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How to increase conversions by driving urgency

By Alexandra Gavril - December 14, 2016

Today, with the convenience of online shopping, people can afford to take more time to research their options before finally buying a product. This makes urgency even more relevant as a strategy to increase sales and grow revenue.

Urgency causes people to act quickly. It forces them to come to a faster decision about a purchase. If they were planning to leave your site and take some extra time to think about your offer, a message about a special offer or low stock levels might change their minds.

Here’s why:

But here’s the thing: while urgency is a strong catalyst for increasing sales, it doesn’t stand up very well on its own. In other words, adding urgency won’t work if your offer isn’t appealing or relevant to your audience.

Now the obvious question: how do you create urgency? In this post we’ll share with you a few simple ways to use urgency to skyrocket the conversions on your website.

Stock urgency

A classic study that demonstrates the psychology of scarcity reveals an interesting quirk of human behaviour that may hold a clue as how to increase urgency. In 1975, three researchers wanted to know how people would value cookies in two identical glass jars. One jar held ten cookies while the other contained just two stragglers.

Which cookies would people value more? Though the cookies and jars were identical, participants valued the ones in the near-empty jar more highly. Scarcity had somehow affected their perception of value.

Why? It could be that scarcity signals something about a product. If there are fewer items, it might be because other people know something you don’t. Namely, the cookies in the almost empty jar are the better choice.

This basically means that people tend to place higher value on an object that is scarce and a lower value on one that is available in abundance.

So, if you want to speed up the buying process you could try displaying your stock meter on your product page. Here’s an example from Bottica:

bottica stock urgency

Hotel comparison sites also do a great job at adding stock urgency. Take this example from booking.com that shows three instances of stock urgency suggesting that this hotel room won’t be available for long due to its popularity and limited number of rooms.

booking stock urgency

Limited-time discounts off the regular price

Everyone loves to save money, and offering discounts is one of the most effective ways to entice people to buy. However, for this to work you can’t be offering discounts indefinitely, otherwise you’re training your customers to expect a permanent price cut.

To avoid the effect of cheapening your product while still leveraging the power of a discount, always set a deadline. It’s a tactic we’re all familiar with: “This offer ends at midnight!” and “Order within the next 12 hours and receive…”. However you decide to phrase it, make sure to use words that entice customers to act now rather than later.

Here’s a simple example from Amazon:

amazon discount

A limited-time discount makes the offer look so tempting and fleeting that customers are compelled to seize the opportunity for fear of missing out (FOMO). Just make sure that potential customers are aware that your offer is time-limited. Feature the discounted product(s) and the deadline on your homepage to stimulate interest and urgency, like in this example from The Knot Shop:

knot shop discount

Special offers available for a few hours to certain users

Another thing you can do is to tailor your offers depending on your visitors’ actions on your site. Give them a personalised experience by varying the discounts based on what they do, whether they’re creating an account, signing up for a newsletter or downloading a case study.

You can also offer a special discount to users who have added items to their cart but haven’t finalised their order. Offering limited-time discounts on abandoned cart items is another great way to use the urgency principle to encourage a sale.

Implementing these types of dynamic offers can increase conversions because it gradually escalates the sense of urgency and it can also impress the visitor at the same time. Just make sure you’re clear about your offer as well as how many hours the user has until the offer expires.

Bundle offers

A bundle offer refers to adding on more products to the core offer and then discounting the entire bundle. Even with a discount on the bundle, you’ll still be increasing your revenue.

Here’s a simple example from beautybay.com where you get a 20% discount when you buy two products:

beautybay bundle offer

You can apply the same technique on your site. Create bundle offers with products or services that complement each other and also set a time limit so potential customers are made aware that they need to act sooner rather than later if they want to take advantage.

Free express shipping that’s only available for a few hours/ days

Free express shipping is one of those limited-time offers that can help increase your conversion rates. This quote from Wharton professor David R. Bell, which you’ve probably heard before, sums up just how enticing free shipping is:

“For whatever reason, a free shipping offer that saves a customer $6.99 is more appealing to many than a discount that cuts the purchase price by $10.”

You’ve surely come across this while shopping on Amazon. On the product page you’ll see a countdown timer urging you to buy the product to be eligible for express shipping.

amazon free shipping

So if you’re already offering next-day delivery, why not offer free express shipping with a minimum order of £20 when they order within the next 24 hours? Just inform users how many hours or days they have to purchase the product if they want their order to qualify for free express delivery.

Exit offers

An exit offer is a pop-up with an offer for a discount that users see when they’re about to leave. It’s usually a message along the lines of “Hang on! Get ALL this for just £XX!” When the user clicks the message, they’re usually taken back to the product page where they see a timer counting down to their deadline.

The good thing about the exit offer is that you don’t have to give a visitor a discount until the moment they decide to leave without buying anything. So you can convert a few visitors at full price and net the rest with the discount.

Wrapping up

These are just a few of the techniques you can use to increase conversions by driving urgency. But before you set out to use them, there are two golden rules to keep in mind:

  1. False urgency can backfire. So don’t use flashing calls-to-action like “hurry, only one item left” just to get rid of the stock that won’t move. You risk visitors calling your bluff and the chances are they’ll never come back or recommend you to their friends. Here’s a real example of how false urgency can kill customer loyalty.
  1. Don’t overdo it. If you employ all these techniques at once and in an aggressive manner, you will come across as pushy, manipulative and untrustworthy. Remember that moderation is key.

Now you’re ready to use these tactics and increase conversions and profitability.