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Ecommerce sites can use urgency in various ways, through showing low stock levels, encouraging people to buy quickly for faster delivery, or by using email to pull customers into sales. 

The tactic can work as it forces the customer to make a faster decision about the potential purchase, based on this new information. 

So, here are 15 examples of the use of urgency by online retailers... 

Why use urgency?

It's a useful tactic, as it forces customers to come to a faster decision about a purchase. If they were planning to go away and think about, a message about low stock levels might change their minds. 

Coming into the Christmas shopping season, urgency can be an even more valuable tactic: delivery countdown clocks and low stock levels can focus the shopper's mind. 

James Gurd of Digital Juggler:

It works best I think on high value items rather than everyday things, so if you're looking for a special treat or a gift and know there is only one left it is likely to have an impact. 

For me urgency is about helping the customer, or should be about helping the customer, rather than considering it a sales technique. The goal should be to provide transparency over stock availability to help customers decide how urgent the purchase is. Where it falls down is with retailers that run on deliberately low stock levels and then the urgency message becomes effectively site-wide and impact is compromised.

An interesting challenge is how retailers marry up stock data in a multichannel environment, so if there is low stock in the web fulfilment centre, flagging local store availability for click & collect. I've not yet seen this implemented on a UK retail site, though I may have missed it! 

American Apparel

American Apparel alerts you when you select a size if stocks are low. A useful tactic for making shoppers come to a quick decision. 

urgency

Amazon

Amazon uses urgency in a number of ways. For instance, with this message halfway down the product page:

 

According to Ecommerce Consultant Dan Barker:

That message becomes more and more compelling the closer you are to the deadline, though it's interesting to note Amazon softens the 'Only 3 left in stock', perhaps as it would sound a bit 'end of line' without it.

Amazon also uses this tactic at the top of the product page. It's worked on me plenty of times. 

Simply Hike

Here, Simply Hike has a delivery countdown near the call to action which might just encourage customers with that 'want it now' mentality: 

According to Simply Group Founder Gerrard Dennis: 

It (the countdown clock) is there so the customer knows when to order it by for delivery. There are three key pieces of information in this – how long you have to order to meet the deadline, it suggests our premium next working day delivery service (since we added that it reduced complaints that customers put items on economy and it didn’t arrive but it has produced an almost doubling in take up for the NWD service).

John Lewis

An understated approach from John Lewis, which states the number of items in stock. Combined with the sale price, this is still likely to be an effective tactic:

House of Fraser

A similarly subtle approach from House of Fraser.

Indeed, the message may be missed, though it is displayed as sizes are selected so the customer's attention will be in that area of the page. 

Bottica

The message changes as stock levels drop. Here there are three left: 

Bottica urgency

It becomes more urgent as stock levels fall: 

SecretSales

Note the countdown timer underneath the product image: 

Dan Barker:

SecretSales also uses urgency as a tactic to turn low stock levels into an advantage. For example, the below encourages you firstly to click the item on the right if you have any interest whatsoever in it and, if you're desperate to get the item on the left, means you're more likely to dive on it and buy quickly once the 16 minute counter ticks down. 

Modcloth

According to Dan, 'last chance' emails, sent just before sales end outperform other types of sales emails. Here's an example from Modcloth:

Modcloth urgent email

Land's End

Here's another example from Land's End. 

ASOS

A flash sale email is a useful tactic. 

Gap

A mixture of urgency and mystery from Gap: 

Hotel Chocolat

When using emails, it doesn't just have to be about sales. If there is an event or holiday coming up, like Halloween, use last chance delivery to prompt customers to make a purchase. 

CompUSA

This example from GetElastic is taken from a shopping cart page, and encourages users to checkout before the discounts vanish: 

WestJet

WestJet uses limited availability to hurry customers along with their purchase (thanks to Granify for this one).

Hotels.com

A blend of urgency and social proof from Hotels.com here. When viewing a hotel, various messages appear at the bottom right of the page: 

Here's a closer look: 

The social proof comes with the fact that others have booked this room, without hitches we assume.

This message, and another telling me how many people are viewing the page right now, also tell me I'd better get a move on if I want to secure a room.

What examples have you seen of urgency in ecommerce? What has worked for you? Let me know below... 

Graham Charlton

Published 29 October, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (21)

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Josh Trenser

These are some pretty clever ideas folks!!! Thanks

almost 3 years ago

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Dan Croxen-John

Great list - I would also add booking.com which has a message on individual hotel pages that 'x number of people are looking at this page now'. The number they use is believable and is forced me to make my mind up about booking a particular hotel. I think it works because it taps into the emotional state where you say to yourself 'I do not want other people to get what I want'. Very compelling execution

almost 3 years ago

Dan Huddart

Dan Huddart, Head of Analytics & Web Development at RSA Group

Good reference list for retail, thanks. Ebay also seem to be doing a fair bit of testing in this area to increase early bidding

almost 3 years ago

Mike Austin

Mike Austin, CEO at Triggered Messaging

Great ideas. Don't forget wording to add a sense of urgency for cart and browse abandonment emails: e.g. "complete your purchase before stock runs out". When they are sent 20-30 minutes after the shopper has visited the site, they can extend the sense of urgency beyond the site visit.

More ideas here: http://www.triggeredmessaging.com/blog/recovering-shoppers-best-practice-for-abandonment-emails

almost 3 years ago

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Richard

Another useful tactic is "holding" an item for the customer for a limited time frame. i.e. Ticketmaster reserving a ticket to an event for 20 mins or so. I've seen this implemented across a number of verticals, including fashion.

Not only does this reinforce scarcity, but it also expedites the decision making process by adding pressure via countdown timer!

almost 3 years ago

Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

Great article Graham. Lots of useful ideas to be inspired by.

I know what you mean by the use of the word but I'm not sure urgency 'forces' customers to do anything. Indeed, if customers thought we were 'forcing' them to do anything, that could make for a very interesting social media backlash these days ;0

What we forget is that urgency, or its cousin scarcity, are normal and completely acceptable in the real world. What these factors do, of course, is focus our thinking and shape our actions and choices.

For example, if you went to a real world store looking for a pair of jeans or new TV or something, you wouldn't be surprised if the relevant shelf was empty or the assistant tells you that they've sold out.

However, in the online world, our ecommerce 'shelves' are virtual, invisible and, therefore, apparently infinite.

Thus, demonstrating to customers that there is a genuine stock limit or that an offer will end by a certain date is, in the end, making the online world more like the offline world.

almost 3 years ago

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Graeme Findlay, Head of Digital at Legal & GeneralEnterprise

Cracking article Graham. Are you aware of any examples away from the Retail environment. Maybe in FS or other industries? Certainly for me Banks and FS orgs miss a trick here with regard to their Ecom operations.

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Dan Booking.com is an excellent example. I din't add that since the Hotel.com approach I used is very similar. Excellent tactic though.

@Richard is the Ticketmaster approach just something which is necessary for that industry? I did write a post on how long to wait before 'emptying' customers shopping carts: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/5794-when-should-etailers-empty-customers-shopping-carts

@Andrew Now you mention it, perhaps it isn't the best choice of word. Maybe 'encourage' would be better?

@Graeme None spring to mind immediately, but perhaps someone else has some examples?

almost 3 years ago

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Theresa Kendall, Social Media Marketing Manager at Net Visibility

This is a fascinating article - thanks very much.
I wonder if you have also seen this article - all about Pre-Abandonment of shopping baskets - the subject of which would make a great Blog post I think?

http://digitalmarketingmagazine.co.uk/e-commerce-digital-marketing/pre-basket-abandonment

almost 3 years ago

Andrew McGarry

Andrew McGarry, Managing Director at McGarry Fashion

Before you all rush to annoy your customers...

http://www.mikemichalowicz.com/false-urgency-kills-customer-loyalty/

almost 3 years ago

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Will Young

Some good examples here.

@Andrew - Thanks for sharing Mike Michalowicz's view. It seems like the experience he had was with a site whose urgency tactic provided nothing of use to the customer.

I think as a retailer you have to be asking: "what can I tell the customer that may help them buy more quickly, which is relevant and which may save them time (so their shopping session isn't wasted e.g. stock availability) and money (so they have a chance to experience additional benefit e.g. free shipping for a limited time)".

The idea of social proof from Hotels.com is interesting but falls a little short as there's no additional contextual information about the bookings made in the past 24 hours.

almost 3 years ago

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Matt Mikulla

Hah! I just implemented a countdown timer on my art print product pages last night. My strategy is to only have one product at a time on sale for a limited time so the the timer only shows on one page of the site.

As others mentioned, I don't want to annoy my customers or cheapen the value of my work.

Different tactics for different circumstances.

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Andrew good point, and the example in Mike's post does seem to be rushing the customer needlessly.

As James says, it should be about helping the customer and providing transparency over stock levels, delivery cut-off times etc.

almost 3 years ago

martin flanagan

martin flanagan, Jupiterblue

Really interesting article. The sense of missing out is a powerful motivator.

almost 3 years ago

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Kasey LaRose

I am looking forward to implementing some of these ideas as soon as possible. I will admit that many of them help me click the purchase button a little faster on items that I want. A little motivation is always a good thing, even if it's something I already want to buy. Thanks for the article!

almost 3 years ago

Stephen McElrone

Stephen McElrone, Digital Marketing Executive at www.therughouse.co.uk

I really like simply hike delivery countdown

over 2 years ago

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Rtml guru, ceo at Rtml guru

I might want to get an email than talk on the telephone as its great to keep discourses in composing. Short messages are extraordinary too as you'e specified. I anticipate your next post.

over 2 years ago

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Kriti Sarda, Content Marketer at Unbxd

Interesting post Graham! Urgency works well with human buying psychology and prompts them to buy instantly.

I came across a great example of showing urgency on the cart page by Headline Shirts. They show an animated character (on the cart page) ready to take off. I've used this example in one of my posts. http://unbxd.com/blog/11-ways-generate-conversions-ecommerce-site/

about 2 years ago

Luiz Centenaro

Luiz Centenaro, Consultant at eCommerce Cosmos

Phenomenal examples Graham, I'd love to learn about some of the A/B tests that were ran with them. Testing different timing intervals and stock quantity numbers.

over 1 year ago

Abby Watzke

Abby Watzke, Social Strategy & Activation at Hyatt

Loved this article! I've found many "Social Sharing" vendors but many of them don't seem to offer the "urgency" and "real time" features you've spoken of. Any recommendations?

about 1 year ago

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Krisztina Hereb, marketing manager at OptiMonk

Hello Graham, great article with utterly inspirational examples! The sense of urgency is still quite understated in the ecommerce field. To promote its essentiality, we have just released an article on our blog. It's structured differently and contains some new methods as well, you might want to take a look: http://www.optimonk.com/blog/sense-of-urgency/. Keep up the good work!

12 months ago

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