How to Leverage Scarcity, Social Proof, and Urgency to Boost E-commerce Sales

How to Leverage Scarcity, Social Proof, and Urgency to Boost E-commerce Sales

Nadeem Manzoor, Director of Innovation & Analytics | April 12 2024

Have you ever hesitated on a purchase, only to see a pop-up say, “Only 5 left in stock!” and you quickly add it to your cart to not miss out? Or maybe you’ve been swayed to try a new product because of all the positive reviews online. These are just two examples of how our brains are wired to make decisions, and savvy e-commerce businesses have figured out smart ways to leverage this knowledge.

In the fiercely competitive world of online sales, standing out from the crowd is crucial. While a sleek website and user-friendly interface are important, the key to truly boosting conversion lies in understanding consumer psychology. This is where the power of behavioral science comes in.

Three important behavioral science techniques that influence buying decisions are scarcity, social proof, and urgency. In this article, we’ll explore the science behind these tactics, and how A/B testing can help you refine your approach for maximum impact.

The Power of Behavioral Science in E-Commerce

Imagine conducting thousands of experiments on real customers, all with the goal of understanding what makes them click “buy.”

That’s exactly what Qubit Digital Limited did in a massive meta-analysis of over 6,700 online e-commerce experiments. Their groundbreaking research yielded a fascinating conclusion: tactics rooted in behavioral science, specifically scarcity, social proof, and urgency, have a significantly greater impact on revenue than simple tweaks to a website.

This makes perfect sense. Consumers aren’t robots; their decisions are influenced by emotions and psychological biases.

You can probably even relate this to your own life in some way. We crave value, fear missing out, and rely on social cues (we've all been ‘influenced!’) to guide our choices. E-commerce businesses that tap into this psychology are the ones who win.

The Qubit study beautifully illustrates this point. When presented with tactics that create scarcity (limited time offers, low stock messages), or highlight social proof (positive customer reviews), consumers are more likely to perceive a product as valuable and click that “buy” button. These are great examples of behavioral science in action. Understanding the “why” behind our buying decisions allows e-commerce businesses to craft strategies that resonate with buyers on a deeper level.

The study also highlights the nuanced nature of e-commerce optimization. While some experiments yielded significant results (up to 5% revenue increase through A/B testing!), a vast majority (90%) had a minor individual impact, increasing revenue by only 1.2%. This shows the importance of a cumulative A/B testing approach. By constantly testing and refining your strategies based on behavioral science principles, you can unlock a steady stream of revenue improvements.

The bottom line? The Qubit study underlines the critical role of behavioral science in e-commerce. Addressing the “why” behind consumer behavior, like the fear of missing out and perceived value, can be truly transformative for businesses. Ultimately, it will help e-commerce businesses connect with their audience and drive sales and conversions.

Three Important BeSci Tactics: Scarcity, Urgency, and Social Proof

Qubit’s research uncovered the importance of behavioral science in e-commerce and illustrates that tiny website changes to user interface won’t move the needle.

Now that we understand the power of behavioral science in e-commerce, let’s dive deeper into the trio that drives sales and conversions: scarcity, social proof, and urgency.

Scarcity and Urgency: The Fear of Missing Out

Have you ever shopped for a shirt with a countdown timer on the website or a message pop up that says, "Only two left in stock!”  

Have you noticed how that message makes you feel? For many consumers, it creates a bit of panic.

Both marketing messages create scarcity, a powerful psychological trigger. When presented with limited availability, and it is perceived to be exclusive, we perceive an item to be more valuable. We fear missing out on a good deal or missing out on the product altogether and quickly adding it to our cart.

This fear of missing out (FOMO) compels us to act quickly and secure the purchase before it's gone. You may have seen these tactics that trigger scarcity in real life:

  • Limited-time offers: Flash sales, daily deals, and seasonal promotions create a sense of urgency and encourage immediate action. For instance, you may see these deals in your e-mail inbox, landing page, or social media.
  • Low stock indicators: Messages like “Only a few left!” or progress bars highlighting limited quantities subconsciously nudge us to buy before it’s too late. We fear risking losing out on the product.

Image: Revolve, an online e-commerce clothing company, uses low-stock indicators to drive urgency and influence consumer behavior.

It’s important to keep in mind that scarcity and urgency can be effective tools in your e-commerce toolbox, but as a marketer, you need to use them strategically. Overuse can backfire and chip away at your consumer’s trust. Sprinkle them into your strategy and focus on creating value and a positive shopping experience.

Social Proof

Have you ever scrolled through a product page filled with glowing reviews and felt more confident about clicking “add to cart?” That’s the power of social proof.

Technically, social proof has been around since the beginning of time as humans are wired to trust the opinions and actions of others. However, social proof has evolved greatly as technological advancements have evolved. Now we see social proof incorporated into marketing campaigns across social media, websites, landing pages, e-mail campaigns, etc.

Positive reviews, product endorsements from influencers, and customer testimonials act as social cues, reassuring us of the product’s value. These messages send trust signals to our brains and encourage us to follow suit. Here are some ways e-commerce stores utilize this tactic:

  • Leveraging Influencers: Influencers on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram will partner with brands to promote products and services. For example, CervaVe partnered with Hyram Yarbo who frequently reviews different skincare products. The influencer campaign worked and suddenly everyone wanted this affordable skincare product.

  • Customer reviews and ratings: Displaying genuine customer reviews builds trust and credibility. You might see reviews on landing pages, near conversion buttons, incorporated into e-mail campaigns, and in social media.
  • User-generated content: Social media has catapulted user-generated content, as consumers can easily send in photos and videos using or holding a product. E-commerce brands can leverage these photos and videos to add a layer of authenticity. For example, Aerie, a clothing company, encourages women to share user generated content via their #AerieREAL campaign. Shoppers can upload their photo through the Aerie website or use the hashtag on social media. This creates community around the brand, encourages trust, credibility, and drives the “fear of missing out” feeling.

  • Highlighting popular choices: E-commerce brands can highlight bestsellers or “most-viewed” products to subtly suggest their popularity and trustworthiness.
  • Expert Social Proof: Expert social proof is when an authority in your industry recommends your products or services or publicly associates themselves with your brand. This could be a Twitter shoutout from an industry professional or having a reputable guest on your Twitter chat.
  • Celebrity Endorsements: When a celebrity endorses a product or service, they might post an Instagram post or tweet about your product. When celebrities endorse your products. For example, it could be an Instagram post or tweet about your product by a celebrity or influencer.

The Importance of A/B Testing in E-Commerce

While understanding scarcity, social proof, and urgency is crucial, it's important to remember that e-commerce optimization is an ongoing process. Just like consumer behavior can be nuanced, the effectiveness of these tactics can vary depending on your audience and product.

This is where A/B testing comes in. A/B testing allows you to compare two different versions of a webpage element (like a product description or a call-to-action button) to see which one performs better. By testing different variations that incorporate scarcity, social proof, and urgency, you can identify the messaging that resonates most with your target audience and drives the most conversions.

Here's how A/B testing can help you refine your approach:

  • Test Different Wording: Try out variations of scarcity message (e.g., "Only 3 left!" vs. "Limited quantities available"). See which one creates a stronger sense of urgency.
  • Experiment with Social Proof Placement: A/B test the placement of customer reviews (e.g., near the product description vs. right before the "add to cart" button) to see where they have the most impact.
  • Optimize the Urgency Element: Test countdown timers vs. limited-time offer banners to see which one drives faster purchases.

Remember, A/B testing is an iterative process. The key is to continually test, analyze, and refine your approach based on data. By leveraging A/B testing alongside the power of behavioral science in marketing, you can unlock a steady stream of improvements to your e-commerce strategy.

Contact Function Growth to Drive E-Commerce Sales through Behavioral Science

Understanding consumer behavior and the “why” behind purchases is key for driving e-commerce sales. Scarcity, urgency, and social proof are three powerful tactics that brands can use to create credibility and trust with their audience. When done correctly, it can be the key to unlocking success.

Want to learn more about the power of behavioral science? Get in touch with the experts at Function Growth to learn more. We’ve helped e-commerce brands leverage behavioral science tactics like scarcity, urgency, and social proof to drive sales and build loyal followings. Contact us today to expand your reach and skyrocket your growth.