How to Use An Ecommerce Countdown Timer – Urgency + Scarcity

How to Use Countdown Timer – Psychology of Urgency & Scarcity

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A countdown timer can be used to heighten the natural response to scarcity, leveraging the instinctive sense of urgency that the lack of availability inspires.  The importance of scarcity and urgency for ecommerce is that it suggests how popular an item is.  Most people know that just because a product is scarce, does not make it better than another product and yet despite this, buyers still fall for false low stock level notices. However, times are changing and conversion rates are falling as buyers wise up to the tricks of ecommerce.

Humans are Instinctively Pack animals.

One of the most basic instincts of all pack animals is that the path most followed is the safest.  Safety in numbers.  What this meant by this is that if the many customers say one product is more popular than another, then the unconscious response is to follow the crowd and buy it, even if the product is identical to another but just being marketed differently and sold at a premium.  Just because it is popular, we are willing to pay more for it. This is an example of a pack mentality.

Consequently, scarcity increases value. 

Just by being scarce it implies that availability is time-limited and that over time the item will increase in value, or most importantly cost more to obtain.

Scarcity = Increasing cost over time

Of course, this may not be true, for example, a store owner might just choose to stock less of one item over another.  An item may be of low stock and yet using JIT (Just in time) delivery based and therefore not scarce at all.

Ultimately what it boils down to is that scarcity creates a sense of urgency and increases sales.

How NOT To Use Scarcity To Increase Sales.

Customers are hard won, the result of a long-term trust-building exercise, which is why in many cases, using scarcity and false stock levels as a way to artificially create a sense of urgency and increase prices is ill-advised, counterproductive even. It is devious and underhanded and will lose trust in your brand.

There are many plugins and add-ons for ecommerce platforms designed to leverage scarcity and create a false sense of urgency, this is perhaps one reason why the average conversion rate is falling as customer become wise to these underhanded tactics.

The right way to use Scarcity and Urgency to Incentivize

Time-limited sales events are a great way to create not only a sense of Scarcity and urgency but most importantly a sense of anticipation.  Ecommerce marketing is always problematic, the question that stumps marketing professionals is What to communicate next?  A well-timed series of sales events throughout the year provide a never-ending supply of events to build up to on social media.  When I say leverage I mean create a sense of excitement about.  Have you ever waited in a queue for a theme park ride?  Well, the very act of queuing and waiting for something creates a sense of anticipation, increasing the excitement and ultimately the enjoyment of the event.  Another great example is the use of movie trailers to build up to the release of an upcoming film.  The same principle can be used when selling goods and services online.

One of the best examples of leveraging anticipation continues to be the sale to end all sales, the biggest sale of all, “Black Friday”.  It has become a global phenomenon, there is nothing more enticing and exciting than bagging a bargain.  Each year there is now an expectation of consumers that ecommerce stores will offer their biggest deals ever on this day.  Consequently, Black Friday has become immensely competitive and popular, but profits are slim. Even so, it remains a great way to gain new customers to market to for repeat business.  Don’t forget, existing customers are far easier to sell to than new visitors.

Read more about how to build a Sense of Anticipation and Excitement through offers and reward programs, we have written in detail about these see the links below.

  1. Seasonal Sales
  2. Rewards program – extra points on specific events

The Countdown Timer.

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Countdown timer + scarcity + urgency

Until recently, the availability and functionality of onsite retargeting countdown timers were limited, only available on certain message templates.  Advanced editors now include the countdown timer as a drag and drop element that can be added to any message, popup or banner.

The global phenomenon of falling conversion rates increases the need to leverage urgency and CRO in ecommerce, necessary to increase sales.  The role of onsite retargeting for CRO is essential to these efforts with features that target our most primitive of instincts. The goal should be to envoke the fear of missing out associated with Scarcity, ultimately creating a sense of urgency.

As one of the leaders in Onsite retargeting, OptiMonk listened to and answered consumer demand accordingly, innovating to provide a flexible countdown timer element within its innovative editor that can be positioned on any onsite retargeting message, just drag and drop into position.  The above example could have any text, be any offer for any event, ideal to increase the sense of excitement leading up to an event for example.    In the case above the social sharing element is also included, ideal to assist the campaign to go viral and create a buzz around the offer.

(Note: Have you heard of OptiMonk? It’s a powerful onsite messaging solution that helps you convert up to 15% of abandoning visitors to sales and leads. Give it a try – click here to create a free account now.)

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One thought on “How to Use An Ecommerce Countdown Timer – Urgency + Scarcity

  1. Jeremiah say says:

    Great article. Have read a lot about scarcity in books and online courses. What is the best timer to use with the highest conversion rate? Or does this depend based on industries.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this.


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