Use Scarcity To Sell, Not Scare

Takeaway selling, for the uninitiated, is a way to limit the supply of a product or service in some way to increase scarcity of an offer. Because it’s a proven fact that scarcity sells.

It’s that ageless law of supply and demand. The less the supply is, the greater the demand will be.

People don’t know how much they want something until it’s about to be taken away from them. As Jim Rohn once said, “Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.”

Why? Because procrastination is the biggest killer of sales — particularly online where the chances of a prospect staying on or returning to a website (in order to think about buying), in today’s click-happy world, are just as scarce.

It’s like walking into a department store and you see a shirt you’re interested in. Since there’s none in your size, you ask the sales clerrk if one is available. The clerk goes into the backroom and emerges a few moments later, saying, “I found one in your size…

“… But it’s the only one we have left in stock.”

Now, how much more do you want that shirt?

That’s the power of takeaway selling. In fact, I’m about to make a shocking statement. One that will force you to look at things in a dramatically different way. It even might shock a few copywriters and “online conversion” pundits.

It is simply this: I’ve grown even more convinced over time that great copy is not meant to induce action, especially online. Yes, your copy’s job is not to get people to act.

It’s really meant to prevent procrastination.

Why? Because copy should not sell people and pressure them per se. It should help them buy what you sell and prevent them from making a wrong decision.

Procrastination is a decision in itself, albeit a bad one.

People go online for one reason above all: information. They are searching for specific information. So they find your site through research, or they are land on it through some affiliate promotion, ad, or offer made elsewhere. They are initially interested.

Therefore, to a large degree and unlike the offline world, they’re pre-qualified. Just like a shopper who’s browsing in a retail store, the moment they hit your site they’re “in” your store. They’re browsing around. Literally. So it’s safe to say they’re in the market.

(Granted, that’s not true all the time. But again, they are qualified to a great degree — at least to a greater degree online than a bunch of people on a direct mail list you have no knowledge of, other than some basic demographic data.)

Nevertheless, as the saying goes, “People don’t like to be sold. But people love to buy.” So scarcity, used properly, helps them buy — and not pressure them to act.

Some people will still buy from bad copy. So poor copy isn’t the greatest killer of sales, procrastination is. Because it’s the natural fallback position whenever we feel confused, insufficiently informed, or coerced — whether the copy is to blame or not.

Even if the offer is outstanding, the product is perfect for them, and it’s exactly what they want, people will always — always! — procrastinate if given the chance.

(How many times have you bought from someone who used scarcity but whose copy was less than desirable? You probably did it more times than you care to count.)

Look at it this way: give a chance for your prospects to procrastinate, and they will.


So use takeaway selling in order to stop people from procrastinating rather than getting them to take action now. In other words, shape your offer — and not just your product or service — so that it is time-sensitive, quantity-bound, or event-based.

Even preventative scarcity works really well, such as one tied to lessening the potential aggravation of a current, undesirable condition, or to eliminate the fear of some imminent problem, danger, or ill-favored circumstance.

Either way, the important thing to remember is to always give a reasonable, believable, and logical explanation to justify your sense of urgency, or else your sales tactic will be appear disingenuous and be instantly discredited.

So how do you apply scarcity? I’ve used one of three ways. You can:

  1. Limit the time
  2. Limit the quantity
  3. Or limit the offer

The first is done by adding a deadline on the offer.

Add a real deadline, and not some script that changes the date everyday. How many times have you come across a salesletter where the offer had a deadline that seemed to “magically” bump ahead each time you visited it? People are not stupid!

On the other hand, scarcity done very well is when the product or the price is changing after the deadline, or simply no longer available or temporarily inaccessible.

(By the way, there’s an interesting take on the use of takeaway selling. I remember one site that held a rabbit hostage on its way to a slaughterhouse by a certain date — unless you donated money or bought merchandise. Personally, I’m not too keen on the approach. It’s crude. But as an example of takeaway selling, it’s quite creative.)

The second is limiting the quantity of sales you can make.

Whether it’s a finite number of units in stock, or a limited number of openings, always back it up with a realistic reason. Something logical. Something real.

Perhaps it’s a “fire sale” (i.e., products discounted because of minimal cosmetic damage, for example), or perhaps it’s a way to deplete old stock to make way for the new.

Another way to apply scarcity is to raise the barrier of entry, such as through an application and selection process, longer waiting times, or higher prices and price increases. A great example of this is Australian dentist Paddi Lund.

Whatever the reason, as long as it’s credible and logical, and of course as long as it’s real, scarcity can become a powerful tool to drastically boost sales.

People buy on emotion first, then justify it with logic. In fact, give them logical explanations in your copy further down, and many will actually use your suggestions — be it consciously or unconsciously — as a way to back up their buying decisions.

You make the excuses for them, in other words. And when you do, they will “own” your reasons for buying now. (Even though those reasons came from you first.)

If you sell services, you can apply scarcity by limiting the number of people you can take on as clients — either because there are only so many hours in the day (the most logical reason), or because overextending your client base will dilute the value of the service.

(Again, you don’t have to stop taking on new clients. You can simply increase the barrier of entry, because if you have to work harder to serve more clients, then you certainly deserve to get paid more. After all, if you’re busy, you’re in demand!)

Also, making the offer something that’s secretive, exclusive, or otherwise unavailable to the general public, can arouse stronger motives in the psyche of your readers.

People are intrinsically curious. And people always love to get some kind of “insider’s edge” over the rest of the world. (If you want to learn more about this principle, I recommend Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”)

For example, there’s one private membership site, which currently has an extensive waiting list. Once in a while, they “open their doors” to allow only a specific number of new members to join. Once they reach capacity, the sales page goes down.

The third is limiting the offer as it stands.

The way to do this is to limit other elements that are part of the offer, such as:

  • The guarantee — in other words, you offer a longer or more favorable guarantee, but only to a certain number of units or people or by a certain date,
  • The bonuses or premiums — this one is my favorite, especially when the premiums come from a third party, and I’ll come back to this in a moment,
  • The price — aside from typical discounts, perhaps it’s an imminent price increase, perhaps to cover the extra costs in dealing with more customers,
  • The packaging — perhaps since the product is bundled with other products or components that won’t be available after “X” amount sold,
  • The extras — as in free support, free installation, or free shipping, etc),
  • And so on.

Nevertheless, I like all three tactics, especially when the product is truly limited.

But for convenience, flexibility, and credibility, I prefer limiting the offer with bonuses and extras — especially when they come from third parties. Because often, bonuses can be limited and changed, without limiting the sales of the core product or service.

If they come from another source, they can be limited at that third party’s discretion. This projects more believability, because it reduces the perception of the owner’s control over the limitation, which may appear as self-serving or manipulative.

Plus, and more importantly, it reduces skepticism as the bonus may actually be sold elsewhere, and therefore it is scarce by being added as a bonus in the first place — let alone the fact that the third party may put a limit on the quantity to give away.

For example, I did this with Stephen Pierce’s copy I wrote, where Stephen was giving away a software program that complemented his infoproduct he was selling — one that was truly being sold by someone else on another website at a real price.

Stephen managed to secure permission to distribute only a certain number of copies as a free bonus to his infoproduct, making the offer truly scarce and valuable.

In negotiation skills training, they call this approach the “higher authority” or “third party” gambit, where the limitation appears to be outside of the owner’s control — making the takeaway truly a takeaway, and not some conspicuous, manipulative ploy.

This is crucial, because too many people use takeaway these days as an unfounded tactic to induce action, and not as a real reason to prevent procrastination.

So add a deadline — a real, honest-to-goodness end-date — to your offer, limit the number of products you sell (or the number of new members you allow to join), or shape your entire offer so that one or more elements are limited.

To make sure that people believe your need to limit the offer, give a real, reasonable, and logical reason why, or else your tactic will work against you. Always back up every claim you make. (Because, like it or not, applying scarcity is making a claim.)

Here are some examples.

If you add a deadline, limit the number of sales you can make, or limit the number of clients you can accept, then you must explain why you’re doing so. You can also be vague, sure. But a real, hard, tangible deadline is always best.

Here’s an example of what I put on some sales letters I’ve written — they sell memberships to private sites and offer personal consulting to their members:

Example #1:

“Let me be candid with you. I don’t know how long I’m going to keep the doors open to new members since this information is extremely sensitive. I don’t want to dilute the value of this information for my paying members. If you were a paying member, wouldn’t you want the same, too? So, I must restrict the number of users for quality control purposes.”

In the above case, the reason is very true and the limitation necessary. Specifically, the author sells access to an insider’s directory of “hot” real estate opportunities he finds through his unique scouting system, which he also teaches his members.

If too many people get their hands on these opportunities or the system, it will invariably lower the value of the information to the member-base, and contradict the whole purpose of the site, which is to gain access to little-known, available real estate.

Otherwise, why would one join?

Example #2:

“We’re only human, and there are only so many hours in a day and so many people we can physically attend to! So, in order to limit the number of hours of coaching we do provide, we must put a cap on the number of new members for obvious reasons. We can only guarantee that people who sign up through Sat, 19 Nov 2022 02:54:48 +0000 will qualify for membership in this program, which comes with personalized coaching, custom-tailored support, and this incredible set of free bonuses worth over $[amount]! So, don’t wait and join today. I’d hate to put you on a milelong waiting list…”

This example demonstrates the importance of the support they offer private members and, at the same time, drives home the idea that such a service is limited.

I’m sure the owners can hire part-time help, if the need ever arose. But nothing can replace expertise that comes straight from the experts — the more people join, the more individualized coaching they must provide, and the less time they have.

Example #3:

“If you act by midnight, Friday on Sat, 19 Nov 2022 02:54:48 +0000, you will get the three bonuses included with your special offer. But keep in mind, these bonuses come from various third parties, including [3rd party name], over which we have no control, and can be removed at any time without notice. I’ve only secured permission to give away [amount] copies of this bonus bundle. So the time to act is now!”

The above is an example of making the offer limited through a bonus. You can also accomplish this quite effectively by tailoring your offer as a special backend or alternative offer to a list of non-buyers, after they’ve seen the original offer.

Ultimately, add some kind of constraint. Even if it’s just injecting a sense of urgency. Because such limitations implore at some unconscious level that they must take action now, even though you’re not directly pushing them to act.

Above all, always make sure to back up your limitation with a logical, genuine, and believable reason in order to avoid appearring misleading or disingenuous.

For the more you make them feel that procrastination is a bad decision, the more people will feel compelled to buy of their volition… and not pressured into buying.

Avatar of Michel Fortin

By Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin is a digital marketing advisor specializing in SEO, communications, and strategy. For over 30 years, he helped hundreds of thousands of clients increase their visibility and their revenue. He is also the VP of Digital Marketing at Musora, the company behind award-winning platforms Drumeo and Pianote. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.