How successful online businesses create urgency: 10 examples

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How successful online businesses create urgency: 10 examples

Human beings are primeval beings at times. We like to think that we make rational buying decisions using the cerebral part of our brain, but the reality is that the limbic system, which drives emotion, comes into play far more often than we would like to believe.

Successful e-commerce websites play on our basic human emotions to great effect. Marketers skilled in conversion rate optimisation use techniques to override rational behaviour, instil a sense of urgency and thus increase conversion rate.

Increase your conversion rate by creating a sense of urgency

As a boy, I dreaded the lunchtime ritual of picking football teams. As I fidgeted in the line-up I always desperately hoped to get chosen early and not be one of the last to be picked. The message could easily be put another way: “you’re no good at football” or even worse, “you’re not popular”.

With hindsight it feels like a small thing to worry about, but it illustrates some basic yet fundamental human emotions:

  • Hunter / warrior competitiveness
  • A need to be liked and / or successful
  • A desire to be part of a group and be like everyone else

There are others too, like fear of loss. These press the emotional buttons you need that speed up customer decision-making process on your website.

Proven conversion techniques

Creating a sense of urgency in the mind of the consumer is a proven approach to increasing conversion rates. Some specific techniques include:

  • Limited sales period
  • Only X left in stock
  • If you order in the next X minutes/hours you can have it tomorrow

What these approaches have in common is that they play on the fear that consumers have of missing out on opportunities – particularly those they perceive to be of financial or rarity value. Our innate competitiveness means we are compelled to consider such an offer simply because we know that someone else will.

Equally, consumers love the feeling of having successfully bought a product or service under a limited promotion or offer. Most people like being a “winner”. We’ve found 10 great examples of how sites create a sense of urgency to speed up consumers’ decision making.

How ten websites use urgency to increase conversion

Example 1: Scarcity – not many left


Amazon has delivered a double whammy on this page. I’m particularly interested in statistics at the moment, because we do a lot of A/B split testing and we’re looking at new ways to measure statistical validity and calculate how long split tests need to run for.

However there are two in particular that challenge me to buy now (or very soon). Firstly Amazon advises in bold green there are only 5 left in stock. Secondly (and this is one that gets me every time) if you order in the next 3 hours 42 minutes you will get this book tomorrow.

Example 2: Other people want it


Everyone knows that the cheaper-priced tickets on any flight go first, so the longer you leave it the more you could be shelling out on exactly the same route. easyJet tells you in real time just how many people are looking at the same route as yourself. The information alternates with alternative information telling you when it was last booked.


Like Amazon, easyJet also goes for the double whammy using scarcity to inform you when availability is limited.


Example 3: Quick Turnaround – Fast Delivery


The business card sector is ruthless at the best of times, with a large number of suppliers to choose from. Although the offer is not as good as the banner suggests, are offering a 2-day turnaround on your business cards if you order before midnight. For the time-poor business person this is a very compelling message.

Example 4: Last Chance

Republic use time based urgency and discounts to increase conversion rates

Everyone likes getting a discount especially when it is 20%, so when you see the words “Last Chance!” (even if it might not be entirely true) you feel inclined to at least investigate further. The combination of a time-closed offer and money-off is the cornerstone of many successful promotions.

Example 5: Limited Stock

Argos use stock based urgency to increase conversions

Argos, like many companies, is keen to dispose of previous season’s stock as quickly as possible. It may not be the prettiest page but the copy and the constant indication of how many products are left in each category increases generates more sales.

Example 6: Offer ends soon

Dell Auction

Auction sites are exemplars for creating a sense of urgency. Not only are consumers presented with good offers which are time sensitive they are competing against other people which adds that extra level of tension and excitement – a great way to sell off a lot of old stock.

Example 7: Personalised countdown

ADT use location and time based urgency to improve conversion rates

We found this example in one of Avinash Kaushik’s blogs. Avinash liked this page for a whole host of reasons but the one element he highlighted was the top red banner. Firstly the site had detected where Avinash lived in the United States and then calculated how long he had left to put his order in for a security system relative to the opening hours of the ADT office. Simple but highly effective.

Example 8: Don’t miss out


Furniture companies are notorious for having perpetual sales – even when it’s not really a sale. Here the words Don’t miss out suggest there is an offer that’s about to end, urging the reader to buy it now or experience the sense of loss that comes from letting a bargain slip through your fingers.

Example 9: Free Trial

Harvest use minimal barriers to increase sign-ups for the trial

Harvest is an SaaS (Software as a Service) product offering a web-based timesheets service to businesses.

Like many SaaS companies, Harvest’s primary marketing aim is to get potential customers to try the product, because they believe that once the user has tried it they will want to use it permanently.

Promotion of trial is often the focus with these types of sites. Notice the barrier to trial is minimal. The trial is free and no credit cards details are required.

This is a subtle way of creating a sense of urgency. Although there is no time limit, there is a subliminal fear that the free trial may not be there forever.For someone who is investigating using such a timesheet product there are few barriers to trialling the product.

Example 10: Multiple calls to action

CloudHQ use multiple techniques to increase free trial sign-ups

Cloud HQ is another SaaS product offering a cloud based service which enables syncing between a number of different cloud based services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Evernote. CloudHQ have amplified the sense of urgency by using different techniques to ask for the sale right now:

  • Free trial
  • No credit card required
  • The annual fee is the cost of only 10 monthly fees (very common promotional technique amongst SAAS companies)
  • For the premium product there is a discounted monthly or annual plan fee that is discounted for life if you take out the product by a specified date

BONUS Example 11: ASOS

I’ve included this here because it’s a real favourite, and it’s a slightly different conversion objective compared with the other examples. It’s not often you see a sense of urgency technique trying to generate long term loyalty but the Premier service from ASOS is a perfect example.

ASOS use time-based urgency to increase sign-ups for an offer to avoid delivery charges

ASOS has focused on one of the key issues consumers have with e-commerce sites – which is delivery and delivery charges in particular. For only £9.95 a year (which in itself is a limited offer) an ASOS customer is entitled to unlimited next day deliveries with no minimum order value and free returns collection (rather than having to use the Collect+ service)

I think this is very clever because it works on two levels. Firstly it uses similar techniques to the ones demonstrated in previous examples – a time limited offer. Additionally once the user is signed up it makes them much more likely to purchase from ASOS than from competitor sites because they want to take advantage of their free delivery service which they have paid for.

ASOS have refined how they present this offer, and it’s interesting to compare the screen shot above from January 2013 with a more recent one. The copy focuses on the benefits and the feel-good factor, with lifestyle photos of happy, cool people, and evocative copy promising ‘an easier, happier, more stylish life’.

Significantly the call to action has been changed from the rather bureaucratic ‘Sign up now’ to the simplicity of ‘Add to bag’. How easy is that?



What’s your favourite trick to instil a sense of urgency?  Have you seen any great examples, or been compelled to act quickly by clever copy or graphics. Please share your thoughts and experiences.

Posted in Consumer psychology, Conversion rate optimisation, E-commerce

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