to making money online, so it might be important for us to understand how to use certain tactics like limited availability.

    What do you think warriors? When is the use of scarcity is most effective, and when do you feel it is off putting?
    What do the really smart companies do? Think about it...

    I like the "beer company" model. They always have extra hats, t-shirts, sports memorabilia, etc. It's important because they're not going to stop selling beer tomorrow. It's pretty "evergreen" for the most part so they figured out the next best thing.

    When you can't limit the product itself, add a cool thing and limit the cool thing

    One of my offline clients is a surgeon who's been on Oprah before. He got a few dozen signed book copies. We made an offer that the first 20 people to book a breast augmentation got a signed copy of the book as an add on. He booked more procedures in a day than most surgeons do in a month.

    Scarcity sells

    Use it wisely and don't BS people and tell them beer will not be for sale tomorrow when it will be. Think like rich companies that know what they're doing with marketing.
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  • Profile picture of the author Troy_Phillips
    It does if you see it on one of my sales pages.
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    • Profile picture of the author johndetlefs
      Originally Posted by Troy_Phillips View Post

      It does if you see it on one of my sales pages.
      Yep.

      Basically it depends on the marketer.
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    • Profile picture of the author Joey Mason
      Originally Posted by Troy_Phillips View Post

      It does if you see it on one of my sales pages.
      What measures do you take to ensure people don't mistake your claim as one of deceit?
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      • Profile picture of the author johndetlefs
        Originally Posted by Joey Mason View Post

        What measures do you take to ensure people don't mistake your claim as one of deceit?
        Make sure that you close it down when you say it will close down, or only sell the amount of copies that you say you will sell.

        Unfortunately this is a bit of a reputation thing, and so difficult to do as a once off.

        Testimonials that say "I missed out on the first round of training as I didn't get in quick enough, and I jumped in immediately when this opened up again and boy am I glad I did" or a variation on that theme will also help, as long as they're genuine.
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      • Profile picture of the author Troy_Phillips
        Originally Posted by Joey Mason View Post

        What measures do you take to ensure people don't mistake your claim as one of deceit?
        Since all my traffic goes to an email cap, the people on my list are then sent to any offers I am using. If I say limited time .. the offer goes away at that time. If I say limited quantity, when the predetermined number comes up, it is in the script to quit selling.

        I seldom limit quantity but do time and sale pricing. My list knows this or finds out soon enough.
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  • Profile picture of the author Benjamin Ehinger
    I've had this conversation with my fiancee recently because she thought she had to rush out to Target to save money on something for Chirstmas. She was afraid it wouldn't be available at the same price or one even close after Black Friday. Come to find out the same exact sale happened online on Cyber Monday.

    Scarcity is exactly why people buy around this time of year, but it's not necessary to sell things online or offline. I don't believe in the craze of black friday, cyber monday or any of the crazy days used to lead all the sheep to their products.

    I don't buy into scarcity online at all because every time I see some product with some type of countdown, it not only reminds me of the stupid infomercials, but also I can go back after the countdown and it starts all over again.

    I don't buy it and wouldn't use it.

    Benjamin Ehinger
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  • Profile picture of the author Randall Magwood
    Limited availability is usually just that when pertaining to physical products. I'm not talking about paper-and-ink information products... i'm talking about products like a computer, furniture, TV, etc.
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  • Profile picture of the author SteveSRS
    I don't fully agree with there is no limited availability with digital products..

    With an ebook yes I agree it doesn't exists.. however if you have a website offering a service or saas.. limited availability can be applicable to ensure fast service as the capacity of servers is limited (disk space, memory, bandwidth).. then you can argue well increase it then.. but this argument can also be made with real products..

    In my next launch I'm going to limit the number of users of my service to keep it exclusive (not just anybody can use it) and to ensure best speeds for the different incorporated tools
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  • Profile picture of the author aizaku
    no not really. but some smart marketers actually do limit their digi items to create desire for the next round.

    when it comes to services and coaching where time & skill is exchanged for money then yes. its limited.
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  • Profile picture of the author seasoned
    The FTC says that it is supposed to be LEGIT! Seasonal sales of tangible goods are often REAL. f they have long sleeve shirts, and it is going to summer, more will want long sleeve, so... Berries will become harder to get so... a car model will change, so ...
    A local hardware store had a sale on snow blowers just before spring... Well, YOU must get the idea! and in bankruptcies, they NO stuff loses value because of lack of support/returns, and stuff will go bad or be seasonal, etc.... so THEY discount stuff. Of course, the money goes towards debts and NOT replenishment, so... Even with fire sales, fire can dehydrate, cause smells, etc..., so even UNDAMAGED goods may sell at a lower price. The REAL meaning of a fire sale.

    Steve
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  • Profile picture of the author clever7
    When I read that something has limited availability online I always feel that this is written only to make me buy the promoted product in a hurry. I don’t believe that this is true.

    I also don’t believe that other internet users cannot understand that this is an intention to influence their buying decision.

    I don’t want to seem to pretend that my products have a limited availability if this doesn’t seem to be true. I never use this tactic.
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    • Profile picture of the author seasoned
      Originally Posted by clever7 View Post

      When I read that something has limited availability online I always feel that this is written only to make me buy the promoted product in a hurry. I don’t believe that this is true.

      I also don’t believe that other internet users cannot understand that this is an intention to influence their buying decision.

      I don’t want to seem to pretend that my products have a limited availability if this doesn’t seem to be true. I never use this tactic.
      ONLINE, I HAVE seen ones offering blemished tagible merchandise.... Returned, with flood damage, with fire damage, etc....(CERTAINLY REASONABLE AND LEGAL) And SOME DO offer a limited sale.(limited only by a promise)(SOMEWHAT REASONABLE, and the FTC allows it twice a year). of course SOME just LIE!(NOT REASONABLE OR LEGAL, at least not in the US).

      Scams are JUST as likely to happen in real life! One major company in the US breaks the law left and right with a perpetual sale. A sales person even ADMITTED it to me. He said THAT is why they keep changing the model numbers.(The appearance, function, and features are the same, so you KNOW it is the same.) FTC rules say that once you have passed a certain limit, THAT price becomes the regular price, and you can no longer call it a sale. They are big enough to keep fighting, I wonder when they will give up. Some OTHERS have price match "guarantees", but the fine print says they must be the same model numbers, and they change the model numbers! AGAIN, ILLEGAL.

      Steve
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  • Profile picture of the author kayfrank
    People suggest you use limited availability to entice people to take action but if the product is digital how could it possibly be limited! Physical products maybe not not digital. I agree that it can hurt your reputation by saying something that isn't true. I would rather make less sales and be honest!
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    • Profile picture of the author BIG Mike
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      • Profile picture of the author Nightengale
        There's some really good information in this thread. And some just plain horribly misinformed people.

        Limited availability is a legitimate sales tactic and is incredibly powerful when done properly because we all want what we can't have. However, the skepticism in this thread is definitely justified by it's overuse and dishonesty of marketers.

        Kay Frank, NO ONE here has suggested being dishonest by limiting availability of your product. The discussion is about how/when it's appropriate (i.e. honest) to use.

        Randall Magwood is right about physical products: it's easier to say "limited availability!" It's also easy to limit availability of services. After all, you only have so much time and your buyer understands that. Even if you WANTED to serve more, you're limited by your time.

        With evergreen products, you have to get more creative. GuyPeleides is spot on: offer a bonus or some type of add on and limit the bonus. It's a simple, BRILLIANT way to introduce limited availability to an evergreen product in an honest way.

        The same thing applies to information products, physical or digital. As others have said, you can have "limited availability" just because you decide to limit it. However, you'll usually have to have a justifiable reason for limiting it.

        Big Mike offered some great examples of legitimate limited availability: discounts, bundles, etc.

        Ultimately, it comes down to the honesty of the marketer. Some marketers are being honest even when they're limiting their digital products. And some aren't. But as this discussion highlights, skepticism runs higher now than ever, so your job as a marketer is harder than ever. You'll have to go out of your way to demonstrate LEGITIMATE limited availability. Your list MUST trust that you're being candid when you say "Limited availability" and it must be a compelling offer.

        I've remained subscribed to several highly successful and visible gurus lists just to see what they're up to. I notice a lot of "Last chance!" "Discount ends tonight!" type stuff. Frankly, it's getting old. None of it moves me, which highlights another problem with discounting: the prospect has to already want your product or service before a discount means something. Rarely do people buy because of a discount alone.

        In his "No B.S. Price Strategy" book, Dan Kennedy talks about the dangers of discounting. I think people, even the gurus, rely too much on discounting. It seems to be the default reason to get people to act. Personally, I'd rather see a valuable bundle, bonus or add-on instead of just a discount.

        If I don't want X Guru's coaching program, it doesn't matter to me if she's discounted it to $1. I'm not buying, period. (And if you're discounting for a limited time, you'd darn well BETTER go back to your regular price after the deadline or I'll never trust you again.)

        It's one of the reasons I love my mentor so much. She's a savvy marketer and a multi-millionaire. She rarely uses discounts, but she DOES use limited-time bonuses and bundles. And there's nothing hypey about her.

        For example, her signature infoproduct was $2197. Instead of discounting, she'd offer a 15-minute laser coaching session for the first 8 people to buy. As long as you trust her and her expertise and are really interested in the subject, it's a powerful incentive. (Her hourly coaching fee was over $500/hr, IF you could get her.)

        Mine is a membership-based business. I just launched in May and I'm already thinking about how to entice my members to renew. The first thing I focused on was building a relationship with them and wow-ing them. Fortunately, I feel I've been successful with establishing the relationship as I spoken with each one of them personally, answered their questions, etc.

        I DON'T want to offer a discount for renewal. Membership is really low as it is ($197 annually). I think discounting sets a bad precedent in general. I decided when I started that I'd be sparing with discounts. I'm NOT WalMart.

        Fortunately, my mentor advises against discounting memberships anyway and suggested using a bonus instead. Now my challenge is to come up with a bonus that my members really value and will renew early for.

        Michelle
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  • Profile picture of the author Chris Worner
    "Limited Availability," is a fairly broad claim to make. For all you know it could mean limited to the first five thousand people. Limited doesn't necessarily mean small.

    It depends entirely on the seller.

    -Chris
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    • Profile picture of the author seasoned
      Originally Posted by Chris Worner View Post

      "Limited Availability," is a fairly broad claim to make. For all you know it could mean limited to the first five thousand people. Limited doesn't necessarily mean small.

      It depends entirely on the seller.

      -Chris
      You're certainly rght about that. Some talk about legal or procurement concerns that could certanly be true. The first gun I bought was at a time when nobody knew its future, and MANY were buying for EXACTLY that reason, as was I. A few days later, it DID become illegal to buy or sell it.

      You usually can't tell about procurment problems, but the legality problems are ofte certainly a concern. At least most don't say they WILL be a concern, etc.... but if it is arbitrary, it is usually STATED!

      There was one guy that was a newbie. He came HERE looking for advice. One person gave him an idea. It wasn't that he came across the idea, the guy here told him EXACTLY what to do. He needed help, so he interviewed people HERE! AGAIN, simple interviews. NOTHING special! He packaged it up and had people here put graphics on it.

      I forget his last name. As I recall, his stated first name was Joe here. He made some people mad here because he wouldn't pay them what he owed for their efforts. HE went on to become world famous. FIRST, he sold the book. THEN he said sales were limited, and sold it again. THEN he sold a share of resale rights wth NO resale of resale rights, that was to be limited, saying that that would be all. THEN he sold ALL rights, though he had no rights legally left to sell. MAN did he make a lot of people mad! he broke about every law you could make with a legal product that was your own. Several tried to sue him. He lived in some asian country, so I don't know how far that went.

      I eventually got the book for free. If I so wanted, I could maybe have resold it. Who would be to say that I didn't have such a right? But MAN, paying a large amount for the rights to sell a book that has been HEAVILY sold ONLY to find that others now have more rights than you, that paid LESS, YIKES!

      Things like THAT are really frowned on. If he had done that in the US, a few complaints to the FTC would have had them breathing down his neck.

      Steve
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      • Profile picture of the author Johnny Slater
        Originally Posted by seasoned View Post


        I forget his last name. As I recall, his stated first name was Joe here. Steve

        Steve, it was Kumar I believe.
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  • Profile picture of the author gepisar
    I have to re-iterate Nightengale's thoughts:

    If a guru was discounting their programme for a time limited period, to just $1 - unless i was "in the market for it" im still not interested. Nontheless, the thought does cross my mind. Then I think about the time investment behind that $1, all the reading and DVDs i need to watch to get the most out of their discounted programme. It comes across as a "throw away" and I might just buy it and shelve it, but probably wont be sold the up-sell until i got through the programme...someday soon. And through that thought process, the product is already devalued.

    On the other hand, keeping prices high, and bundling VALUE ADD creates the concept of a driving force behind the package, that I am going to be supported, that I am not going alone, that there is longevity...and then the decision is clear.

    From a legal standpoint though, the very notion of "rights" or "securitisation" is the process of making something scarce. If i buy the exclusive-mining rights to diamonds, that means to have one, y'all have to come to me, and before i sell them all to someone else! (But the actual real Earthy reserves are abundant)

    Scarcity is the "modus operandi" : value add is special!

    Even changes in law can create "time limited options" - but an alternative will present itself, eventually... but can you wait? What? Youre 50 now? Then you cant wait another 20 years for the next big thing!! Do it now!... So, i guess ultimately, since life is limited, there MUST always be limited availability and a limited amount of time to "value-add"...

    Excellent post.
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    • Profile picture of the author vicdublin
      Honestly, there's hardly any sales letter I've come across recently that has'nt got the sense of urgency and scarcity in them. Most copywriters that I have come across their materials always advice to add a phrase of scarcity in sales letters as it is been seen as a secret weapon for quick sales. It works positively for some and otherwise for some. But it doesn't work for me personally.
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  • Profile picture of the author samjaynz
    I try to avoid getting suckered in by limited availability, especially for online products. 99% of the time (in my experience) if someone sells an info product as having limited availability, you can bet your bottom dollar they would never "run out".

    Next time I launch a product, I'm going to limit it to 50 copies and see what happens. No more sales after that point - no dimesale or nothing, and then see how many people come whinging to me that they couldn't buy a copy.
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  • Profile picture of the author karlmay1980
    Any marketer with integrity wont say it limited if it isnt, digital products are unlimited but the producer can limit them to add value, this can be in terms of numbers to sell or the time slot they are for sale, key thing is stop where you say you will stop, people may call your bluff first time and test you out but next time they will buy straight away because you showed them you do what you say!
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  • Profile picture of the author elperuanito
    The thing is that idiot IMs make this tactic look ridiculous. The tactic I really hate is when you get a follow-up email from someone whose list you're on and they go 'oh! we decided, , because we want you to succeed SO MUCH that we're opening this up again for a tiny little while! second chance! Get in quick before we close this FOREVER!'. Can't tell you how many times that's led to 'unsubscribe'.

    When employed properly it's a good tactic that doesn't leave the seller thinking he's been conned. Sellers can genuinely hit a nice target that they want to hit with their WSO and close it. This way they can play the limited availability card next time they want to sell something. This is just a thought in how it affects me as a customer, however, I am not claiming I know this as a list-builder or WSO seller. I basically don't look at 'limited availability' WSOs and don't consider buying them basically because of this bs technique unless it's a service. With site services (or SEO), there is a definite chance that the limit is genuine. Talented people can only do so much work and scaling is sometimes difficult considering the skill set on offer. I do this with offline clients all the time (oops, not calling myself super talented, lol!). I will build X sites per month and I let my client base know what I am up to in the month following. Often this will lead to them contacting me to make sure they secure my services before I get too busy.
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  • Profile picture of the author Johnny Slater
    One thing I haven't seen anyone mention is the possibility of limiting the number of digital sales because of support concerns. If someone is just starting out and it is one of their first products they may not know how much of a burden that supporting the product will put on them so they limit the number of sales until they have a better idea of how much they will have to devote to supporting it.

    I have seen litterally dozens of legit reasons for limiting digital sales, many which are never discussed or are totally overlooked.
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    • Profile picture of the author Nightengale
      Originally Posted by Johnny Slater View Post

      One thing I haven't seen anyone mention is the possibility of limiting the number of digital sales because of support concerns. If someone is just starting out and it is one of their first products they may not know how much of a burden that supporting the product will put on them so they limit the number of sales until they have a better idea of how much they will have to devote to supporting it.

      I have seen litterally dozens of legit reasons for limiting digital sales, many which are never discussed or are totally overlooked.
      Wow! Really good point that I hadn't thought of!

      Well, actually, I have. I've deliberately structured my business for scalability, to be able to serve as many people as easily as one, so that I can grow as big as I want to. All along the way of creating my business, I've always kept an eye on possible customer support issues, worried that I might be swamped. (My day job has been customer service slave, so I'm INTIMATELY familiar with demanding customers!) I deliberately structured my business in such a way as to avoid customer support or contact as much as possible. (Some businesses require more customer service/support than others.)

      However, I was thinking of my business as a whole, not just focusing on digital products. But you're absolutely right. Support concerns are ABSOLUTELY a legitimate reason for limited availability. Anyone who's ever done customer service for even one day will understand how taxing it really is.

      (And I won't go into my less-than-favorable opinion of customers in general here. But let's just say I've more than had my fill of rude/nasty/demanding/ungrateful customers in my day jobs and won't hesitate to fire a client who becomes this way. I have a serious case of customer support burnout and won't tolerate it in my own business.)

      Michelle
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      "You can't market here. This is a marketing discussion forum!"
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  • Profile picture of the author Michael Ten
    If it is going to be used, then it should be used honestly and ethically. Otherwise, it is not a sustainable tactic.
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