As online consumers - are we are all being rushed into everything a little too quickly these days?

A number of recent experiences have prompted me to consider whether the tactic of injecting urgency into the digital buying process is perhaps being abused by some.

The urgency principle

Urgency is one of the most powerful aspects of human psychology. According to behavioral psychologists, urgent situations cause us to suspend deliberate thought and to act quickly. The principle of urgency is commonly used in sales situations to encourage people to make quicker decisions, think less and ultimately make a purchase.

There’s no denying it works

We all know in the real world marketers constantly use this tactic and it can prove very persuasive, especially in the retail environment. Whether it’s messages of ‘Last few remaining’, ‘Final clearance’, or 'Sale finishing today’. All are used to psychologically encourage consumers to act quickly, before the opportunity no longer exists. And it works.

We’ve all been there, acting on impulse, feeling like we’ve got less time to analyse the decision we are making, and thus forcing ourselves to bypass our normal behaviour process.

Online adoption

As ecommerce and online technology has become more sophisticated we’ve seen the use of urgency tactics gradually emerging across a whole host of transactional based websites and applications. 

The scarcity principle is well-established and undoubtedly effective. It works best where scarcity is an actual factor related to genuine capacity (airline seat, concert ticket, hotel room), but it’s also seen in the rush for hot christmas toys, in Apple’s traditional product launch strategy, and of course on Black Friday, where the rush to snag a deal often overcomes usual research into quality and need.

Urgency causes people to act quickly. Many of the problems that affect conversions are issues of cognitive friction — people think too hard, wait too long, or simply don’t respond to our calls-to-action. Raising the urgency level cuts through a lot of this delay to create a significant improvement to conversion rates. 

The real life comparison (let’s apply this approach to real life)

But if you apply this principle to a different scenario - let’s say booking a train ticket at the station counter. Imagine making the request for a train ticket to Birmingham and no sooner had the sentence left your mouth were you met with a response from the ticket officer serving you of “Mark from Huddersfield has just purchased this ticket” or even worse “There are 4 other people considering booking this journey at the moment”.

You would probably respond by questioning why that was of any relevance to you to - which it would be difficult to justify.

Slow food, slow TV….slow digital?

Digital has developed due to its convenience, speed, and conversion. It has sped up business, most consumer’s modern lives and created an ‘always on’ culture of connectivity. As BCG put it, speed is the new scale.

However, there is a cultural counterpoint to this 24/7 connectivity charge. 

Along with other scandinavian imports, slow TV has been making waves, where viewers watch burning logs, bird migrations, or even twelve hours of non stop knitting. Slow food is also seeing an upsurge - against rushed, convenience food in favour of savouring meals.

For every speed convenience launched in the modern world, there are opportunities to step back and smell the roses. Why not online?

Take time to build your audience

The internet may be built for speed, but that doesn’t mean that’s how it always has to be used. Not everyone is looking to one click buy all the time, in fact for some audiences and businesses it’s the exact opposite approach which is needed. 

There’s no single, one-size-fits-all strategy which will work online. Some strategies demand speed to shift volume. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way. Digital transformation should be firmly rooted in your audience’s needs.

Not everyone wants to be pressured to buy, to have the reassurance or pressure that five other people are looking at the same item. And not every person should have that approach. The beauty of effective digital strategy is planning and mapping the right approach for a range of audiences.

Understanding that misplaced urgency could well be turning people away could be a key element missing from your plans.  

Tom Dougherty

Published 2 July, 2018 by Tom Dougherty

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Comments (3)

Clare Brace

Clare Brace, UX Design Manager at Nationwide Building Society

This never was and never will be a UX trend.

14 days ago

Adam Babajee-Pycroft

Adam Babajee-Pycroft, Managing Director (UX) at Natural Interaction

I agree with Clare.

This isn't a UX trend, UX implies user centred design. This is taking advantage of people's cognitive bias to purely serve a business objective.

UX is about gathering behavioural insights and using that to design something which helps users achieve their goals. Yes, you need to balance commerical objectives with user needs (anyone who insists otherwise is a fundementalist) but this is the digital equivilant of pressure selling.

13 days ago

Tom Dougherty

Tom Dougherty, UX Director & Partner at DeleteSmall Business Multi-user

In my view UX refers to the experience a user has with a digital product (website, application, software). It’s all encompassing, not just isolated to a design process. For me ‘User Centred Design’ is a process of design built around the understanding and needs of the user. When I refer to a trend here I’m suggesting that there is a growing usage of these types of marketing tactics being utilised by organisations as part of the digital experience they are offering to users / customers.

13 days ago

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