Countdown timers can be a great marketing tactic at any time, but in busy retail periods, they can be even more effective than usual.
To show this, we looked at retailers using countdown timers before and during Black Friday 2018.
Countdown timers can be used by online retailers to add a sense of urgency to the customer journey by highlighting key information to shoppers.
This might be how long is left before the end of a sale, or a deadline for next day delivery.
These can be key details that affect customers’ decisions to make a purchase, and persuade them to act more quickly to avoid missing out on a good deal, or to make sure they can receive their order faster.
As we’ll show, the use of countdown timers can be a very effective tactic for retailers, and one that is also very simple to implement.
In this guide, we’ll look at how retailers can use countdown timers on websites and in marketing emails to persuade customers to make a purchase, and also to keep them well informed about key details like delivery deadlines.
We’ll also look at some data from SaleCycle clients using countdown timers, and how using them during busy periods like Black Friday can boost conversion rates even further.
Why Countdown Timers Work in Ecommerce
Creating a sense of urgency can be a powerful marketing method which pushes shoppers into making a faster decision on a purchase they’re considering, using the fear of missing out as a way to drive sales.
There are several ways to employ urgency as a sales tactic. For example, showing that stock levels are low for certain items means customers have to act fast, or having time-limited promotions, which is where countdown timers can help.
In essence, countdown timers tell customers that if they want an item at the price they see, or to be delivered within a certain timescale, then they need to move fast.
It’s a sales tactic, but it’s also a way of conveying useful information to customers, which may help them make a decision.
Countdown timers are a clear visual cue, and this is what makes them so effective. It conveys the information faster and more clearly than text would.
It can work well too. Here’s an example A/B test from ConversionXL with two versions of a landing page.
The first version just has the basic offer and price:
The next version shows how many items had already been bought, and adds a countdown timer with a deadline for downloading. This version had a conversion rate almost three times higher than the original.
How Countdown Timers Can be Used
The power of the countdown timer is that they can see the ticking down of the clock and this adds extra urgency in the customer’s mind.
They can actually see that time is running out and, if the product is good and the offer compelling, this becomes a factor in their purchase decision.
The key with countdown timers, as well as with the general use of urgency in marketing, is that they offer useful information to customers – that a sale will end soon, or perhaps that they have an hour or two left to order if they want to receive items the next day.
The obvious place to use countdowns is where customers are considering a purchase, which includes areas on-site where they are considering a purchase, such as product pages or during checkout.
For example, countdown timers can be used to highlight delivery cut-off times, tempting customers to order so they can receive items more quickly.
Countdown timers can also be displayed on site, triggered by different types of customer behavior.
For example, a message using a countdown timer can be displayed when a visitor lands on a page, or has been inactive for some time. They can also be shown when a shopper is about to exit the site, or when they have clicked a specific link or target areas within a page.
Countdown timers can also be highly effective in marketing emails, including cart recovery emails.
In this context, the email reminding customers of the products they left in their shopping cart can be even more persuasive with the addition of the countdown timer.
Messages can be tailored to the customer or segment, and can be displayed effectively whether the shoppers are using their laptops or smartphones for shopping.
Case Study: Using Countdown Timers Before and After Black Friday
Countdown timers can be a great marketing tactic at any time, but in busy retail periods, and time-limited sales events, they can be even more effective than usual.
To show this, we studied clients in the both before and during Black Friday 2018, one of the busiest ever sales periods for online retailers.
Using anonymized data from six clients, we compared a quieter week in November to the week in the run-up to and including Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
All the clients we studied used countdown timers, some in cart recovery emails, others in on-site messages.
The results demonstrate how, when sales and offers are time-limited, countdown timers can help to convey this information to customers more quickly and effectively, and how they can boost clicks and conversions.
For example, one travel brand used on-site remarketing messages advertising a rewards points offer. This was a time-limited offer, highlighted by the use of a countdown timer.
This message was shown on all pages where customers were idle for a specified period of time, or had shown an intent to leave the site, such as moving the cursor towards the back button.
The messages performed well before Black Friday week, but the effect of the Black Friday sales period led to a 30% increase in click rates and a massive 200% increase in conversions.
Another retailer used a 20% discount offer in its cart abandonment emails. Before Black Friday, this performed well, with open rates of 31.6%, click rates at 6.7% and conversion from click at 2.02%.
During Black Friday week, open rates dipped slightly, to 30%, but those shoppers that opened emails were more likely to respond. Click rates improved by 5.3% but conversion rates jumped by 220%.
Across all six clients we studied, the results proved the value of using countdown timers:
- The average uplift in click-through rates from emails and on-site messages was 30.49%.
- Click-through rates increased by an average of 231%.
- Overall conversion rates increased by 200%.
As we’ve shown here, using countdown timers can help retailers to boost conversions at any time, if the offers are compelling and the information is useful and relevant to shoppers.
The context is also very important. Showing messages on delivery when customers are considering a purchase, or when they have abandoned means the information is relevant to the customer at that point.
The Black Friday data highlights the added impact that urgency messaging using countdown timers can have in key sales periods.
Countdown timers help to convey the information on time-limited sales and delivery messages quickly and effectively, showing the benefits for customers if they act quickly.
Black Friday comes once a year, but there are lots of other use cases for countdown timers; other key sales periods like Christmas and Easter, marketing around bank holidays, or for snap sales and delivery offers.
The 2021 Ecommerce Stats & Trends Report
The latest data on ecommerce trends and online customer behaviour
Graham Charlton is Editor in Chief at SaleCycle. He's been covering ecommerce and digital marketing for more than a decade, having previously written reports and articles for Econsultancy. ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and more.