Growth.Design Case Study #016

How To Ethically Use Scarcity To Increase Sales

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Uber Eats:

Pro tip: Use landscape mode!

It's one of those nights again...

Where I completely lose track of time while working...

And forget to eat!

Time to see what's in the fridge!

Uhhh... empty.

Time to see what's in the fridge!

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—Perfect timing to try out Uber Eats...

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Excellent! My address is already there.

I know this behavior is expected by now—


Hmm... what's this?

Ask for utensils? But I don't need it...

—But it still saves me a LOT of psych... Especially when I'm starving!

Personalization = Reduced Churn

Using previous experiences and data to craft a better experience is key to user retention.

Your users are evolving. They're growing with your platform every time they use it.

So, make sure your product leverages past behaviors to remove repetitive and unnecessary steps. 1

1Growth.Design, Airbnb Case Study (2019)

...And why talk about utensils now? I just opened the app.

Let's see... {TAP}

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Ok, single-use plastics are bad...

...So how can I not receive any?

This initiative is great, but the experience is a bit clunky:

1) 👀 Small text.

2) 📚 Lots of context to say, I won't receive any more forks.

3) ⏱ Bad Timing? Opening the app vs. finalizing an order.

4) 🤔 Ambiguous CTAs: Ask? No more clutter? 

Finally, it doesn't feel like I'm doing something for the environment

—but still... Hats off to Uber, changing defaults for our planet!

Ah! I guess it's the new default...

Power in the Defaults 

Every choice has a default. Doing nothing is a default.

And people are more likely to keep things the way they are – maintaining the status quo and not take action to change things.1

That's why making a conscious choice for all defaults in your product is so critical.

1Brainy Business, Defaults: Why The Pre-Selected Choice Wins More Often Than Not (2018)
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 Pushing free deliveries with false scarcity...

 Uber is trying to manipulate users here... That's insulting.

Back on the home screen... We have food to order!

Hmm... What's this small timer?

Oh... wait.

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Haha! Oh my... That's why they have the countdown, so people can share deliveries!

...I completely missed it !!!

Well, to my defense... They could have been way more explicit.

Which brings me to—

Positive Scarcity

People want more of those things they can have less of.1

Unfortunately, businesses have been using this psychological bias without any regard to users, crossing a lot of ethical boundaries.

However, Uber Eats found the right angle: using a real limited resource (timing of deliveries), they are convincing new users to share the same restaurants as past users. Bravo!

1Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (2006)

Branding vs. Sales

Uber users believe in the sharing economy.

And when you can remind those users what they're a part of, their beliefs and loyalty grow even further.

Here, Uber prioritized the wording of quick sales, which is useful short-term. But in the long run, people will stay for what they believe in.1

1Jasmine Bina, Belief Is The New Benefit (2019)

—this experiment:

A simple wording adjustement 👉

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Just found my faaaavorite meal: dumplings!

Let's do this...{TAP}

So after taking a minute to digest all of that, I still needed to find a restaurant!

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Hmm... That doesn't quite feel like a food menu...

—and why show the restaurant address?

I'm ordering!?

Oh! Only 2:41 left... 

I need to hurry if I want those dumplings!

Scrolling down...

They wasted a lot of space.

It takes more than 2/3 of the screen... before we start seeing some food choices—

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Hmm... Why do I have this feeling of picking food in a "dry" desert... 

What if...

We tried to make people excited about the food they're about to order!


Here's a quick experiment:

1) ⚙️ Optimized space moving the restaurant info on top.

2) 👁 Hiding address in "More Info" to reduce overload.

3) 🧭 Quick filters to facilitate navigation.

4) 🥟 Adding  juicy visuals to engage different senses!

Sensory Appeal

We are engaged by things that appeal to multiple senses.

The senses amplify one another when they are mixed. It's really powerful because users don’t perceive them as marketing messages.1

In this case, we'll use visuals but will also hint at the warmth and sent with a small video...

1Harvard Business Review, The Science of Sensory Marketing (2015)

A couple of dumplings and a soup later... Finalizing my order...

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Woah... 23 seconds left!

Let's order now... {TAP}

Wishing my payments info are one-click away...

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Oh nice upsell!

With some social proof too: People also ordered.


Hmm... Those Crispy Spring Rolls "sound" delicious 🙏

(ps: I added a picture to make you salivate too!)

Serial Position Effect

We have much better recall of the first and last items within a list.1

Here, I quickly glanced from top to bottom, pausing a little longer on the first item and the last.

Even if this is a "scrollable list," it'd be interesting to see if the placement of the Spring Rolls is entirely random?

I doubt it!

1IDF, Serial Position Effect: How to Create Better User Interfaces (2018)

Unfortunately, all those great patterns cost me one thing I didn't have—

Now that I think about it... Funny I picked this choice "under pressure".

You know why?


Custom User Flows

Users come from different entry points to your product.

And providing a custom experience based on where users come from goes a long way in helping them reach their goals.1

Unfortunately, here, the "upsell" pop-up came at the wrong timing. I should have been directed to the payment page directly since I had so little time left! 1

1NYC Design, How to Take Your UX to A New Level with Personalization (2018)

Psych Level

Customer Journey

Uber Eats comes to my rescue due to an empty fridge late at night!

Setting new defaults behaviors to minimize plastic waste is welcome, but the timing might have been off! 

Getting pressured by the countdown to save on the delivery fees... Is there a reason?

The experience of picking food is however very limited... You can appeal to a lot more senses!

Yes! Using scarcity to increase ride efficiency and reduce overall driving mileage.

Falling short of completing my order... Makes me wonder if the 5 minutes was real?

One last thing for you! 

📝 Don't Forget Your Cheatsheet

Get this free one-pager containing:

  • TO-DO: 6 key steps you can work with to ethically use scarcity.
  • INSIGHTS: All of the 7 psychological & UX insights covered here (with screenshots!)
  • EXPERIMENTS: 2 growth experiment ideas

Yes, I Want My Cheatsheet!

Here are the key moments in Uber Eats' experience...

Ordering Experience


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"Uber Eats - Scarcity"