Telling customers that products are only available while supplies last introduces the concept of scarcity into an online shopping experience.
The scarcity principle says that humans place a higher value on items they believe to be rare and a lower value on things that seem abundant.
Scarcity marketing harnesses this principle to make brands more desirable and increase product sales. Online stores use limited releases, flash sales, and countdown timers to induce FOMO—the fear of missing out—among shoppers.
This guide shares eight examples of scarcity marketing from successful retailers that you can try on your ecommerce site.
What is “while supplies last” in marketing?
Adding “while supplies last” and other limited-stock messages to your online store is a form of scarcity marketing.
Scarcity marketing is when you capitalize on customers’ fear of missing out on a desirable product. Brands using product scarcity tactics will limit supplies or give shoppers a time frame in which to buy an item, to increase perceived value and sales.
8 scarcity marketing examples
Here are eight ways to introduce a “while supplies last” effect to your online store:
- Announce flash sales
- Add countdown timers to product pages
- Introduce “while supplies last” limited-time offers
- Limit stock availability
- Generate excitement with exclusive product drops
- Share social proof
- Increase urgency in copy
- Add cart reservation features
1. Announce flash sales
Flash sales are announced at the last minute and are available for a short time. They get customers excited and ready to buy now, and can be a great way to create urgency.
If your business becomes known for its flash sales, your customers may pay more attention to your company’s marketing content and announcements.
Flash sales are beneficial because:
- You can promote a flash sale through various channels: SMS, email marketing, social media, ads.
- They are good opportunities to reward existing customers by letting them know first.
- They can provide a surge in sales if you need cash flow.
If you’re signed up for Bose’s email list, you get access to its QuietComfort 45 flash sale. In this email, the brand offers a one-day flash sale that gives subscribers $50 off the brand’s QuietComfort noise-canceling headphones, which retail for $329.
The offer is easily scannable by readers, whether they are on mobile or desktop, followed by a seductive product description and bold Shop Now CTA. The brand also uses scarcity and urgency in its subject line: “1-day sale! $50 off our best-selling QC45.”
2. Add countdown timers to product pages
Add a countdown timer to your product page instead of just showing the end date of the sale. An end date is less impactful than a visual timer. The customer is literally watching the clock tick down.
Using countdown timers creates a sense of urgency and persuades customers to take immediate action. Countdown timers are something you’ve probably seen before in ecommerce stores.
You can use countdown timers in a few places, one being right above the Add to Cart button on your product page. See how medical supply retailer Medici Supply Co. uses a countdown timer to promote its storewide sale:
The red text and strategic placement ensure shoppers don’t miss the message. With seconds ticking, it reminds them that the discount period is closing.
Not every countdown timer needs to stand out using the color red. Women’s clothing brand ModCloth uses a soft green countdown bar to promote its limited-time sale. The bar stays at the top of the product page, informing shoppers about the 40% sale on select items.
3. Introduce “while supplies last” limited-time offers
A limited-time offer is a promotion deal set within a specific period. It provides a precise end date for when the promotion becomes unavailable. Limited-time offers heavily rely on the scarcity principle: When a product is more challenging to get, it becomes more valuable to buyers.
Limited-time offers can take shape as follows:
- Discounted prices
- Free gifts
- Exclusive products
- Free shipping
The most common limited-time offer examples occur on Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM). These are one-day events where brands heavily discount items, capitalizing on the holiday shopping sprint.
Brands also run limited-time offers throughout the year. Kyle Cosmetics, for example, ran a summer sale combining a discount and free gift. If shoppers spent over $40, they would get 25% off, plus a free jelly pouch.
Kylie Cosmetics also included specific details about the promotion on its homepage. Underneath the primary sales copy, you’ll see when the offer ends, down to the hour:
Keep the sale period reasonable when creating a limited-time offer. More than one hour is needed for most shoppers to discover your deal and act (in most cases). People may rebel against a deal if the window is too short. University of East Anglia researchers found that offers with time limits were accepted more often when participants had sufficient time to consider them.
4. Limit stock availability
Another scarcity marketing tactic is sharing the number of items left in stock with customers. The easiest way to do this is to show the quantity of products in stock on the product page and bring attention to the quantity you have left.
You’ve probably seen this tactic before on an Amazon product page. On the right-hand column, under the price, Amazon will let you know how many items are left in stock.
You may want to use a less in-your-face urgency tactic if you're running an online store. Yoga and accessory brand Alo Yoga uses a subtle but effective stock quantity display. Rather than saying, “There are X items left in stock,” Alo Yoga places a small “Almost Gone!” message underneath item colorways.
You can add a customized low-stock label to your store with an app like Scarcity Pro. A notification will appear on your product page whenever inventory hits a certain level. Showing your stock quantity is a great way to encourage customers to buy before the product goes out of stock.
5. Generate excitement with exclusive product drops
Another way to create scarcity with limited quantities is to tell customers how many you have to sell instead of telling them what’s left. In most cases, using this strategy works best when selling a limited edition or limited number of a product, where you only manufacture and sell a specific quantity.
Product drops, when a company releases limited edition products for a short period of time, have become common for sneaker and fashion brands.
During its first drop, Kim Kardashian’s Fendi X SKIMS collaboration made over $1 million in one minute. Many of the collection’s most expensive pieces, such as Kim’s leather mid-dress, sold out within seconds.
Drops aren’t just for global brands and big influencers. Donni, a clothing brand known for its elevated basics, also found success in launching product drops throughout the pandemic. Its founder, Alyssa Wasko, began dropping one style at a time with no notice, with the goal of surprising customers and making their day. She tells Glossy that the customers’ reaction was “insane” and the brand would “sell out in minutes.”
6. Share social proof
Social proof is a psychological theory referring to how we rely on the opinions and actions of others to make our own. It validates a shopper’s choice and says that a product is worth their time. In fact, 35% of shoppers say they trust reviews as much as personal recommendations from family and friends.
Social proof also shows online shoppers that you are credible and popular, which can trigger feelings of missing out and drive conversions. ModCloth, for example, places star ratings on its product pages to build trust and increase conversions. Shoppers can also read online reviews to learn from people’s experiences with the product and see whether it meets their expectations or not.
Social proof, plus other scarcity and urgency tactics like stock quantity and countdown timers, can result in more revenue than a plain-old product page. Use an app like Judge.me to collect reviews from customers (with photos and videos) and show them on your site.
7. Increase urgency in copy
You don’t only have to show the quantity or sell a limited amount of a product to create scarcity. The copywriting you use on your website, marketing materials and emails can create a lot of urgency as well. Take a look at this email from Mizzen+Main:
Take note of the way the clothing brand describes its new shirts. Instead of simply saying, “Hey, new shirts are on our store, check them out,” Mizzen+Main makes customers want to visit the store immediately by letting them know that “They’re going quick!”
8. Add cart reservation features
With studies showing that almost 70% of shoppers abandon their cart, a valuable use of scarcity marketing is to reserve shopping carts for people who leave them behind. In this process, articles are stored in the shopping cart for a period of time, so that other customers cannot purchase them. Afterward, you inform the shopper of what remains.
If you have the shopper’s phone number or email, you can send a follow-up text or abandoned cart email with a link to the abandoned cart. Notice how SuperCoffee sends a slightly sassy, funny text letting the receiver know their cart is about to expire.
When the receiver is ready to complete their purchase, they can click the link and proceed to the shopping cart. Their previously added items will be available for purchase.
In addition, you can follow up via the shopper’s email address if you have it. Luno, a car camping brand, sends a short and sweet message in the example below. The email says that Luno has saved the cart for 24 hours, with an image and a call to action that directs the shopper to their shopping cart to purchase.
5 apps for adding scarcity marketing to your Shopify store
- Qikify: Share recent purchases, visitor counters and other forms of social proof with shoppers.
- Privy: Create popups, email campaigns, and SMS automation to send after-signup and cart-saver texts.
- Ultimate Scarcity Pro: Add countdown timers, stock counters, and other scarcity metrics to your online store.
- TimexBar: A customizable countdown bar that matches the design of your website.
- Scarcity+: insert a stock countdown feature that shows customers the remaining product inventory.
💡 Looking for more sales-boosting Shopify features?Try these apps to create discounted bundles, schedule flash sales, and offer upsells—perfect for Black Friday.
How scarcity marketing works
Knowing that products are only available while supplies last can have powerful effect on shoppers. There is potential for visitors on your website to procrastinate and delay their decision to buy. By introducing a digital marketing strategy that involves product or time shortages, your customers will be less likely to delay their buying decision.
While your objective isn’t to turn your website visitors into rabid shoppers, you want to encourage customers to act quickly, and that’s where scarcity comes in. You can introduce perceived scarcity to your store by creating a product or time shortage.
Use the scarcity principle responsibly
Finally, it’s worth noting that with great power comes great responsibility. With the right product and customer, scarcity can work really well. However, creating false scarcity or trying to trick people is not the best way to go about this practice.
Obvious manufactured scarcity marketing can turn off customers and hurt your brand. Keep the following ideas in mind:
The scarcity you create needs to be based in something
Why are you only selling those shirts for a limited time? Why is this a limited-run product? You can’t just throw a countdown timer onto a product page and expect it to sell more. The countdown timer should show an expiring sale or an offer (such as next-day shipping).
Scarcity is not always a remedy for poor sales
There needs to be some demand for your products in the first place for this all to be really useful. Much like when Apple launches a new phone or tablet, the demand for its products is already there. The limited amount of Apple products at launch simply intensifies the demand and desirability.
Don’t overdo it
You don’t want to come across as if you’re pressuring your customers. The primary function of perceived scarcity in your business is to encourage procrastinators to make a decision, not to force people to buy things they don’t want. A consequence of creating scarcity, when used improperly, is that it can create buyer’s remorse.
If customers make a purchase they were pressured into, it can cause them to regret their purchase, want a refund, and feel differently about your business.
Create a “while supplies last” marketing strategy to boost sales
If you’re looking for a quick way to tell your customers that products are only available while supplies last, use scarcity marketing to add a sense of urgency to your shopping experience. Scarcity marketing tactics excite customers and give them the mindset that they need to buy now, before they lose out on the opportunity.
If scarcity makes sense for your store, consider applying one example to your business. Even a small change, such as how you describe the quantity left for a product, can have a big change on conversion rates.
Scarcity marketing FAQ
What is an example of scarcity marketing?
An example of scarcity marketing is Adidas Yeezy sneaker drops. The sneakers are always in high demand, and Adidas offers limited availability for each drop—not everyone will get their hands on a pair of Yeezys. You have to act immediately. Using scarcity marketing this way has worked for Adidas because the product sells out in minutes.
What is scarcity strategy?
Scarcity works by playing on a shopper’s fear of missing out (FOMO). The psychological principle behind it is that we tend to want what is in demand and hard to get.
What is a scarcity ad?
Scarcity appeals to advertisers because it encourages people to buy a particular product due to limited supply. The increased demand and short supply can lead to more sales when done right.
How is scarcity used in business?
You can use scarcity marketing in business to attract potential customers, launch new or seasonal products, build loyal customers, and make more sales.