Leveraging Urgency as an Underutilized Factors in Consumer Decision Making
Nadeem Manzoor, Director of Innovation & Analytics | October 23 2023
When consumers make a decision to pull the trigger on an online purchase, there are a number of conscious factors influencing their behaviors. From appreciation of a brand’s aesthetic, to a desire to take advantage of a good deal, these factors are the elements marketers most commonly seek to manipulate in the endless quest to understand, and shape, consumer behaviors in the D2C marketplace.
But what many people don’t realize is that these conscious decision factors are, quite literally, the tip of the iceberg. Sigmund Freud, the grandfather of modern psychology, described the brain as an iceberg, where only 10% of our consciousness was visible to our understanding. The rest of the factors that drive all our choices and behaviors remain hidden below the surface.
We wanted to explore the influence those hidden mental factors had on consumer behavior by manipulating two of the most commonly used decisive factors in unconsciously driven consumer behavior: urgency and social proof.
Why Urgency Matters
Manipulating the appearance of urgency is one of the oldest tactics in the marketing playbook. If you’ve ever acted fast to take advantage of a limited-time sale or snatched up the last product on the shelf of your favorite store, you’ve likely been influenced by urgency.
The urgency principle suggests that when a consumer perceives that a product they’re interested in has a limited supply or time constraint associated with its availability, they’re more likely to feel a sense of urgency that drives their willingness to make a purchase quickly. Fear of missing out can be a powerful motivator in inspiring more decisive consumer behaviors.
Studies show that tasks that people perceive as urgent are more likely to be attended to quickly and without hesitation—gaining precedence even over more important tasks. This phenomenon is called the “mere urgency effect,” describing the way that even the seeming appearance of urgency without any real need to act can drive behaviors as powerfully as the experience of a real emergency.
If consumers feel they’re facing an urgency crisis, the scarcity principle suggests that they are more likely to act—even when the sense of urgency is artificially created.
We decided to test this hypothesis by labeling certain products in the Wellow store as “selling fast,” regardless of their actual sales rates, to see if this identification would significantly drive consumer purchase behavior and lead to an increased conversion rate.
If consumers believed that other visitors to the website might purchase last of a fast selling item, we hypothesized that this perception of scarcity would lead them to be more inclined to make a split second purchase decision, leading to higher conversion rates on the labeled items.
We added "Selling Fast" tags to six products in both the men's and women’s collections, three of which were actual best sellers, and three of which had experienced medium sales rates in the past.
This creation of multiple “selling fast” item categories allowed us to measure customer response to both previously popular products and mid range sellers, testing the effect of urgency and differentiated market conditions
To ensure accuracy, we A/B tested this experiment against a version of the site with no tags, where the consumers visiting the site would be left to follow their own purchasing instincts. We wanted to see whether consumer behavior on the website with the selling fast labels would increase as a response to the perception of urgency. I’m running a
The results of the experiment were a potent confirmation of the power of urgency in driving consumer behaviors. As we predicted, the addition of the selling fast labels prompted more impulsive consumer behavior, and led to an increase in purchases.
The version of the website with “Selling Fast” tags applied to the project saw a 4.33% lift in conversion rate as compared to the unlabeled site. When prompted by the apparent perception of popularity, consumers are more likely to pull the trigger and make a purchase of their own.
as a result of the success of this experiment, we applied the principles of urgency and scarsity to our permanent site design, applying “Selling Fast” tags to best sellers in all categories in order to continue driving consumer behavior.
The Takeaway: How Leveraging Urgency Can Improve Your Bottom Line
As these experiments prove, leveraging the human desire to be part of something popular and acceptable is a powerful way to drive consumer behavior. Social proofing and the urgency effect are both potent drivers of consumer choice, a hypothesis that was proven by the results of our experiments.
To quote behavioral science expert Richard Shotton, “...make yourself appear popular, you'll become more popular still.” When consumers identify a product as desirable, it drives behavior in predictable, and profitable, ways. By tapping into this drive, savvy marketers can more effectively establish a brand narrative that works for the long term.