scarcity-principle

What Is The Scarcity Principle? Scarcity Principle In A Nutshell

The scarcity principle is an economic theory positing that scarce goods which are also in high demand cause an imbalance in the supply and demand equilibrium. However, it can also be applied to consumer and social psychology, and it is these applications that we will discuss in the rest of this article. The scarcity principle posits that the more difficult it is to obtain a product, the more valuable that product then becomes.

Understanding the scarcity principle

With that said, the scarcity principle states that consumers value something more if it is scarce. A similar definition was provided by author Robert B. Cialdini in his acclaimed book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. He noted that “opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited.”

In the context of consumer purchase behavior, the scarcity principle is a motivator. Since consumers believe the scarce product will soon become unavailable, they value it more and are more likely to purchase it when compared to a situation where the product is abundant. Armed with this knowledge, brands use the scarcity principle to manipulate consumers into purchasing their products.

Why is the scarcity principle effective?

Cialdini suggests there are two main drivers of the scarcity principle.

1 – Consumers create mental short-cuts to deal with a complex world

Otherwise known as heuristics, these mental-short cuts are used to estimate the value of an item based on its scarcity. Rare items that are difficult to obtain are assumed to be worth more than abundant items that are easier to obtain. 

This heuristic is valid most of the time, but in some cases, it is invalid. 

2 – Scarcity limits opportunities, which reduces the freedom to choose

For better or worse, humans evolved to react when freedom of choice is limited or reduced. This is a survival instinct stemming from the fact that the impact of a loss is more severe than the impact of a comparable gain.

As a result, consumers are always on the lookout for potential losses and are hardwired to keep their options open. Fewer options mean less freedom of choice and the risk that as resources become less available, they may not be available at all in the future.

Whenever freedom of choice is threatened, the need for the consumer to retain their freedom makes them desire the product even more. As access to a product is threatened, in other words, the consumer makes a concerted and vigorous effort to possess that product. 

Examples of brands that used the scarcity principle

Let’s conclude this article by having a look at some case studies where the scarcity principle has been used effectively:

Nintendo 

nintendo-business-model
Nintendo is a Japanese consumer electronics and video company founded in 1889 as Nintendo Karuta – a manufacturer of decorated, hand-made playing cards. By the 1980s, the company made significant investments in a rising technology: video games. It then produced popular titles like Donkey Kong and, later on, Super Mario Bros. Today Nintendo generates revenues through video game franchise sales, e-commerce, and the Unfold System.

When the Wii was released in 2006, mass hysteria ensued as consumers clamored to purchase one. This continued for three years before the supply was comparable to demand. 

To increase scarcity, Nintendo capped production volume over that period and advised consumers to “stalk the UPS driver” to determine when a new shipment of Wiis was about to be delivered.

Starbucks

starbucks-business-model
Starbucks is a retail company that sells beverages (primarily consisting of coffee-related drinks) and food. In 2018, Starbucks had 52% of company-operated stores vs. 48% of licensed stores. The revenues for company-operated stores accounted for 80% of total revenues, thus making Starbucks a chain business model. 

The coffee chain announced the Unicorn Frappuccino in April 2017 via an Instagram post with the caption “Available for a limited time at participating stores in the US, Canada & Mexico.”

The hashtag #unicornfrappuccino was posted nearly 160,000 times in response to the perceived value of the novel, time-limited beverage.

Groupon

Groupon is a two-sided marketplace where local consumers meet deals from local merchants. The company makes money by selling local and travel services and goods. Its value proposition based on attracting local customers to local merchants is quite compelling. Local consumers instead get savings and discounts that they would not get elsewhere. The company measures its financial success in gross billings and revenues growth. Groupon generated over $2.8 billion in 2017, by selling its goods and services directly via its websites and mobile app, and indirectly via third-party affiliate sites, who get a commission for each sale.
Groupon is a two-sided marketplace where local consumers meet deals from local merchants. The company makes money by selling local and travel services and goods. Its value proposition based on attracting local customers to local merchants is quite compelling. Local consumers instead get savings and discounts that they would not get elsewhere. The company measures its financial success in gross billings and revenues growth. Groupon generated over $2.8 billion in 2017, by selling its goods and services directly via its websites and mobile app, and indirectly via third-party affiliate sites, who get a commission for each sale.

Discount service platform Groupon is a master of using the scarcity principle to persuade consumers to take advantage of its offers.

Like Starbucks, scarcity is created because each deal is available for a limited time only. Groupon uses social proof as an extra motivator, displaying the number of consumers who have purchased the deal and rated it highly. Humans interpret scarcity combined with social proof to mean that the product must be worth having since most others appear to be purchasing it.

Booking.com

booking-business-model
Booking Holdings is the company the controls six main brands that comprise Booking.com, priceline.com, KAYAK, agoda.com, Rentalcars.com, and OpenTable. Over 76% of the company revenues in 2017 came primarily via travel reservations commisions and travel insurance fees. Almost 17% came from merchant fees, and the remaining revenues came from advertising earned via KAYAK. As distribution strategy, the company spent over $4.5 billion in performance-based and brand advertising. 

Online reservation platform Booking.com allows users to book a range of accommodations including hotels, apartments, holiday homes, and motels.

For applicable properties, Booking.com shows the number of rooms left with additional text highlighted in red such as “Only 2 rooms left at this price on our site” or “3 other people looked for your dates in the last 24 hours”.

Key takeaways:

  • The scarcity principle posits that the more difficult a product is to obtain, the more valuable that product then becomes. In the context of consumer behavior, the scarcity principle motivates the consumer to purchase.
  • The scarcity principle is caused by consumers creating heuristics in an attempt to value items accurately. Scarcity also reduces freedom of choice which causes the individual to desire the product even more.
  • The scarcity principle has been used by many brands to successfully market their products. These include Starbucks, Groupon, Nintendo, and Booking.com.

Main Free Guides:

Marketing Glossary

Affiliate Marketing

affiliate-marketing
Affiliate marketing describes the process whereby an affiliate earns a commission for selling the products of another person or company. Here, the affiliate is simply an individual who is motivated to promote a particular product through incentivization. The business whose product is being promoted will gain in terms of sales and marketing from affiliates.

Ambush Marketing

ambush-marketing
As the name suggests, ambush marketing raises awareness for brands at events in a covert and unexpected fashion. Ambush marketing takes many forms, one common element, the brand advertising their products or services has not paid for the right to do so. Thus, the business doing the ambushing attempts to capitalize on the efforts made by the business sponsoring the event.

Brand Building

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Brand building is the set of activities that help companies to build an identity that can be recognized by its audience. Thus, it works as a mechanism of identification through core values that signal trust and that help build long-term relationships between the brand and its key stakeholders.

Brand Equity

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The brand equity is the premium that a customer is willing to pay for a product that has all the objective characteristics of existing alternatives, thus, making it different in terms of perception. The premium on seemingly equal products and quality is attributable to its brand equity.

Brand Positioning

brand-positioning
Brand positioning is about creating a mental real estate in the mind of the target market. If successful, brand positioning allows a business to gain a competitive advantage. And it also works as a switching cost in favor of the brand. Consumers recognizing a brand might be less prone to switch to another brand.

Business Storytelling

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Business storytelling is a critical part of developing a business model. Indeed, the way you frame the story of your organization will influence its brand in the long-term. That’s because your brand story is tied to your brand identity, and it enables people to identify with a company.

Content Marketing

content-marketing
Content marketing is one of the most powerful commercial activities which focuses on leveraging content production (text, audio, video, or other formats) to attract a targeted audience. Content marketing focuses on building a strong brand, but also to convert part of that targeted audience into potential customers.

Digital Marketing

digital-marketing-channels
A digital channel is a marketing channel, part of a distribution strategy, helping an organization to reach its potential customers via electronic means. There are several digital marketing channels, usually divided into organic and paid channels. Some organic channels are SEO, SMO, email marketing. And some paid channels comprise SEM, SMM, and display advertising.

Growth Marketing

growth-marketing
Growth marketing is a process of rapid experimentation, which in a way has to be “scientific” by keeping in mind that it is used by startups to grow, quickly. Thus, the “scientific” here is not meant in the academic sense. Growth marketing is expected to unlock growth, quickly and with an often limited budget.

Guerrilla Marketing

guerrilla-marketing
Guerrilla marketing is an advertising strategy that seeks to utilize low-cost and sometimes unconventional tactics that are high impact. First coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book of the same title, guerrilla marketing works best on existing customers who are familiar with a brand or product and its particular characteristics.

Inbound Marketing

inbound-marketing
Inbound marketing is a marketing strategy designed to attract customers to a brand with content and experiences that they derive value from. Inbound marketing utilizes blogs, events, SEO, and social media to create brand awareness and attract targeted consumers. By attracting or “drawing in” a targeted audience, inbound marketing differs from outbound marketing which actively pushes a brand onto consumers who may have no interest in what is being offered.

Integrated Marketing

integrated-marketing
Integrated marketing describes the process of delivering consistent and relevant content to a target audience across all marketing channels. It is a cohesive, unified, and immersive marketing strategy that is cost-effective and relies on brand identity and storytelling to amplify the brand to a wider and wider audience.

Marketing Mix

marketing-mix
The marketing mix is a term to describe the multi-faceted approach to a complete and effective marketing plan. Traditionally, this plan included the four Ps of marketing: price, product, promotion, and place. But the exact makeup of a marketing mix has undergone various changes in response to new technologies and ways of thinking. Additions to the four Ps include physical evidence, people, process, and even politics.

Marketing Personas

marketing-personas
Marketing personas give businesses a general overview of key segments of their target audience and how these segments interact with their brand. Marketing personas are based on the data of an ideal, fictional customer whose characteristics, needs, and motivations are representative of a broader market segment.

Multi-Channel Marketing

multichannel-marketing
Multichannel marketing executes a marketing strategy across multiple platforms to reach as many consumers as possible. Here, a platform may refer to product packaging, word-of-mouth advertising, mobile apps, email, websites, or promotional events, and all the other channels that can help amplify the brand to reach as many consumers as possible.

Multi-Level Marketing

multilevel-marketing
Multi-level marketing (MLM), otherwise known as network or referral marketing, is a strategy in which businesses sell their products through person-to-person sales. When consumers join MLM programs, they act as distributors. Distributors make money by selling the product directly to other consumers. They earn a small percentage of sales from those that they recruit to do the same – often referred to as their “downline”.

Niche Marketing

microniche
A microniche is a subset of potential customers within a niche. In the era of dominating digital super-platforms, identifying a microniche can kick off the strategy of digital businesses to prevent competition against large platforms. As the microniche becomes a niche, then a market, scale becomes an option.

Relationship Marketing

relationship-marketing
Relationship marketing involves businesses and their brands forming long-term relationships with customers. The focus of relationship marketing is to increase customer loyalty and engagement through high-quality products and services. It differs from short-term processes focused solely on customer acquisition and individual sales.

Sustainable Marketing

sustainable-marketing-green-marketing
Sustainable marketing describes how a business will invest in social and environmental initiatives as part of its marketing strategy. Also known as green marketing, it is often used to counteract public criticism around wastage, misleading advertising, and poor quality or unsafe products.
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