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How Countdown Timers Can Be Used to Drive Ecommerce Sales

How Countdown Timers Can Be Used to Drive Ecommerce Sales


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In this post, we’ll look at how countdown timers can be used on-site and in email marketing to drive ecommerce sales.

Adding a little urgency to your emails can have a positive impact on conversion rates. Countdown timers allow ecommerce businesses to show a countdown to sales starting or offers ending. This can also reduce basket abandonment, leading to increased sales.

During the busiest retail months online using a range of different email marketing techniques including countdown timers, live trends, cart abandonment and more helps to create a rounded digital strategy. 

What Is An Ecommerce Countdown Timer?

An ecommerce countdown timer is an active countdown clock which is set to expire at a given time stipulated by our clients. This can be used for a wide range of emails including sales starting, stores opening and exclusive offer expiry.

Should I Use Ecommerce Countdown Timers In Emails?

The short answer is yes, but they shouldn’t be overused. When implemented tactically to compliment an email strategy, countdown timers can see an increase in click-through rate of up to 30%.

Countdown timers are used best to add urgency to an ecommerce email message or on-site. A prime example would be Black Friday sales on-site and in email, creating an emphasis on getting the best deals possible before the end of the day.

4 Reasons Why You Should Use Countdown Timers In Ecommerce Email Marketing  

A countdown timer can be used in an email to drive online sales, it’s important to convey urgency to your customers to influence them to take an action or engage with your email or website. 

  • Create Urgency: you can use a countdown timer to show key times, dates and messages to your users. For example, a case study found a well-timed email with an integrated countdown timer telling customers the Black Friday sale was ending in 4 hours increased customer urgency. In fact, the results showed a 400% higher conversion rate. This is perhaps due to creating a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) but this also provided value, reminding the customer that cheaper prices were ending in a matter of time.  
  • Scarcity Principle: a countdown timer in emails can trigger the natural human response to scarcity. We saw this in the recent buying behaviour at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Leveraging the scarcity and urgency models in ecommerce emails using countdown timers and other marketing messages is important because it shows how popular and how in-demand a product or service is. Although, by doing this the product is no better or worse than competitors, the results of this type of marketing is still powerful.

  • Creating Value: SaleCycle data found that in 2020 the volume of online sales significantly increases towards payday. By reminding your customers when a specific sale or campaign starts and ends you are able to give your customers time to prepare and plan their budget in advance.

  • Build Interest: building interest is an important marketing strategy because the more interests means more eyes on the product or campaign. Creating a sense of anticipation is helpful because this can promote sharing and social media stickiness. 

Countdown Timers Best Practices For Ecommerce

Creating a sense of urgency can be a powerful method which pushes shoppers into making a faster decision on a purchase they’re considering.

There are several ways to employ urgency as a sales tactic – showing that stock levels are low for example – but here we’ll look at the use of countdown timers.

Countdown timers are a clear visual cue which tells customers that, if they want a product, they must take action within a specified period of time. This could be a countdown until the end of a sales period, for example.

The key when using countdown timers and similar urgency tactics, is that the information should be useful to the customer, helping them to make their minds up. A common use for countdown timers is to show how much time customers have left to order for next day delivery.

It can work well too. Here’s an example A/B test from ConversionXL with two versions of a landing page, one with the basic offer and price, the second with information on how many items had already been bought, and a countdown timer.

Ecommerce countdown timer test without urgency
ecommerce countdown timer test with urgency
The result was that the conversion rate of the second email was almost three times that of the first.

How Should Countdown Timers Be Used?

The power of the countdown timer is that the ticking down of the clock adds extra urgency in the customer’s mind. They can actually see that time is running out and this becomes a factor in their purchase decision.

The key with countdown timers, as with the use of urgency in general, 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 them is where customers are considering a purchase, and so they are more commonly used on home and category pages on ecommerce sites, as well as product pages.

For example, Amazon adds a countdown to delivery cut-off times to make its product page more persuasive.

The ability to deliver items quickly can be an effective sales driver, and combining this with a delivery countdown is something that Amazon has done for years. It’s worked on me plenty of times…

amazon countdown
SecretSales uses countdown timers on product pages, and here, on its homepage.

The business model behind this site is all about urgency and scarcity. There are time-limited offers on discounted designer goods, and the countdown timer adds to the urgency. When they’re gone, they’re gone.
Countdowns are also used once items have been added to the cart, giving people 20 minutes to complete an order.

Putting a timer on checkout completion isn’t recommended for everyone, but it can work when stock is limited.
secretsales timer
Countdown timers can also be extremely effective when used away from the site, in emails to customers who have abandoned carts.

For example, private hire company Addison Lee used countdown timers in emails advertising daily deals to customers who had abandoned the booking form.

The timer shows the amount of time left to claim the deal, adding that sense of urgency to an already effective tactic.

This is another example from Ernest Jones, using the countdown timer in the run up to Mother’s Day.

The timer showed how long customers had to order so that gifts would arrive in time, and their mothers wouldn’t be disappointed.

This was useful information for shoppers, and provided a nice prompt to nudge shoppers towards a purchase. The result was a 28% increase in clicks compared to ‘standard’ abandonment emails. 

In Summary

Countdown timers can deliver results, but there are some important points to remember:

  • Be honest. The urgency created by countdown timers works well, so there may be a temptation to use fake deadlines to push sales. However, this approach comes with the risk of alienating customers and reducing the chances of them returning to the site.
  • Don’t overdo it. This is a tactic that shouldn’t be overused, or customers will lose trust in the information. It’s only effective when customers believe the information they’re being given.
  • Provide useful information. It should be about helping the customer rather than considering this purely as a sales technique. For example, shoppers will have concerns about deadlines for Christmas delivery, and countdown timers can help to display this information as clearly as possible.

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Reviewed by Brad Ward
Written by Graham Charlton
— Updated on 31/03/2021



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Graham Charlton

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.