Hurry while stocks last – how scarcity sells

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DDC-090 "Space Shuttle" Posters by Draplin Design Co.

DDC-090 “Space Shuttle” Posters by Draplin Design Co.

It might seem counterintuitive, but one way that many companies increase sales is by making it appear their product will be difficult to buy. The illusion of scarcity is powerful because we all hate to miss out on a good thing.

Online fashion retailers usually display sizes they no longer have in stock. Why? Because it provides social proof that others have bought the style of jeans you are looking at, and it implies your size might soon be out of stock too.

Travel website Expedia tells you how many rooms are available at the hotels you look at, how many people booked a room at the hotel over the last 48 hours, when the most recent booking took place, and how many other people are viewing the same hotel at that exact moment.

They even display special offers with a countdown timer ticking down. The entire experience is designed to ramp up the pressure to an almost intolerable extent. The message is loud and clear: buy now or lose out.

Clearance sales are another effective strategy many brands use, including Amazon. When people know everything must go they will often make unplanned purchases. I know of a company that did an experiment where they placed a product from their standard stock in the clearance section, at full price no less, and they smashed their sales target for the item.

Scarcity can be creative too. Limited edition items are naturally desirable because it feels good to own something relatively rare. American graphic designer Aaron James Draplin does this brilliantly by creating beautiful prints in limited numbers. The Fear Of Missing Out (or FOMO) helps drive his sales. I know this, because I recently bought one.

Perceived scarcity can create hype before a product even launches. Rumours will often appear in the media in the days leading up to the launch of a new phone that stocks are expected to be quickly depleted in stores, that a particular model might not even be available for months, that the company may not be able to keep up with demand. And if all goes to plan for the brand, that might even end up becoming true.

This article originally appeared in the Lancaster Guardian, where I am a guest columnist.

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