Why use urgency?

It’s a useful tactic, as it forces customers to come to a faster decision about a purchase. If they were planning to go away and think about, a message about low stock levels might change their minds. 

Coming into the Christmas shopping season, urgency can be an even more valuable tactic: delivery countdown clocks and low stock levels can focus the shopper’s mind. 

James Gurd of Digital Juggler:

It works best I think on high value items rather than everyday things, so if you’re looking for a special treat or a gift and know there is only one left it is likely to have an impact. 

For me urgency is about helping the customer, or should be about helping the customer, rather than considering it a sales technique. The goal should be to provide transparency over stock availability to help customers decide how urgent the purchase is. Where it falls down is with retailers that run on deliberately low stock levels and then the urgency message becomes effectively site-wide and impact is compromised.

An interesting challenge is how retailers marry up stock data in a multichannel environment, so if there is low stock in the web fulfilment centre, flagging local store availability for click & collect. I’ve not yet seen this implemented on a UK retail site, though I may have missed it! 

American Apparel

American Apparel alerts you when you select a size if stocks are low. A useful tactic for making shoppers come to a quick decision. 



Amazon uses urgency in a number of ways. For instance, with this message halfway down the product page:


According to Ecommerce Consultant Dan Barker:

That message becomes more and more compelling the closer you are to the deadline, though it’s interesting to note Amazon softens the ‘Only 3 left in stock’, perhaps as it would sound a bit ‘end of line’ without it.

Amazon also uses this tactic at the top of the product page. It’s worked on me plenty of times. 

Simply Hike

Here, Simply Hike has a delivery countdown near the call to action which might just encourage customers with that ‘want it now’ mentality: 

According to Simply Group Founder Gerrard Dennis: 

It (the countdown clock) is there so the customer knows when to order it by for delivery. There are three key pieces of information in this – how long you have to order to meet the deadline, it suggests our premium next working day delivery service (since we added that it reduced complaints that customers put items on economy and it didn’t arrive but it has produced an almost doubling in take up for the NWD service).

John Lewis

An understated approach from John Lewis, which states the number of items in stock. Combined with the sale price, this is still likely to be an effective tactic:

House of Fraser

A similarly subtle approach from House of Fraser.

Indeed, the message may be missed, though it is displayed as sizes are selected so the customer’s attention will be in that area of the page. 


The message changes as stock levels drop. Here there are three left: 

Bottica urgency

It becomes more urgent as stock levels fall: 


Note the countdown timer underneath the product image: 

Dan Barker:

SecretSales also uses urgency as a tactic to turn low stock levels into an advantage. For example, the below encourages you firstly to click the item on the right if you have any interest whatsoever in it and, if you’re desperate to get the item on the left, means you’re more likely to dive on it and buy quickly once the 16 minute counter ticks down. 


According to Dan, ‘last chance’ emails, sent just before sales end outperform other types of sales emails. Here’s an example from Modcloth:

Modcloth urgent email

Land’s End

Here’s another example from Land’s End. 


A flash sale email is a useful tactic. 


A mixture of urgency and mystery from Gap: 

Hotel Chocolat

When using emails, it doesn’t just have to be about sales. If there is an event or holiday coming up, like Halloween, use last chance delivery to prompt customers to make a purchase. 


This example from GetElastic is taken from a shopping cart page, and encourages users to checkout before the discounts vanish: 


WestJet uses limited availability to hurry customers along with their purchase (thanks to Granify for this one).


A blend of urgency and social proof from Hotels.com here. When viewing a hotel, various messages appear at the bottom right of the page: 

Here’s a closer look: 

The social proof comes with the fact that others have booked this room, without hitches we assume.

This message, and another telling me how many people are viewing the page right now, also tell me I’d better get a move on if I want to secure a room.

What examples have you seen of urgency in ecommerce? What has worked for you? Let me know below…