“One ticket left!”- The price you pay for FOMO.

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is one of many emotions consistently being exploited by websites to influence your decisions when purchasing items online. Over time the use of psychological principles has grown significantly in E-commerce, and although it is true of many industries, few utilise psychology quite like sites that are involved in the resale of event tickets. These [secondary] sites consistently leverage your FOMO by enforcing a concept known as ‘scarcity’ to increase conversions and help you to temporarily abandon your rationality.

A quick look on any ‘Fan-to-Fan’ ticket exchange such as Seatwave, Viagogo or StubHub and you will no doubt encounter a huge variety of tickets for your favourite bands or teams priced significantly above face value. Many of us might claim that those prices are ridiculous and no one would ever pay that much, but the exchanges, also known as Secondary Ticketing sites, are masters at using behavioural psychology to coerce fans into buying tickets through these platforms. They are so successful in fact, that ticket resale generated over £1bn in the UK alone in 2016. So how do they do this? Urgency.


For any of you who have bought a ticket on exchanges, you will be familiar with alerts and messages such as: “only 1% of tickets left”, “2,571 people are looking at this event right now” and the oh-so comforting “2 mins 26 seconds remaining”. These are all stimulating a psychological effect known as the urgency principle.

Scarcity stats in motion

So what does urgency do?

When faced with an ‘urgent’ situation, the brain automatically favours acting quickly, and will momentarily suspend deliberate rational thought. According to behavioural psychologists, urgency is one of the most powerful aspects of human psychology.

By stimulating a sense of urgency in users, secondary ticket sites are able to reduce the amount of time you spend hesitating over prices and the type of ticket, and rush you through to purchase.

But how do they create a sense of urgency?

There are many tools used to stimulate the sense of urgency, however secondary sites primarily rely on the concepts of Scarcity, Time and ultimately FOMO (Fear of missing out).

  1. Scarcity

A large part of the urgency idea is based around a concept known as the scarcity heuristic- the observation that when a product or service is in short supply it assumes more value regardless of its intrinsic value. In layman’s terms: when you think something is going to run out, you want it more.

Example of pressuring pop up boxes

Exchanges will often leverage this knowledge by simulating a scarcity of tickets through constant messages and warnings. By bombarding you with reminders and alerts (some of which have no relevance to the number of tickets left OR the amount of people looking at the event), websites are able to generate the perception that the item is about to sell out. This in turn increases a user’s perceived value for the ticket which increases the likelihood of a completed purchase.

Another form of purchasing prompt

2. Time

Similarly to how movie producers use time sensitivity to increase the level of anxiety in a thriller (think self-destruct timer), many exchanges incorporate time to help hurry you towards a purchase. It is not however, the presence of time that is the issue; it is representation of passing time, which raises the level of urgency and thus compels users to respond to a website’s call-to-action.

Urgency illustrated

A example of a simple timer being used to rush a decision, with various triggers suggesting scarcity and high levels of competition. Source: Viagogo

In many cases, the time serves no functional purpose; as I wrote this blog I allowed my timer to run out on Viagogo, only to see the clock had been refreshed after it hit zero. Alas, most users do not want to take this risk and thus rush through to purchase.


The universally-known emotion sits at the core of many of the website mechanisms like this that make you willing to spend more.

Representation of popularity

Having made you aware how few tickets there are left, exchanges often simulate similar tickets being bought as you are viewing them. To the unsuspecting user, this would suggest that many other users are in-fact looking at the same event, and some of them are even buying the last few tickets! This is not the case; it is simply an animation.

Fictitious animations creating illusions of demand

An example of how the websites simulate other users competing for similar tickets.

You’re then taken further down the rabbit hole; having battled through the menus, natigated the queues and outsmarted the other users, you are faced with the exact tickets you were looking for which are not only unrestricted, but are also in the most popular area. Win! Then just to give you an extra pat on the back they remind you how popular this ticket is and how lucky you are to have the chance to buy it.

Reinforcing the popularity of a ticket

Once again, this is smoke and mirrors, and actually begins to build into a concept known as Loss Aversion, which is essentially the human desire to not lose anything. If framed correctly, the aversion towards losing something is actually greater than the desire to gain something. This leads to a familiar situation where you finally have a chance to purchase the ticket, and the abandonment of that purchase is actually perceived to be a greater loss than the financial cost of purchasing the ticket.

The final step

Now the final kick in the teeth is something that is by no means confined to ticketing, however you would be hard pressed to find them like this elsewhere. Booking fees, but more specifically, delaying the exorbitantly high fees until just before you have to pay.

This serves two purposes:

  1. By not initially declaring the fees, you are unable to assess the true cost of the purchase until the last moment. The lower price you observe and the associated uncertainty of the fees actually causes users to progress through the user journey and reach the purchase screen.
  2. If users only encounter the fees at the last stage, then they have already completed the arduous process of finding, queuing and selecting a ticket and this triggers a psychological paradigm known as Effort Justification. This is an individual’s tendency to place a greater value on a result which they had to work for, than the actual value of the result. Ultimately this significantly increases your likelihood of making a purchase.
Three progressions of sequential purchases screens and the information they omit until the very end

An example of how the various fees are staggered throughout the user journey, only revealing the true price once you’ve reached the card details page.


So hopefully this article has given you some insights for the next time you try and buy tickets, especially if you’re buying them on a secondary site.

Just remember, if its too good to be true, it probably is.