Ben Leftwich | April 18, 2016

Scarcity as part of the digital experience

One of the bibles of marketing is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, in which he outlines a number of key principles or psychological heuristics that marketers can use to more effectively solicit action from their audience.

The book is dense reading, but one of my favourite concepts that Dr. Cialdini outlines is the concept of scarcity. Essentially, the less you have of something, the more people want it.

Now there’s different types of scarcity (limited time offers, size scarcity for clothing, etc.), but the most effective I find on websites is that of stock scarcity.

This concept can be quite easy to incorporate into a website with anything that has a limited stock or availability. Sometimes it can be true, other times it can simply be used to motivate action. It’s best though if it represents the truth (or close to it) as much as possible because otherwise you’ll be seen as crying wolf.

A few websites use this to great impact to motivate behaviour. for example tells you which flights are about to be sold out at the least-expensive economy price to encourage you to purchase right there and then.


Amazon as well takes advantage of scarcity to help move products, especially from their 3rd party sellers, who have less stock than the mighty-Amazon warehouses.


The last example of digital scarcity comes from Anytime you’re looking to book a hotel room they tell you how many are left at the hotel you’re looking at.


Extra kudos to for using social proof by telling users how many other users booked that same day. That’s a topic for another blog post though.

It’s more difficult to use stock scarcity when you’re selling a service or digital product (e.g. an ebook), but that’s when limited time offers can come into play in a bigger way to encourage action online.

If you’re interested in learning more about scarcity in marketing definitely read Robert Cialdini’s book, it’s a long read, but well worth it if you want to find out why certain marketing techniques work better than others.

Ben Leftwich

Account Director