Sell more stuff using the principle of scarcity

Are 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 Gilt.com 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.