The Wienermobile is legendary.
Everywhere it goes, people take pictures of it, honk their horns, and generally act like children.
The picture above shows me posing like a twelve year old (I’m just about thirty years old). I was *thrilled* to see the Wienermobile on the street. I didn’t even care about the free hotdogs they gave out, I just cared about seeing the Wienermobile. After desperately trying to explain to my girlfriend that I wasn’t crazy and that the Wienermobile was really cool, I decided to just have my picture taken and move on….but it got me thinking: Why did I get so much joy out of a hotdog shaped vehicle?
The answer to that question is actually very relevant to user experience. Not only is the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile unique, it is also rare. At present there are only eight Wienermobiles in existence, and not all of them are roadworthy. A few are in museums, while the rest drive around the country promoting Oscar Mayer hotdogs. So unless you are planning to see the Wienermobile at one of its known appearances, you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time to ever catch one. (Hint: You can track the Weinermobile here!)
Scarcity makes for great excitement. When I came out of the train station in Chicago and I saw the Wienermobile, I knew I was seeing something rare. I knew that there were very few Wienermobiles and that I was lucky to be standing next to one. Creating scarcity can be very beneficial to user experience.
Dribbble.com, for example, does not let just anyone post on their website. Instead, they require an invitation. The designers of that site do not want to compromise quality by including too much quantity, so they have created scarcity. Seeing the work on Dribbble’s website, you know you are seeing something that not just anyone can do. You know that you are seeing only the people who are “good enough” to warrant an invitation from the site. The scarcity attracts users who both want to see the best-of-the-best and those who want to join the ranks and somehow get an invitation from a member. This has led to contests, campaigns, and all sorts of wheeling and dealing as the world’s best graphic designers want the publicity that comes with showing off their Dribbble screenshots.
Another website that is also built on scarcity is Groupon. Groupon’s deal-of-the-day type of website defines a single deal and basically says “First come, first serve” to whoever signs up for
the deal. If every single person could benefit from the deal, then logging in day-after-day would be unnecessary. Rather, only up to a certain number of users will benefit from the deal
while others on the outside-looking-in will be unable to benefit. As a result, Groupon users have gone so far as to request a VIP service that allows them access to the deals twelve hours earlier than their normal user counterparts. These users have paid extra money just to try to capitalize on the scarcity. If, for no other reason, scarcity can help improve web return on investment (ROI). For user experience professionals the main goal is usually to improve the experience of the people who visit a website or download an application, but to stakeholders the most important thing is usually ROI. Additionally, scarcity is one of the main economic principles that drives up prices. If there were an abundance of diamonds in the world, would they really be worth thousands of dollars just for tiny specks? Understanding how the principle of scarcity fits economic models can help even startups begin to become profitable. Both Groupon and Dribbble were small local-based startups that turned in to highly profitable companies because they harnessed the power of scarcity.
Much of our understanding of web economics today is stemmed from the idea that if we give something away for free, we can increase traffic. If we increase traffic, then we can somehow tap into this traffic through advertising or maybe a “freemium” model. This idea works and it has been shown to work again and again. (On a personal note, I sometimes dream of having so much traffic to my blog that someone would actually pay me to write this stuff!) There is another model, however, that might just be the key to the future.
Private clubs are intriguing and they spark curiosity for the simple reason that they are private. Few websites have really been able to capitalize on this concept in a way that makes them private enough that people want in, but not so private that people feel like they can’t get in. The Dribbble model of creating a private community has been successful, but the response and financial success that could come from starting a process with a “private club” type of design has yet to be fully tapped. Creativity and “members only” could go hand in hand and scarcity could be the new “freemium”. It’s a fascinating concept to consider.
In the meantime, I will continue to act like a child when I feel lucky enough to spot the Wienermobile….and on that note, I leave you with this: