A sense of urgency and fear of loss are powerful sales drivers in ecommerce.

Undecided shoppers can be encouraged to make an impulse purchase if they think they’re in direct competition with other people for a product that has limited availability.

I recently rounded up 11 examples from ecommerce sites that use stock levels to create buyer urgency, but that’s by no means the only tactic available.

Here is a range of other techniques used by well known brands that can prove to be very effective in driving conversions.

And just to clarify, I've intentionally avoided group discount and flash sale sites (e.g. Groupon) that are built around scarcity and deadlines.


When you look at a hotel on Booking.com two messages briefly appear in the top right-hand corner.

These messages notify you of:

  • The most recent booking at this hotel.
  • How many people are currently viewing the hotel.

The aim is to let users know that this hotel is popular (someone made a booking only a few hours ago) so they’d better make a booking before those other seven people snap up the rooms.

Similar notifications also appear on the sidebar adverts promoting the ‘recently viewed’ hotels:

And Booking.com adds to the sense of urgency by notifying users of dwindling availability among the room options.

It all contributes to an atmosphere of competition and urgency that people towards the checkout.

Hotels.com uses similar methods. When you view a hotel on the site a message pops up saying how many people have viewed it in the past hour.

This is followed by another message that says how many times it has been booked in the past 24 hours.


Ebay has displayed the number of people watching an item for as long as I can remember, but recently it seems to have been adding more features aimed at creating a sense of urgency.

The ‘watchers’ information refers to the number of eBay users tracking the item, so it’s a way of increasing competition for items.

To add to this, eBay also briefly displays a graphic on the left of the screen which states how many people are viewing the item each hour.

It creates a sense of urgency by instilling a fear of loss, as items on eBay are typically scarce so shoppers don’t want to lose out to other users.

In the above screenshot you can also see the stock information, which reveals that four of these items have already been sold and only three are still available.

It’s another way of showing people that this product is popular and quickly selling out.

Finally, there are also more standard persuasive techniques, such as the offer of free postage and returns, and fast delivery.


Of course, the most effective way of creating a sense of urgency is to set a short deadline and display a ticking clock.

Ticketmaster gives you just three minutes to complete each page, so there’s no time to get distracted or head off and make a cup of tea.

And if the ticking clock isn’t enough to focus the mind, there’s also some text that advises users to ‘buy these tickets before time runs out’.

Click to enlarge

In fairness Ticketmaster does have a valid reason for using this method, as when tickets are in high demand you don’t want people adding them to their basket then spending several days deciding whether or not they really want them.

And it’s a tactic that might not work in other areas of ecommerce because shoppers don’t generally want to be rushed and given only a few minutes to complete a purchase.

Simply Hike

Simply Hike employs a different version of the ticking clock. It uses a time limit on the product page rather than in the checkout, telling customers that they have only a few hours to secure next day delivery.

This technique would only really work if the shopper is impatient or needs the products in a hurry, but it probably proves quite effective at securing a few extra sales.

This is actually a fairly common tactic among ecommerce sites, with Amazon being a prime example:

Ruby Lane

This excellent example comes from vintage marketplace Ruby Lane.

An otherwise unattractive brooch can be made more desirable by telling customers that:

16 other shoppers have this item in their cart or wish list. Don’t miss out!

It’s a slightly different take on eBay’s tactic of displaying the number of people watching an item, and is very effective at creating a sense of urgency.

Click to enlarge

David Moth

Published 21 August, 2014 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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Comments (6)

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Good post, I will try ebay thing next :)

almost 4 years ago



Great post ... except for that picture of Prince. Sheesh.

almost 4 years ago


Paul Hilton

I wonder if all these tactics use actual real data or if some of it is fabricated in the companies favor? It wouldn't surprise me if stock levels were manipulated or "1 room left - book now!" wasn't real.

almost 4 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Managing Editor at Barclaycard

Thanks for your comments.

@Steve, that is a classic picture of Prince!

@Paul, I wouldn't be surprised if there was some element of manipulation by some sites, though I'm not accusing any of those on this list.

almost 4 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

> I wouldn't be surprised if there was some element of manipulation by some sites,

I think this is a very important factor that is worth detailed, calm discussion among marketers.

For example, is only a few sites do it: and it becomes known by consumers: - then will that end up with consumers ignoring these type of messages altogether, on all sites?

Or - psyhologically, will consumers feel, sub-consciously, more harried when shopping online: making it a less attractive experience.

almost 4 years ago


Gold Media, CEO at Kodulehe tegemine

Good post, thanks!

4 months ago

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