Email Persuasion Series Part 6: Scarcity

By: Jack Reamer |
 May 26, 2015 |

I got a free lesson on “scarcity marketing” during my last month’s couch shopping trip.

(Use this story to send more profitable emails.)

My girlfriend and I walked into a modern furniture shop in downtown San Diego. We took a short lap around the show room and stopped at a comfy leather couch.

It was on sale. And it was orange.

Now, of course I had no chance of convincing my girlfriend to buy this orange hunk of leather no matter how what the sale price was. (To be fair, who buys an orange couch?)

But I tried…

“What do you think about this couch?” Before she said no, a salesman (who saw us standing next to the couch) walked over to sprinkle some scarcity on our buying decision.

Salesman: “I see you’re interested in this couch. Just letting you know, if you like it you’ll have to let us know soon because that’s the last one on sale and we won’t be getting anymore of this model back in stock.”

Did finding out that we were sitting on the very last couch make us buy it? No.

But we almost did. We spent an extra 5 minutes on the couch, trying different sitting positions, testing the comfort levels and wondering if orange wouldn’t look so awful in our living room.

Just thinking some other couple could snatch up this couch made us carefully consider if we should buy that ugly thing. That’s the power of scarcity.  

The scarcity principal states that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited.

As Influence author Robert Cialdini points out, “The idea of potential loss plays a large roll in human decision making.” And that couch buying experience proved it.

Here’s 2 examples of using scarcity to sell something:

Example #1: Insulation

Homeowners told how much they could lose from inadequate insulation are more likely to insulate their homes than those told how much they could save.

Takeaway lesson: If you offer a service that saves money, focus on the cost of not taking action.


Example #2: Washing Machine

(I discovered this example in the book Influence, but it sounds very similar to my couch buying experience.)

A couple strolls into an appliance store and seems moderately interested in a washing machine on sale.

A salesman walks over and says, “I see you’re interested in this machine. I can see why, it’s a great machine at great price. But unfortunately it sold to another couple about 20 minutes ago. And if I’m not mistaken, it’s the last one we have.”

The shoppers become disappointed because the loss of availability makes it more desirable.

Typically, one of the customers asks if he can check in the back for an extra model. That’s when the salesman locks in the deal by saying, “It is possible, and I’m willing to check, but do I understand that if I can get it for you at this price, you’ll take it?”

This sales trick works like a charm and salespeople use it all the time. The next time you’re out shopping, keep your eye out for it.

Why does scarcity get us to buy more? 

In economics class, you saw a Supply vs. Demand chart, like this:

economics5 - via illustrating scarcity and email marketing

I won’t bore you with the details. But here’s the bottom line:

If supply goes down (scarcity increases) and demand (and price) goes up.

So if you can increase scarcity on a highly demanded service or product you can demand a higher price point.

Email Marketing Takeaways 

If you sell a product or service, find a way to increase scarcity to sell more. How? Open course registration for a limited time only, add time-sensitive bonuses or increase the price at a defined date in the future to increase scarcity for your products/services.

You can also offer your service or product to a limited number of clients and close the doors once you’re sold out.

Remind your readers about your offer…Wisely

It’s smart to tell your audience about your offer, but don’t get too “noisy.” You can send “Two hours left! This is your last chance”, but don’t send an email every hour on the hour. If it is a 24-hour only promotion, perhaps use the a schedule of 8AM, 12PM, 4PM, and 9PM.