With the holidays coming up, I was looking at a few places to travel to around Europe for a short trip. During my research, I was looking for hotels on different pages and was consistently exposed to persuasive messages. Everywhere I looked there were pop-ups urging me to hurry up and decide! “Only one room left!” and “11 people are looking right now” are both messages that make you want to act fast. This technique is known as the scarcity effect, Cialdini (1993) explains that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited. Specifically, the limited number tactic was used here as the website is making it seem like there are very few rooms left. Whether this is actually true or not, it works to show scarcity and thus increases the immediate value of the hotel. This technique also works as humans dislike the idea of potential loss. Cialdini (1993) also explains that people seem more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value. This explains why when consumers are searching online they will always be more attracted to the deals involving scarcity; anything that is rare or limited is more likely to increase the sense of urgency to acquire it.
The scarcity effect works closely with the idea of social proof. This is where we use the actions of others to determine how we should act (Cialdini, 1993). This can often be seen in ambiguous social situations where we assume the people around us know how to act appropriately, when in reality they are probably looking at us for the same answer. We are thus generally guided by what people around us are doing when we are unsure, for example when picking a hotel we will compare our choices to other peoples. Online websites take advantage of this by showing us what other people have chosen or are currently choosing. “Booked 13 times today” will persuade us to choose the same hotel, as clearly it is liked by the people who chose it, making it a more attractive option. Similarly, by including ratings and “Top Rated” shows the hotel is not only popular now but has been chosen by many before. This will influence us to choose the most highly rated hotel, the one that has the most people looking at it and especially the hotel that has the fewest rooms left available.
These are essential techniques to be aware of, clearly for sales purposes but also for ourselves, as it’s important to know that we are being influenced in this way. However, this technique still works really well regardless whether you are aware of it or not, as everyone will always want what they can’t have (or can only have if they act quickly!).
Cialdini, R. B. (1993). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Morrow.