When does scarcity work in a retail promotion? Not the way it used...

Most retailers intuitively use the rule of scarcity to stimulate sales: ‘The Runout sale’ or ‘Last few days’ or ‘Offer must end tomorrow’ are familiar phrases.

Most of these taglines are copied from other retailers or past campaigns, and retailers don’t know that there are two qualifications that apply.

Invoking scarcity is a powerful motivator because it plays on the notion of ‘anticipated regret’. But consumers will only anticipate regret if your tagline communicates that possibility in some way.

‘Regret’ is only a factor if at least one, and preferably both of the following criteria apply:

There is an element of recency.

That is, the product/offer must only recently have become scarce. The store that has been ‘going out of business’ for the last 3 years does not generate sales because of any perceive ‘scarcity’. Products that have always or will always be scarce will reflect that scarcity in its price – and consumers know it. It is the prospect of a price/value equation might change radically which is the motivator.

There must be perceived competition for the product/offer.

That is, there must be an apparent demand by other people, because the potential regret is amplified when it is obvious that other people are fighting for the resource.

Simply slapping a poster on a display that reads ‘only 2 days left’ only serves to make you look cheap. Use the ‘scarcity’ tactic judiciously.