Great Power, Great Responsibility: Using Urgency in Conversion Rate Optimization

Buy now mindset-100Picture this: you’re driving 5 over the speed limit. You see the sign, you comprehend it… but you’re still probably driving 5 over.

Now, picture the same road, the same sign… but there’s a police officer with a radar gun standing behind it. You see that, and you feel urgency to slow down.

Why the difference? The answer lies in our brains. A more primal, “reptilian” brain, known as the basal ganglia, imbues us with our core survival instincts. This section of the brain drives our base impulses to avoid danger and seek safety, to hold onto valuable resources, and to make it to the next day. In the above scenario, your brain translates a speeding ticket into danger, and you take action to avoid it.

With this in mind, how can you leverage these instincts effectively in e-commerce?

Buy Now: The Psychology of Urgency

Urgency is a feeling that pops up that you can’t quite explain, but can’t quite shake; the sense that some action needs to be taken. It’s the difference between thinking and feeling that drives action.

Urgency messaging that you can implement on your e-commerce store comes in two forms: implicit and explicit.

Implicit Urgency

Implicit urgency uses subtle means to imply urgency. This includes the use of urgency words and phrases like ‘order now,’ ‘reserve today,’ or ‘don’t wait, reserve your spot.’

Explicit Urgency

Explicit urgency is real and tangible and is almost always a scarcity measure. If there are only 3 shirts left in your size or only 1 room left in a hotel, you need to act now.

With that said, you can’t just make shoppers feel constant urgency. It’s emotionally exhausting, and savvy shoppers see through blatant attempts to be pushed down the funnel. To work well, urgency must be supported by two factors:

  • importance
  • timing

If you deliver an important message to the right user at the right time, you’ll trigger urgency. You can use almost any delivery method to get the message across - change a colour, drop in a banner, slide in a message, you name it.

Adding urgency into your checkout process is highly effective, as it’s closest to the ultimate decision point, but can also be useful higher in the funnel - especially for higher-consideration purchases where the initial commitment can influence conversion later in the funnel.

Scarcity is the main method by which urgency is triggered. It’s when there are limitations on your product based on either quantity, time, or both. Any constraint, in quantity or time, helps push the purchase in the moment. That said...

Make It, Don’t Fake It

Don’t fake scarcity. If you have a digital product that (by definition) won’t run out, don’t say there are 4 copies left. Don’t add a timer on an item or sale that isn’t time-bound - not going to name names, but I’ve seen this done (literally just a timer counting down to nothing). It’s gross.

That said, there are solid ways to add urgency into your offering. In addition to some classic techniques, real time marketing has created new and sophisticated opportunities for marketers.

4 Ways To Create a Buy Now Mindset

There are hundreds of ways you can trigger urgency; we’re going to focus on our favourites. They’ll also incorporate the data trends set forth by real time marketing.

1. Competition is Your Friend

People are competitive - remember that reptilian brain? There’s a bit of a thrill in winning something, even if the victory is as simple as buying something before somebody else. Setting up a sense of competition can drive urgency when you’re not dealing with physical quantities.

AirBnB does a fantastic job of using competition, populating their booking pages with inline messaging that uses real-time data to imply scarcity. Surely if this page has been viewed 323 times this week, it’s going to book up soon right? Better act now.





2. Set a Time Limit

If you give someone an unlimited deadline, there’s no urgency to act. Setting a time limit for a decision is powerful, especially powerful for discounts. The explicit financial cost of missing the opportunity is combined with the more primal FOMO.

In fact, this method of scarcity is the standard trigger for companies like AppSumo, who promote short term deals (with great playful copy to help create a connection and seal the deal):


The use of time limits is an incredibly straightforward tactic. Set a time limit on your promotions and express that time limit to spur purchases. ConversionXL laid out an urgency case study in which the conversion rate increased almost 3× by adding a countdown timer.



A/B Test Original




A/B Test Control


3. Limit Quantities

This technique is also incredibly common, especially during the e-commerce checkout process. I’m sure you’ve seen something like this while shopping:




Limited supply means that something is rare or incredibly popular. Rarity implies value. People also value their agency to choose something, and limited supply presents the loss of that choice.

Have you ever noticed that when a lawn chemical is set to be banned, the last ones fly off the shelves? People rush to acquire the last available items representing their ability to choose that item.

The same phenomenon impacts event sales. Organizers know that there are usually two ticket spikes: when the event is first announced, and immediately before the event itself. The fear of missing out stirs people to purchase tickets before they are all gone.

How can you implement this in your own marketing? The very simple solution is show stock quantities, especially when they are low. If you show stock on everything, it can reduce the impact of displaying on the limited-inventory items.

4. Trigger Urgency Messages at the Right Time

You could use the words “buy now,” in your campaign, or you could give customers a real reason to buy right now. Which do you think works better?

Real Time Marketing is marketing that is based on up to date events. Or as a Clickz article defined it, “Real-time marketing is the ongoing cycle of engagement, data management, analytical insights and optimization – performed continuously and immediately.”

60% of marketers struggle to personalize content in real-time, yet 77% believe real-time personalization is crucial – and ⅔ are planning on implementing real time marketing in the future. The benefits are clear:

  • Marketing effectiveness
  • Customer experience
  • Customer retention
  • Increased conversion rate

What’s key to remember here is that your shoppers are human beings. If you give them a better experience, they will appreciate it. Blasting everyone with the same message at the same time is going to rub some the wrong way - you’ve just hurt their experience and added noise to their journey, and they’ll note that just the same.

At Granify we work with our retail partners to deliver the right message at the right time; urgency, as you can imagine, is an important part of our toolset. Here is an example:


In this example, we’re triggering time-related urgency specifically for this user by reminding them that the discounted item in their cart will cost more once the sale ends.

In Conclusion

Urgency can be one of the most effective psychological triggers in marketing. But it’s a powerful mechanism, one that should be used ethically. Don’t manufacture constraints on a digital product that will never run out (have you ever seen Amazon say that have only 10 copies of a Kindle copy left? That would be absurd).

There are some manual ways that you can trigger scarcity, methods that have been done frequently. You can add a timer countdown, do flash sales, limit quantity, or produce limited edition items.

You can also set it and forget it with real time marketing software like Granify. This way, you’re reaching specific users with specific messaging at exactly the right time, based on hundreds of data points.




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