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February 9, 2015
How Does Scarcity Affect Consumers?
 
We always find it enjoyable when the laws of economics and advertising mix. As they should; if we believe that advertising and marketing are the languages of business, and economics helps us define how businesses and individuals react to each other based on decisions and influence, it would be more bizarre if these two topics never shared a common source.

Imagine our delight when we found a source about a research project that was done to examine the effects of product scarcity on the purchase preferences of consumers.

The results confirmed what many of you probably thought.

If consumers believe that products are truly scarce (or if advertising and messaging leans toward that direction) then the consumer abandons their decision-making and gathers larger quantities of their preferred product. If the consumer believes, or is led to believe, that each product is plentiful, then the consumer branches out, grabbing some of their preferred product and a diverse selection of other offerings.

Some of the tactics they used to frame scarcity were pretty effective. For example, in one study they used the same quantity of vegetables and two different containers — an 8 oz. and a 32 oz. container. When they wanted to showcase surplus, they used the 8 oz. container. When they wanted to show scarcity, they used the same amount of vegetables, but used the bigger jar. The perception, though subtle, stimulates the consumer to buy more of their preferred product.

The suggestions are nearly no-brainers. If you want to stimulate purchases of a popular product, create a scarce environment. If you don't want to run out of something too quickly, provide a large selection and create an environment that will encourage the consumer to branch out,

The study also provided suggestions that can help curve, or change, less-than-desired behavior. If there is a rare source that needs to be saved, calling it "rare" or "scarce" will naturally do the opposite — stimulate use of it before it runs out. The better bet is to provide so many options and alternatives that the purchasing party can pick and choose.

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Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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