Creating a sense of urgency in the customer's mind can be a great way to increase conversions. There are a number of ways to do it: a cut-off time for free delivery, a message advising that stock levels are low, or limited time sales promotions.

Here are some great examples of e-commerce sites using urgency. 

What is urgency?

It's a useful tactic, as it essentially forces the customer to come to a decision on whether or not to make a purchase, at least faster than they would have done. 

For example, if they were just browsing and planning to think about buying later, a time-sensitive promotion might just tip them into a purchase. 

The theory is great, but it's a tactic which could easily be overused. Use it in moderation and it can be effective, use it too much and customers will learn to ignore the message. 

It should also be viewed as a way of helping the customer. If stock levels are low for a particular item, it's helpful to let people know before stock runs out. 

Likewise, information on delivery cut-off times can help customers to avoid problems with goods arriving too late for birthdays, Christmas etc. 

Urgency messages are generally used for the following messages: 

  • Low stock levels or limited product availability. 
  • Promotions with a limited time. 
  • Shipping offers. 
  • Dates for despatch of products. 


For deals sites like Groupon, urgency is behind the whole business model given the fact that most offers are time sensitive. 

Here, it's further reinforced by messaging advising that there's not much time left to take advantage of the offer, and that lots of people have already bought it (though 610 doesn't seem that limited a quantity to me).


(Read more...) is a regular tactic for, as shown on this page: 


The message that just one room is left will be enough to push some users into booking quickly, while other messages also advise customers how many people are looking at the page. 

House of Fraser

In this example from UK retailer House of Fraser, the available sizes tell customers that they should hurry up. If they're a size 8 that is. 

This is very useful information, and so fits into the category of helping the customer rather than just using a sales tactic. 


It also adds other messages to show how many times the item has been purchased recently. This tells the customer that they need to decide quickly before there are none left. 


Wolf & Badger

This stock message is persuasive to those that see it. It's the last one, grab it while you can... 

However, the message could be made to stand out a little more than it does, perhaps by using colour to set it apart from the rest of the text. 



As you select the size on some of its shoes and boots, Zappos will provide stock information. 

It's easy to see, right next to the add to cart button, with red text making it more visible. 


Secret Sales

This business model is all about low stock levels, so the use of urgency is a way to turn this to their advantage. 

Every product page has a message like this. It's not the most prominent feature on the product pages, but that's partly because users expect that everything has a time limit. 


On product search results, the number of products left is indicated. Note that some don't contain this messaging - that serves to make the urgency signals more credible. 



Urgency can be used in emails too, and telling people they only have a day or two to take advantage of sales offers can be very effective. 

modcloth-urgency is a past master when it comes to using urgency to sell. It makes great use of information on people viewing pages, booking and price trends. 

Here we have a limited time sale, hotels which have been booked several times today, a trend of rising prices in the area, and just one room left on the second result. 

Put together, these messages tell the customer that they need to act fast. 


Naked Wines

Naked Wines has a countdown timer for next day delivery on its shopping cart pages. 

This provides an extra push for customers who want to get their hands on that lovely wine as fast as they can. 


Gap - too much urgency? 

As mentioned before, it's possible to use too much urgency to the extent that customers will ignore it. Here, Gap has used this five times in one week through its emails.

Of course, customers may not notice the frequency of these kinds of messages, but those that do will come to learn that Gap's sales emails aren't as urgent as they seem. 


In summary

Urgency can be a great tactic, but it has to be used properly. Too many messages about stock scarcity, limited-time sales etc, and people will stop paying attention.

It should actually be helpful to the user, letting them know that, if they do want an item, they'll have to decide more quickly than they may have done. It should help them to avoid missing out.  

What examples have you seen from retailers? Or have you used this tactic yourself? Let me know in the comments...

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