Only 3 seats left at this price! Booked 7 times in the past hour! 27 people are also viewing this room! Sound familiar!? This is scarcity, find out how brands leverage scarcity to coerce you into buying.

This practice is frequently used by brands to cajole and coerce us into a purchase we might be considering. We’ve all felt that sense of urgency (and sometimes panic) when trying to organise a trip and being greeted with a little message informing us that there what we are trying to book might not be around for much longer. The majority of us have also probably been forced to make a hastier decision than we’d like, given the fear of missing out. This is known as the scarcity heuristic, a mental shortcut that places value on items based on how easy it is to miss out on them. Given our aversion to loss, we know what a powerful thing that can be.

Brands have leveraged this for many years with tactics like limited offers, limited editions and more recently even built businesses around it with the birth of the flash sales phenomenon. But one industry more than any seems to have doubled down on the method, and unfortunately for them the Competitions and Markets Authority have said enough is enough after finding hotel booking sites in particular ‘routinely engaged in pressure selling, misled consumers over prices and gave more prominence to hotels that paid the most commission’

Their practice serves not only as a great case study of how scarcity can be leveraged for financial gain but also how over-using any bias or heuristic leads it to become normalised and gradually less effective over time.

By Greg Copeland

Behavioural Strategist