Periodically we hear people on this forum complain about certain scarcity
tactics they come across, such as the classic "Buy by midnight or the price
goes up!" (but never actually does), or "Only 10 left at this price", etc.
Here's how I see it:
"Scarcity" is a valid marketing concept.
- It's been understood for thousands of years. When resources that we
want become less available, we may desire it more. (Nations have gone
to war over scarce resources!)
- Scarcity motivates people to buy now, rather than later (which they
often won't do, because things like Life get in the way).
- Plus, as human beings we tend to be more concerned about what we
may lose, than what we might gain!
However, for scarcity to be most effective, it needs two key elements -
and this is where many marketers fail to create effective urgency:
(1) Perception. It needs to appear credible.
If you really wanted to see your favourite band in concert, but you leave it
too late and all the tickets sell out, you really feel the loss, don't you? And
so next time they're playing, you may book the tickets earlier, because
you know darned well those tickets are in short supply.
The scarcity is real and credible for you, and so you act on it.
On the other hand, if you're a jaded marketer who has seen those "Buy
before midnight or the price goes up!" offers dozens of times, and not one
of them actually does put the price up past midnight, you're going to be
very skeptical of those types of offers in general.
However, many of your customers may have never seen the tactic before,
and so it may be effective on them - but what if they happen to miss the
midnight deadline, come back later on, and see the exact same offer?
What does that do to your credibility?
So the first key element to any scarcity tactic is that it needs to appear
credible. If you say you're going to put the price up by midnight, why not
actually do it?
If you're going to limit to the first 100 buyers, make sure you do that and
show how many are left! (I'll explain how to do this in a few moments...)
The second key element is...
(2) Justification. Why the deadline, limited quantity etc?
Someone on this forum asked a very valid question: "How can digital
downloads possibly be in limited supply? They're digital!"
This is why so many many here have a low opinion of scarcity tactics
online - because the scarcity lacks justification.
Well, all it requires is to think outside of the box a little bit.
To give you a specific example: When Frank Kern launched his "Mass
Control" product in 2008 - a digital, downloadable product - he limited it to
about 500 or so slots.
How did he justify that? Well, as part of the package, he was willing to
provide a kind of conference call, and hold the hands of his customers, to
make sure they got value for money. And so he said he'd probably only be
able to support about a maximum of 500 or so people this way - a very
credible reason for limiting the supply.
If you sell software, you can bundle it with free installation, but only for
the first X customers, because your time to do the installations is limited -
and thus, the supply of this bundle is limited to the first X customers.
If you sell a PDF report, you could bundle a free 30 minute Skype
consultation, or an email consultation... and limit the number of these
packages, because you can only do so many of those - after all, your time
is limited, so the quantity has to be limited as well.
In other words, by being creative and thinking outside of the box just a
little bit, you can always come up with ways you can credibly justify why
even your digital offering is limited in supply.
The Technical "How To"
So how can you do these kinds of things, like putting the price up
automatically, limiting the supply and showing how many are left, etc?
For most of it, you could use a PHP script. For example, for some
campaigns I've run, I use my own Dynamic Deadlines to time when a
visitor arrives, and switch to a higher price or remove a bonus after a
certain time has passed (i.e. an hour, or a day), or as certain quantities
pass (i.e. after 10 sales).
Although my script is more sophisticated, you could perhaps implement a
simpler version with a little PHP programming (i.e. set a cookie, check
date... if past midnight, show higher price).
With PHP, you could also create a coupon code system, once again making
each coupon code time limited.
If you don't know any PHP, you could get someone to code it for you on
elance.com, or look for a coupon code script - there are many on the
Just make sure that if you're going to use any kind of scarcity tactic, that
it (a) appears credible, and (b) the scarcity is justified.
Finally, I would also add... if you have the traffic and sales, it would be a
good idea to actually test out whether your scarcity tactic is working! Test
scarcity vs no scarcity at first...
... but don't forget you can test different methods of, and justifications for
That way, you're not taking anybody's word for what works - you're
finding out for yourself!