Sell More Stuff Using the Principle of Scarcity

scarcity-1Are you looking for a way to prompt your prospects to “buy now?”

Maybe you should make your product or service less available.

In today’s “I can get anything I want anytime I want it world,” an approach like that seems counter-intuitive. Yet, the psychological principle of scarcity is alive and well online – and many top retailers are making lots of money from it every single day.

What’s the principle of scarcity? According to Robert Cialindi, author of Influence: Science and Practice, we are more sensitive to potential losses than potential gains.  That is, if an opportunity is less available to us, we want it much, much more.

(If you’ve ever turned down someone for a date – and then found that person more attractive when they started dating someone else –  surprise! That’s scarcity in action.)

Online retailers use this all the time. For instance, I was searching for comforters online. I surfed to Overstock and saw that they were featuring something similar to what I wanted! Joy! Here’s the picture:


Here’s what was going through my head the second I saw the picture: “Wow, this is only available for a limited time. Maybe I should snap it up now.”

I was primed to make a purchase even before I read the ad copy. Wow.

I almost fell for the principle of scarcity.

And yes, you fall for this too. Ever snap up a Groupon because buying it tomorrow would be too late? Or a pair of shoes from Zappos because there were only two pairs left in stock? Some retailer business-models, like and Wines Til Sold off, completely revolve around the principle of scarcity.

Now, let’s talk about how you can make it work for you.

  • Are you running a sale? Make sure that you clearly state the sale’s expiration date. This helps build a sense of urgency. Otherwise, your prospects may think, “Well, I’m not ready to buy now, but I will. Soon.” And they’ll completely forget.
  • Are you offering a Webinar with limited seating? Consider including something in your ad copy like, “Over 75% sold already! Sign up now so you don’t miss your spot.” You may even want to get more specific, and share that there are only “10 seats left.” Just make sure that you update the page to reflect the new signups.
  • Are you a popular consultant that offers very limited consulting hours? Mention that you only work with X consulting clients a week, and you’re already booked Y weeks in advance. When prospects read this, they’ll be more apt to sign up now – after all, for every day they wait, it could be another month before they get to talk to you.
  • Do you sell products?  Take a cue from Zappos and warn customers when there are just a few items left. If someone was on the fence about making a purchase, knowing that they may not be able to buy it at all can help them pull the trigger.


9 replies
  1. Derek Cromwell says:

    Hey Heather,

    Great post! I use this same principle in my business when new clients come to me for copywriting. While discussing projects, I often explain my schedule in a way that makes my time seem limited, makes me appear in demand and puts the concept in the prospects mind that space in my schedule gets snapped up quickly.

    In many cases it’s true, but when I communicate that as opposed to just giving them a prolonged deadline I typically hit a home run and get them to lock into my schedule with a deposit weeks before a project even begins.

    I was extremely nervous about this when I considered it about a year and a half ago, as I didn’t want people to walk away and find someone else more available. I’ve yet to have that happen though.

    It’s a smart practice that not only helps you sell your service to customers and clients but – in the case of those of us offering a professional service – it helps us manage our schedule more effectively without feeling like we need to smash all the clients in as quickly as possible.

    Thanks for the post!


  2. Amy C. Teeple says:

    Brilliant Heather!

    As a consumer, I am often lured by offers that are for a limited time or running low in availability. Of course, you also need to be careful with this message. There are some merchants who have sent me emails about this wonderful sale – the first time, I may have jumped on the opportunity. However, they then seem to be sending me these sales every week. I no longer felt compelled to buy at that moment because I knew there would be another sale soon – perhaps with an even better offer.

    I had not really thought about applying this to services. Great insight there. Thanks.

  3. Emma says:

    I said this on Facebook, but I’m going to say it here as well: it’s the same principle at play when we consider money printing and inflation. What makes the value of a dollar go down? (In the most simplistic terms, of course.) To many bills in circulation. Same is true of goods and services.

  4. Judith says:

    I agree with Amy. If the principle of scarcity is ever used for any offer, it has to be final and without exceptions. Otherwise you’ll lose credibility. Offering the same type of sale or promo every week does the same thing.

  5. Larry says:

    Heather do you think this concept will become overused like when all retailers run constant sales because they’ve conditioned people to only buy when it’s on sale?


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: Science and Practice, lists “scarcity” as one of his six pillars of persuasion. Why? We’re more sensitive to potential losses than potential gains. If we think we can’t have something, we want it much more. […]

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  3. […] the blog they also have a solid post on the marketing principle of scarcity, in case you aren’t familiar with […]

  4. […] all about the principle of scarcity. If you tell your clients that there is a limited amount of product or that you only have a few […]

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