False Urgency Kills Customer Loyalty

| By Mike Michalowicz (Google+)


I recently bought my last proverbial truck load of coffee from CoffeeForLess.

I have a Keurig, and found the CoffeeForLess site to be competitively priced for the Keurig cups.  I became a loyal customer after I made my first purchase about a year ago.  The transaction went smoothly. The coffee arrived quickly. And the price was fair.

I’m sure other sites have better prices, but the transaction was so easy and smooth I labeled myself as a CoffeeForLess consumer. And just like any brand, if you can get consumers “labeling” themselves as your consumer – you have a customer for life – unless you screw it up.

CoffeeForLess did just that. On my recent purchase they attempted to use an urgency method.

The urgency influence technique on CoffeeForLess site

Once I “placed” coffee in my “shopping cart” a notice appeared at the top of the screen. It indicated that the coffee I just placed in my cart was reserved for me, for the next 30 minutes and that I needed to “HURRY” (that is the exact words) to get it.  And a big timer started to count down.

The behavioral influence method they are using is called urgency. You see it all the time on the Home Shopping Network as they count down the time a product is available. The method is powerful, because it gets people to buy when they are on fence. And it gets people to buy fast.

But, 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.

I am not suggesting that CoffeeForLess is an evil empire, or even trying to pull a fast one. I just think they are trying to make just a few more dollars from a few more people, and went just a little itty bitty too far.

I can’t fathom that they are really reserving coffee for me. First of all, it is quite likely they have more than enough stock so that “reserving” coffee for 30 minutes is not necessary. Plus, if I sat on my filled up cart and did nothing, while another order processed for the same coffee, the coffee would go to them, not me.

Close up CoffeeForLess Urgency Manipulation

My loyalty to CoffeeForLess has been damaged. I suspect I won’t shop there again. Unless I happen to forget my negative experience. Or if I can’t find an alternative. But those outcomes are unlikely. I am likely done with them. And if you use false urgency to sell more to customers you will experience the same fate.

Urgency is a powerful tool. It gets prospects and clients taking action. But it must be used authentically. If you manipulate people you will lose them forever.



Posted in Behavioral Influence, Customer Loyalty, Marketing Strategies,

14 Responses to “False Urgency Kills Customer Loyalty”

  1. Will Young says:

    “it must be used authentically. If you manipulate people you will lose them forever” – that’s the key isn’t it? I was pretty shocked by your example Mike. The notion of CoffeeForLess “reserving” coffee is a joke. It’s like they read a post that says ‘urgency can work to drive conversion’ and tried to fit that into their retail dynamic as quickly and simply as they could without testing it from a customer perspective. Telling people that only so many items are left can be useful. Telling them there’s only so long before free shipping ends too.
    I’d like to think that CoffeeForLess is in the minority of ecommerce sites that have gone with such a generic, zero-value tactic.

  2. tlmaurer says:

    I’m with you, Mike. Any time someone tries to ‘push’ me to buy something, it’s going to have the opposite effect on me. A better approach might be to notify loyal customers when they add something to their cart that there honestly IS a shortage of stock for a particular item, when the next shipment is due in, etc. That approach seems much more like ‘helping’ than ‘rushing’. Another new online ‘ploy’ that has been annoying me of late is when you are encouraged to ‘reserve’ a space (airport parking), avoid lines (amusement parks) to get a discount. Once you get to their sites, you find that the promised discounts aren’t as great as advertised because they have added in a ‘reservation fee’. No warm, fuzzy feelings gained from this tactic either.

    Terri Maurer
    Maurer Consulting Group

  3. Sab says:

    Strange….I often buy from ASOS the clothing retailer, and they do the same thing, with a 2 hour window, and I couldn’t care less. I can’t blame them for trying to make a buck

    • Sab – I hear you…. this is a fine balance thing. I just think when it is inauthentic, it causes mistrust. If they said buy within 30 minutes and the shipping is free or you get an additional 5% off, that would work. It is authentic and motivates me.

      When they say buy in 30 minutes or you will lose your chance to get what you wanted to order, feels like a total lie. They are trying to manipulate me, it feels. And that is what the turn off is.

      It is a fine line.

  4. Dylan Wilson (@craftworkgames) says:

    As I get older I’m much more likely to buy things from people I trust, and to earn my trust they need to show honesty. This, I believe is what didn’t sit right with your core values. You Mike, have me as a customer for life because you have constantly re-enforced your honesty in everything that you do.

  5. Nate Anglin says:

    Ahh and principle of scarcity meets the ceiling fan and gets sliced and diced. But lets be honest Mike, you’re being a little insincere. At least the clock didn’t start over when you refreshed the page, lol.

    • LOL. I didn’t refresh the page. I actually still bought the stuff, and maybe even faster. I just felt a twist in my stomach about the experience.

      • Nate Anglin says:

        Haha, oh okay so it probably would have refreshed. I know what you mean. To live and learn and not do again. At least it wasn’t a life threatening choice.

        • I was curious, so I went back to the page and it is now gone. Maybe it is just meet. Maybe they are split testing. Or maybe they changed it.

          • Nate Anglin says:

            Well thats a good thing. Maybe they have a Google Alert and saw your post. Lets see if they respond here. Are you listening CoffeeForLess ? I guess if they saw the feedback, listened to their customer and made a change, they’re not so bad.

          • Perhaps. If that happen across this and respond, that would impress me to no end. As a vendor it is sticky situation if you respond, but without a resolution. If you can’t fix it yet respond, it could become a slam fest.

            I embarrassingly had a glitch in my email software on Friday and it emailed out the same message ten times in a row. For anyone who complained, I respond fast and with a deep, sincere apology.

            I still don’t think CoffeeForLess is a bad guy, they are just using a technique that cuts away trust. I hope they permanently remove it.

  6. Gael says:

    Love this post. We all need to be able to just take a breath and do what’s right. So simple. Down with manipulation to get what you want people in business! It starts at about age 2. It is meant to be outgrown. :)

    • Gael – Thanks. I think there is a fine line between persuasion and manipulation. Persuasion, as I define it, is getting people to where they want to go…. but need guidance. In other words it benefits the person, and they need help getting there. Conversely, manipulation is where you take a person to a place they don’t want to go…. where you take advantage of them.

      I believe the urgency technique is truly powerful and can be used for persuasion. But it is easy to slip into manipulation.

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