Scarce products sell more in economic troubles

Last Chance to ButWhen you visit trade shows or local markets you will often hear the cries of the sales people saying things like “only a few left”, “last ones available”, or “buy now as I’m down to my last box”. We all know that hidden from view they probably have another truck-load of products to sell, but we are drawn in by the relative scarcity of what’s on offer. Humans are fundamentally focused on scarce items. It goes back to our time as hunter-gatherers when our very survival depended on making sure we had brought in all of the foodstuffs that kept us going. It caused our brains to concentrate on things in short supply which were necessary for our survival.

Nowadays, that throw-back to ancient times is still hard-wired inside our heads. When something is scarce we want it all the more. Online you find several Internet Marketers using this “trick”. They tell you there are only 100 copies of their ebook available and they’ve already sold 72 of them so you had better buy one quickly before the stock runs dry..! We know that they may well release another 100 next week, another 100 the week after, or that they may simply be lying to us…! But the implication of scarcity is enough to make us interested.

Now, new research shows that we are even more interested in scarce items during economically tough times. The world has been in various states of economic problems for the past four years, with recessions, downturns and rising unemployment.  The study found that when we perceive ourselves to be in some kind of economic deprivation our visual system becomes more focused on scarce items. This can be both good and bad.

For consumers it may well mean they end up buying things which are not really necessary, so they start spending their own scarce financial resources on unnecessary items, which seem appealing because of their relative scarcity. For marketers, there is the obvious opportunity to increase sales by emphasising the scare nature of what’s on offer. For instance, instead of having 100 products available, drop it to a mere 25. Making things even more scarce will increase overall sales, the study suggests, during recessions.

However, the problem for the Internet Marketers who lie about the scarcity of their products is that eventually we stop taking notice of them. We realise pretty quickly we are being conned and as a result they lose trust and credibility. You should only emphasise scarcity of your products and services if they are truly scarce.


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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones


Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
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