This Is How Manipulation Is Used in Today’s Product Design

Neuroscience can be helpful in understanding how certain design decisions affect how people react to it.

Neuroscience can be helpful in understanding how certain design decisions affect how people react to it. Carl Heyerdahl/Unsplash

Scarcity creates a sense of urgency and a fear of missing out. There are a variety of ways to create this sensation in your visitors. Let’s take for instance a limited number of items for purchase.

In this article, I’ll go over six manipulation techniques that are used for both physical products and digital ones.

Selling something for a limited time

Selling something for a limited time. Urban Outfitters/Author provided

This approach can take a couple of different forms. Let’s discuss the more widely use of this example: sales. Just about any type of sale comes with a quick disclaimer that it won’t last forever. Taking a look at Urban Outfitters’ website they have two sales going on. One that end’s today for 25% off T-shirts and another one ending April 3rd for 30% off household items. Both of those sales create a sense of urgency and a fear of missing out on the good prices.

Countdown incentives

Some products display a countdown timer to further ingrain the sense of urgency on visiting customers. Jason Zook often launches his online products sporadically, occasionally, and, more importantly, for a limited time. At the time of this writing, Jason Zook partnered with his wife, Caroline Kelso Zook, to provide and promote Buy Our Future. The product is only available until April 11th.

Countdown incentive. Buy Our Future/Author provided

Buy Our Future is a bundle of all the digital products the couple has ever created and will ever create in the future as well, hence the name of this product bundle. As you browse the landing page for Buy Our Future there is a very prominent countdown that follows you along. It’s impossible to miss it and its placement which is right next to the main call to action, to buy the bundle.

Use of scarcity Buy Our Future/Author provided

Another great thing Caroline and Jason are doing is using a limited number of editions. There are only five available packaged for the most expensive option which also includes the couple working with you directly. The use of scarcity here is fantastic, specifically because one of those has already been purchased.

Learning from Amazon

Amazon takes the countdown idea a step further. They use a very short countdown of usually a few hours, like 14 hours and 32 minutes or 4 hours and 4 minutes. However, they couple this countdown timer with a value proposition. If you order in the next 3 hours and 2 minutes and choose the One-Day shipping option, you will receive this item tomorrow. That’s extremely powerful. Amazon is telling the customer “Do you want this? You can have it right now! Order it right away and we’ll get it to you right away.”

Learn from Amazon. Amazon/Author provided

It’s a pretty smart way to play on people’s sense of urgency and overcoming the fear of missing out. If you want the item, you will get it right away and you will not have to worry about missing out at all. You won’t even have to wait that long to receive it either. As far as playing on people’s emotions and fear, Amazon knows exactly what to do. They even tell you if there is a limited amount of items in stock. There are only 4 of these duck-faced pouches left.

Fear of paying more

I’ve come to learn about this marketing and selling technique called Bumpsale from Paul Jarvis. He too often promotes a launch of a product ahead of time letting his customers become aware of the upcoming sale. On the day of the sale, he sends a link and people go to buy whatever he may be selling. The awesome thing about the bump sale technique is that it increases the sale price of the product with each sale. For example, the first customer pays a $1, the second customer $2, the 150th customer pays $150 and so on.

Fear of paying more. Bumpsale/Author provided

This technique is extremely persuasive. If you knew that a brand was going to have a bump sale or a product you wanted to buy, you’d want to get in there as early as possible. The above screenshot shows of an example you can try yourself from the Bumpsale website. As you can see 7050 people have tried out using the demo because the current price of the product is $7050.

Upsell at the right time

Upselling is becoming more and more popular technique to drive more revenue. Upselling is a technique that aims to sell a more expensive option, additional features or any add-ons of a product or service. It’s best used while a customer is already checking out. At that point a customer is on their way to giving you money; mentally, they have committed to buying the product or service and are about to give you their money. That’s why it’s a perfect place to show them the upgrade or the additional features.

Upsell at the right time. Virgin America/Author provided

Airlines and hotels use this technique all the time. In this example, I’m booking a flight from San Francisco to Boston. My base fare is $297.40 and it includes absolutely nothing. If I want to add upgrades like additional baggage, a reserved seat, or even a better seat I have to pay more. At this point, as a customer, I know I am going to Boston with Virgin America. There is even a whole bundle which “saves you 30-50%” depending on how many of these luxuries a customer wants to buy.

Does this website look familiar?

The last piece of advice I have for you is to follow web standards and conventions. Visitors, users and customer will be quickly turned off by designs that don’t look familiar to them. Visitors make a quick and snap judgment about a website in as little as half a second, sometimes even less. Their brains judge if what they are looking at is similar to their past experiences. Therefore, creating something that reinvents a wheel will turn people off.

You’re free to use your own aesthetics. But keep the user experience as simple as possible. People such as you, me and our potential clients don’t like to think when they go online. That’s when they close the website and never look back. Navigating an odd layout or an unfamiliar website is mental energy that no one is willing to do. Especially, if you are trying to ask them for their money and to buy something of yours. Make it as seamless and as painless as possible. Stick to current web conventions. It will go a long way in keeping the minds of your potential customers free from over thinking. Keep them comfortable and they will stick around longer. It’s not sale tactics such as a bump sale but it goes a long way in using neuroscience to make sales.


Neuroscience can be helpful in understanding how certain design decisions affect how people react to it. It’s especially helpful when you are trying to sell something or get people to sign up for your cause. The six different ways described in this post are a great start to thinking about design from more scientific perspective.

Tomas Laurinavicius is a traveling lifestyle entrepreneur and blogger from Lithuania. He writes about habits, lifestyle design, and entrepreneurship on his blog and weekly lifestyle design newsletter. Tomas is currently traveling the world with a mission to empower 1 million people to change lifestyle for good.

This Is How Manipulation Is Used in Today’s Product Design