Chapter 18: Scarcity

The scarcity category of deceptive pattern involves falsely claiming that a product or service is in limited supply, encouraging customers to quickly complete a purchase before the stock runs out. The scarcity deceptive pattern is similar to the urgency deceptive pattern, but urgency is time-based, while scarcity is materials-based.

The low stock message deceptive pattern

HeyMerch’s Shopify app Hey!Scarcity Low Stock Counter is a great example of the low stock message deceptive pattern. This app makes it easy for shop owners to show fake low stock messages like this (outlined below).1

Screenshot of a low stock message generated by the Hey!Scarcity Low Stock Counter app. A T-shirt is shown on the left, and on the right are the product details including the alert ‘Only 3 Left In Stock. 12 Sold Just Today’.
The low stock message generated by the HeyMerch Hey!Scarcity Low Stock Counter app (2022).

HeyMerch doesn’t try to hide their intentions, either. Their admin interface encourages merchants to use randomly generated fake figures, as you can...

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Since 2010, Harry Brignull has dedicated his career to understanding and exposing the techniques that are employed to exploit users online, known as “deceptive patterns” or “dark patterns”. He is credited with coining a number of the terms that are now popularly used in this research area, and is the founder of the website He has worked as an expert witness on a number of cases, including Nichols v. Noom Inc. ($56 million settlement), and FTC v. Publishers Clearing House LLC ($18.5 million settlement). Harry is also an accomplished user experience practitioner, having worked for organisations that include Smart Pension, Spotify, Pearson, HMRC, and the Telegraph newspaper.