Don’t finish, win

Customers should “win” rather than “finishing” or “buying.” Tap into the fear of losing out by describing events as competitions rather than as lotteries.


  • Sales reward bargain hunters; the people who go specifically out of their way to find cheaper items rather than just stumbling upon them by chance. They like to feel they’ve won, that there was an element of skill, rather than feeling like they were lucky.
  • In 2008, eBay’s ad campaign was “Don’t just shop, win!”
  • Groupon’s tag line is “Find great deals on fun things to do.”


What’s the difference between a lottery and an auction? When you look at the fMRI images of people winning either a lottery or an auction, the same reward centers light up. But, when people don’t win, things look quite different. The brain activity in these reward centers decreases much more when losing an auction than losing a lottery. In fact, the more the activity decreases, the higher the likelihood that someone will bid more for the auction item than it is actually worth.

In other words, when the activity has an element of skill or competition (auctions), people feel more of a sense of loss than if it was purely luck-based (lotteries, sweepstakes). They will do whatever they can to reduce this fear of losing out.

How to use this pattern

  • Play upon the fear of losing out. Make people aware that their skill or perseverance determines their success.
  • Introduce a (manageable) challenge that must be completed to obtain the “prize.”
  • Even for plentiful items, make people “qualify” to purchase them.
  • Manipulate availability variables such as time, quantity, or escalating cost in order to trigger fear of losing out.