Believable Scarcity – the #1 Way to Bump eCommerce Revenue

Believable Scarcity – the #1 Way to Bump eCommerce Revenue

Some eCommerce Data You Can Trust

I am a lot of things. Espresso-addict is probably at the top of that list. As an online communications and marketing pro, one of the things I am is data-nerd. Part of being a data-nerd is knowing which stats to believe and which ones to discard. If you keep reading our content, no doubt you will recognize this as a recurring theme.

One of my favorite lines in music comes from Marvin Gaye signature hit, “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” That line is:

“Believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear.”

This is super-true in the world of statistics. This is one of the reasons why Q&A surveys can be so problematic. If you ask someone what they want or what they think, they will tell you. But what people say they want what they tell you they will do are not the same as actual behavior.

We recently reviewed a 34-page authoritative white paper and the 21-page scholarly research report that backed up some of the claims (I told you I was a data-nerd). Some of the statistics were Q&A, and that is interesting as far as it goes. But the report also included actual behavioral data gathered from 2 billion online user-interactions captured over the course of four years across thousands of websites. 


I have read so much mind-numbing statistical math and oblique scientific prose that I deserve hazard pay. But there is a TON of great data hiding in the nooks and crannies of this and other data sets we have gathered.

Over the course of the next few months we will be getting the word out about insights that we can glean from the research and deliver it in friendly blog posts like this one. Some of the results will confirm what you already know, sometimes they will surprise you.

Let’s start with Believable Scarcity

We all know that there are lots of best practices and solid marketing tactics that add-up to a great eCommerce site. But when you have enough data you can statistically determine in value of each variable to the overall performance of your online store.

Yes, every site and product mix is different. And yes, techniques that work on one site do not necessarily work as well on another. But when you are looking at data for 2 billion transactions across thousands of sites and product categories, that is the way to bet, right?

So, the #1 technique for increasing online revenue is when scarcity is communicated to the site visitor.

There are a few ways to do this, of course. You can include risk and scarcity text in your headings and on ribbons and banners. This is a mainstay of eCommerce copywriters everywhere. We’ve all seen those:

  • “Limited Time”
  • “Offer Expires”
  • “While in Stock”
  • “Nearly Sold Out”

You can also write in scarcity language woven into the product description as a part of the story-telling. For example:

  • “We just received another shipment of these items, and they always sell-out fast.”
  • “Last time these jackets sold-out in just three days.”

No business ever lasted long by fudging the numbers. So the first rule is to make sure that your scarcity language is true. But remembering to add scarcity language is a valuable first step. But customers have become jaded.

Inventory Display Signaling in Shopify Stores

Over time, the effectiveness of scarcity language alone has diminished. So the better path is to display information that validates the text and product ribbons. Displaying scarcity with valid inventory counts does this VERY effectively. It is this display of actual inventory levels that takes the product out of the abstract and into the real world. Your product is no longer a virtual image on the screen to be recovered with a simple Google search. It is a real thing We know because we counted them.

It is believable.

What’s The Payoff in Real eCommerce Revenue?

The data indicates that communicating scarcity with language and inventory displays can bump the revenue needle by ~3%. This is revenue just lying on the table. And – perhaps shockingly – this tactic generates a greater increase in revenue than tweaking colors or calls to action.

Some of you reading this instantly recognized the ROI. But if you need a little convincing, remember that if your online shop is doing $100k is annual sales, using this technique will generate and additional $3k. If you have a $1mm site, it’s an extra $30k in revenue for what is a relatively simple implementation. Product Scarcity in Amazon and Best Buy - available in Shopify


The major online retailers know this. I suspect that you are rememberin how many sites you have visited that did just this kind of thing. Amazon is famous for it, of course, but Best Buy implemented it as a part of the full online AND “clicks & mortar” strategies. Take a look around at online merchants you respect and you’ll see that many – if not all – have employed a combination of these techniques.

They have implemented it because they KNOW it is effective AND has a significant ROI (and, of course, results may vary).

Implementing Believable Scarcity on Your Shopify Store

Aside from modifying the text, headings, and ribbons on your product pages, you can implement inventory signaling in your online shop as a part of communicating scarcity.

If you manage inventory within your Shopify store – or even if you manage inventory in a modern, third-party inventory management solution – you can have inventory signaling messages like these appear on your Shopify product pages. Shopify even has details in their online help (but it is something that they – and we – recommend is done by a professional Shopify technical expert).

You can find the Shopify help instructions here.

If you want to ask us questions about implementation, start a task and let us know.

Thanks for reading.


This blog cites: Browne, Will, & Mike Swarbrick Jones (2017), “What works in e-commerce – a meta-analysis of 6700 online experiments.” The research was independently verified by PricewaterhouseCoopers UK LLP.

Back to blog