How to Use Scarcity without Selling your Soul

Let’s consider for a moment all of those salespeople you can’t stand. Like that used car dealer that stands in your TV pointing at you, and yelling:


Yuck. There’s hardly anything less appealing, except maybe those furniture companies that regularly go out of business roughly four times a year, “liquidating their stock” with an “everything must go” mentality. They can only go out of business so many times before you start to lose trust, right?


Both of these are examples of terrible ways to use scarcity to boost business. But scarcity itself is not the problem.

Let’s look at what these two ad strategies have in common. First and foremost, they’re trying to convey a sense of both urgency and scarcity. Secondly, they both come off as shady, or untrustworthy, and so their campaigns don’t seem to work as well.

What I’m about to say here might shock you: Both companies in these examples are actually using really smart advertising strategies. The problem is that they’re not doing it effectively, or in a way that builds trust with legitimate customers.

Believe it or not, urgency and scarcity are both really effective ways to boost your conversions, sales, and profits, and you don’t have to do it in a sketchy way. We’re going to show you how to make scarcity work for your digital marketing company, while still building positive customer relationships.

So first, how do you create scarcity?

Scarcity really has to do with supply and demand:

  • If supply and demand are low, you’ll have low prices.
  • If supply is high, and demand is low, your price will have to be even lower to sell anything.
  • If supply and demand are both high, you slow your production and raise prices.
  • If supply is low, and your demand is high, then you only need to raise your prices.

That very last point about supply and demand is the one that the principle of scarcity targets. By either having a limited amount of something, or by creating the perception that you have a limited amount of something that has a high demand, you bump your profit margins. This is a principle that isn’t just limited to tangible goods either. If you provide a service, your time becomes that limited item, and what’s more scarce than time?

So, what steps do you take to create this scarcity?

Set a deadline

Whether you’re hosting a webinar, offering up some helpful content, or promoting a sale, it needs to be clear that your offer ends. A deadline creates that sense of urgency that spurs people to enroll or download now, rather than later. And if you can get them to sign up now, you’ve already started to profit on the perception of scarcity.

Use action words

We’ve got an entire blog post on improving your calls-to-action, but for right now, we’d just like to talk about using proper verbiage. Words like “instant,” “immediately,” “hurry,” and “now,” incite a feeling of urgency. That’s why you’ll see that car dealer shouting at you to “COME ON DOWN NOW!” While you shouldn’t shout at your potential clients, adding these action words to your call-to-action does create that feeling of urgency that makes people feel like they need to convert or sign up right now, instead of later.

Create limits

Whatever you’re offering, give it an number. This makes perfect sense if you’re a consultant, for example. You only have so many hours in a day, so you can only accept say 10 new people in a week. By creating, and publicizing this limit, you create scarcity. It doesn’t matter if you only have 5 people looking at the offer, those 5 people see your 10 person limit, and assume two things: 1) If you only have room for 10 more appointments, you must be very sought after, and thus 2) You must be of the best in the business, or at least very good at what you do. By adding a limit to the amount of clients you’ll accept, you create a feeling of exclusivity, which is a marketing technique that can’t be beat. This makes your product or service more attractive, and intensifies the urgency to sign up now.

Display limits

We talked about how setting and displaying limits works in the service business, but it’s also extremely effective for e-commerce sites where you have inventory and are selling tangible items. A perfect real-life example of this can be found on the Amazon site.

How many times have you added something to your Amazon shopping cart, and then just let it sit there for weeks? Sure, you put it in your cart, but you’re not really motivated to purchase that item yet. Either you’re waiting for your next paycheck, you’re waiting to add more items to your cart, or you’re waiting for a divine sign from the great beyond that you really were meant to have this item; regardless, you’re not buying it now.

But what happens when Amazon emails you to let you know there’s only one item left in stock?

You kick yourself for not signing up for one-click ordering, and scramble to find your favorite credit card so you can get that item you now really, really, really want, before it’s sold out.

This is a prime example of scarcity at work. Amazon created a feeling of scarcity by letting you know there was only one item left, which in turn incited a feeling of urgency: that need to buy it now, before it ran out.

And Amazon creates this scarcity perfectly, even when they don’t send out those last-in-stock emails. Think about when you’re searching for something on Amazon. Before you even add an item to your cart, Amazon lets you know how many they have in stock:

narwhal scarcity

Thanks to Amazon’s handy scarcity strategy, I’m going to add these heated Narwhal Slippers to my cart and check out right now, because I know there’s only three left in stock.

You can do the exact same thing to your website. Make sure your customers know exactly how many of each product you have left, and if you’re out, give them a way to sign up for a waitlist so they don’t miss your next shipment. By showing how many you have left in stock, you create motivating scarcity, and by offering them the option to sign up for notifications on the next shipment, you create solid, long-lasting customer relations.

Remember that your site viewers are not entitled to anything you’re offering. You have control of the product, service, or offer, and you can choose who you give it to, and how many you provide. By making this known, you’re creating scarcity, which will drive sales, conversions, and overall revenue.

Using Scarcity Nicely

Alright, so we’ve established how to create scarcity, but now let’s tackle how you do that without turning into a used car dealership or continually liquidating furniture company. In reality, it all boils down to honesty and transparency.

Don’t make it up

The reason nobody trusts used car dealers and the like is because they’re not known for giving out truthful information. No one is surprised, or buys up a ton of dressers when that furniture company “goes out of business,” because it’s happened 6 times in the past two years. So when you create scarcity, make sure to do it with integrity, and in a way that builds trusting customer relationships, instead of tearing them down.

Every company with stock has limits, and any service requires time, which you also have a finite amount of. If you have time to schedule 80 appointments this month, put that number on your website. It’s not really the size of the number that matters anyway, it’s the fact that you’ve identified and labeled your time, and it’s a finite, consumable good that people want. So long as there’s a foreseeable end, or scarcity, people will schedule or buy.

So identify those limits, and stick to them. When you reach 80 appointments for the month, make it known to other potential customers that you’re all booked, but make sure you give them the opportunity to schedule with you in the future.

The same goes for a tangible commodity. If you run out of your 200 units of Tickle-me-Elmos, allow potential customers to sign themselves up for a waitlist, and then email them when your next shipment arrives.

This honest, open way of doing business ensures that even though you’re creating scarcity and bumping up your profit, you’re still doing good business with your customers.

Stand By a Good Product or Service

The other way to ethically create scarcity is to promote a product or service that is actually great. One of the reasons nobody finds themselves rushing down to a used car dealership is because one too many people know that you don’t always get a quality product from questionable car salesmen. You change this perception when you provide a product or service that legitimately helps people.

Whether you’re the best financial consultant in three counties, or you’re selling high-quality ski gear, when your product is great, people will want to buy it. And when you add an element of scarcity, they’ll really want to buy it, and right now. Scarcity is not some sketchy black-hat trick that deceives customers and leaves you smirking behind closed doors counting your pennies like some Ebenezer. It’s a legitimate business practice that drives sales. Just don’t lie about your product, or how much you have of it, and you’ll be doing it right.

To really hammer that point home, we’d like to use an example of a highly ethical company that makes great use of scarcity in an honest way.

Introducing Love your Melon.

Love Your Melon LogoA company founded by two college students, Love Your Melon started as a buy one/get one organization. Each time someone bought a hat from the organization, another hat was donated to a child with cancer, the ultimate goal being to provide every child in America suffering from cancer a Love Your Melon hat. Once they reached that goal, donating over 45,000 hats to children in hospitals around America, Love Your Melon switched gears, and now donates 50% of their profits to two different cancer fighting organizations. Clearly, this is an ethical company that’s striving to change the world in a positive way. But what we’re looking at here is how they create an element of scarcity ethically.

At its start, the company could only afford to produce so many hats at a time. So they did regular product releases. Anyone that wanted a Love Your Melon hat could check the site to see when their next product release was happening, and then look back to buy a product on that release day. The hats were so popular that they would often sell out of inventory in just a few days following a release, especially after promoting the upcoming product release through social media campaigns.


lym product release

Now, the company has expanded to a full line of apparel and accessories, and while they can produce more inventory at once, they maintain their product release format. By promoting a product that their customers love, and can feel good about before it’s even released to the site, Love Your Melon creates a sense of urgency, a need for people to check out that new product release. And since people know they’re likely to sell out quickly, they feel the need to buy that product right now, instead of waiting.

See, scarcity doesn’t have to be all shouting and lies! It’s a highly effective business strategy that you can use ethically to boost your conversions and profits, and ultimately to improve your own digital marketing strategy.

If you have more questions about your digital marketing strategy, or you’d like to learn how digital marketing can generate leads and increase revenue, let’s talk.

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