8 Ways eCommerce Stores Can Use Urgency to Increase Conversions

Procrastination is the root of all evil. At least that’s what my mother used to say whenever I said, ‘I will do it later.’ Fast forward twenty years, and she couldn’t be more right. Replace ‘evil’ with ‘lack of sales’, and tell me, I am wrong? I am a BIG procrastinator (there’s no shame), so when it comes to understanding the nature of how it affects your eCommerce-bottom line, I get it.

About a month ago I stumbled onto this Ted lecture about procrastination and it was like Tim Urban was talking about me, to me…

And I am not alone. Turns out, it’s not only a human condition, but an online shopper human condition. Behavioral psychologists say that when one finds oneself in an urgent situation, it causes us to suspend deliberate thought (which is just a fancy way of saying procrastination) and act quickly.

So as an eCommerce store owner, why should you care? Because procrastinators like me are costing you boatloads of cash.

By creating a sense of urgency, you can turn all those procrastinating window-shoppers who think too hard or wait too long, into customers far more quickly. In other words, sales conversions – lots and lots more sales conversions. 

So, how do you use urgency to your advantage? Certainly NOT by using ‘Only one left’ in big bold red letters on all 350 product pages you have, or running one-time sales every day of the week – unless you’re Groupon and your whole business model is built on urgency.

Example of Goupon using urgency

The trick is to balance a well-optimized store with good CTAs (calls to action) and strategic urgency placements, to encourage those lookie loos to put their money where their mouse is – without making your store look like Spam City.

So without further ado (and procrastination) here are 8 ways eCommerce stores can use urgency to increase conversions.

1. Create a Catastrophe

According to Psychology Today, loss aversion is what we have when we avoid losing something at all costs. By leveraging a loss aversion response in potential shoppers, you create a sense of urgency and therefore make them more inclined to act. A good place to start is through your marketing emails announcing that a deal is coming to an end, there are limited seasonal offers or there are only a few hours left to get those orders in.

example of limited time eCommerce deals

Alternatively, by using your home page, like the store below, and well-placed CTA buttons that let customers act then and there. An example of big retailers using urgercy

Want some banner-design tips? Visit our Create Banners that Convert post.

2. Make it Competitive

Competitive situations breeds a good level of urgency. I am not just talking about hosting a competition – although contests for free goodies can make even the biggest procrastinators wake up – but about creating a sense of competition. You only have to think of eBay bidding wars to know this works, or at booking.com, who tell you how many people are looking at the hotel room you’re interested in.

example of online hotel booking

But how does that translate for your online store? Using stock numbers, showing that you only have a few left, gives the impression that you need to act fast to beat another shopper to the punch. Forever 21 are on the money with theirs.

eCommerce screen shot of out-of-stock

Plus, the ‘Do you still want it’ email capturing button takes their competitive urgency to the next level.

example of eCommerce email capturing

3. One-Time Offers

Create urgency by threatening to take offers away, similar to the way a brick-and-mortar store may have a ‘last-of-the-season’ sale. Using CTAs and emailers to drive the message home that there are only limited items left of this season’s best-sellers can push those undecided shoppers into buying.

4. Challenge Them

There’s a theory that says when people have to work hard for something, they value it even more; it’s called effort justification. Really, it’s a thing, and it even had its own Wikipedia page. This challenge sparks urgency in people, making them gung-ho about overcoming the challenge. Think of it in terms of Candy Crush (yes, I am going there): the harder the levels get, the more people play and the more likely they are to spend to get those power-ups to take them to the next level.  


There is a number of ways you can leverage this psychology on your online store, through the use of limited offer promo codes and onsite promotions for real-time discounts and limited-time VIP offers.

5. Give Your Products the Feel of Scarcity

When something is scarce, it not only creates the sense of limited time, but it also makes that product more valuable. By intentionally limiting the amount of stock or the amount of time on an offer, people will want it more. This can be particularly powerful when used in checkout. Cart abandonment rate is around 67.91%, which is no small number!

John Lewis basket

Using a strategic counter, counting down how long the deal is valid for or how many items are left, will create scarcity in the checkout box, and therefore not only increasing sales conversions, but reduce cart abandonment.

Example of eCommerce store using urgency

Want to add a checkout countdown to your Shopify store for free? Try this free Shopify countdown app to create as many types of timers and for as many types of products as you want.

6. Add a Countdown

Like we discussed in last week’s 12 Easy Tricks to Optimize Your Store For More Conversions post, when the clock is ticking, it’s instinctive to act faster. This is why countdowns make for compelling converters for online retailers. A perfect example of this is Amazon’s one day deals, which counts down how long the deal is valid for.

They’re not the only ones.

Screenshot of AliExpress flash deals

eCommerce countdown tools

7. Revamp Your Copy

The easiest way you can create urgency is in your product copy and your CTAs. Words and phrases like ‘don’t miss out’, ‘approaching’, ‘hurry’, ‘instant’, ‘close’, ‘now’, ‘fast’, ‘today only,’ ‘last change’, etc. subtly awaken urgency inside even the worst procrastinators.

This is not just reserved for product copy, CTA buttons and email marketing; why not give your AdWords ads and metadata a little boost as well?

8. What NOT to do

Lastly, and oh so importantly, let’s talk about what NOT to do when using urgency methods to drive sales. So how do you keep it legitimate?

  • Don’t use urgency terms, copy and strategy just for the sake of it.
  • Don’t send email blasts daily announcing limited one day sales.
  • Don’t use special deals, emitting extra costs, and surprise shoppers with a different total in checkout.

Don’t believe me; here are the words from a customer explaining how online stores using false urgency destroyed his loyalty, and I quote: There is a dark side to this technique. If the urgency is false and the customer catches your lie, you will lose them. They will see you as manipulative. Their loyalty will be destroyed.”

Have some share-worthy urgency tactics of your own? Share them with us in the comments below.


Nicole Blanckenberg

Nicole is a content writer at StoreYa with over sixteen years experience and flair for storytelling. She runs on a healthy dose of caffeine and enthusiasm. When she's not researching the next content trend or creating informative small business content, she's an avid beachgoer, coffee shop junkie and hangs out on LinkedIn.



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