If you’ve ever broken a mental sweat reading demanding phone notifications around the holidays, you know exactly how powerful a sense of urgency can be when making a purchase decision. This powerful psychological driver has been employed since the marketing stone age, from manufactured FOMO to implying higher value through scarcity.

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday invite a virtual feeding frenzy of record-breaking mobile traffic and deal hunters, there is still an entire month left on the table until the holidays arrive. Traveling users, impulsive app downloaders, and last-minute shoppers are at their most engaged with their smartphones. If you know how to employ urgency within your mobile messaging strategy, you can dramatically boost engagement rates with notifications designed for immediate action.

1. Push Notifications — Inspire Action in a Few Words

The psychology behind urgency taps into our innate human desire for immediate gratification and the fear of losing out on exclusive opportunities. As the holiday season finishes unfolding, this psychological trigger prompts users to swiftly act on time-sensitive promotions, fostering a heightened sense of excitement and anticipation. Through carefully crafted copy, you can harness these triggers to not only capture users' attention but also remind them that this is a once-in-a-year opportunity to engage with your app.  

Creating a sense of urgency isn’t so much about selling something as it is begging the question, “Can you let this deal fall through your fingers?”

Revamping your push notification copy is probably the least resource-intensive way to boost last-minute engagement during the final sprint to the new year. Push notifications are the first thing you see when you pick up your phone. Whether you’re promoting a limited time offer on premium app features or looking for ways to drive users to holiday-themed daily challenges, you must be thoughtful with your vocabulary.

To properly take advantage of this high-visibility channel, your push copy needs to be equal parts actionable and specific. Remember, as the holidays get closer and closer, you are talking to users who are relying more on impulse than forethought.

Looking to become an expert in the art of emojis? Read our guide on how to use emojis in push notifications to learn the best practices.

Be specific and use an active voice with your last-minute push copy. Your users are being bombarded with dozens of “last chance” notifications from many of their apps — make sure yours cuts through the generic clutter of your competition. Sometimes the smallest differences in word choice can make a significant impact when creating urgency.

It’s the difference between:

“Your Holiday rewards are ready. It’s time to collect them!”


“Your holiday rewards are waiting for you. 4 hours left…Collect them while you can!”

Where the first is technically accurate, it inspires no excitement, implies no ticking clock, and leans on a passive voice. The second example says more or less the same thing, but instead implies an air of anticipation (and maybe even some mystery) by telling users their rewards are ready and “waiting” for them to take action. The second sentence uses an active voice (“Collect them” rather than “It’s time to collect”) and hammers the urgency home with a specific expiring timeframe and the inclusion of “while you can!”

Another approach to writing last-minute holiday push notifications is to adopt a more pragmatic angle. If you’re not going to be specific with your push copy, then be direct!

Rather than wasting valuable space trying to “sell” users, this app takes a more direct approach by leading off with one of its more practical offers. At this point in the year, people’s most valuable currency is not money, but time. By reassuring users that it’s not too late to get their orders before Christmas, it creates an instant sense of relief and, in only a few words, makes impulse purchases an easier decision than ever.

2. SMS — The Dark Horse Channel of Holiday Urgency

While the power of push, IAM, and email when working together can not be overstated, we want to focus on the one channel with a notorious reputation for capitalizing on urgency: SMS. Whether your users have downloaded your app or not, SMS is perhaps the most direct way to reach them on an individual basis and deliver impactful holiday messaging. And make no mistake, SMS is not just for delivering eCommerce promos. This channel is widely used by every vertical, from financial services to health apps, and everything in between.

As of 2023, marketers are finding success with SMS for some pretty compelling reasons…

The one-on-one communication style of SMS constantly sees this particular channel deliver extremely high open and engagement rates with 97% of texts being read within 15 minutes and click-through rates of over 36% on average.

A text message is delivered to users’ native text app, instantly giving it a higher priority than a one-off push notification piled on their lock screen. But with great access, comes great responsibility. It’s important to remember that you should only be sending timely, relevant offers to your audience with SMS, as too many of these notifications run the risk of irritating users and prompting them to disable notifications from your brand altogether.

A great example of using restrain with SMS is the sports betting app Betmate, which targets inactive user segments and limits the SMS messages they receive to once per week. By keeping their SMS sends to a minimum and focusing on users who haven’t participated in their app for a specified amount of time, Betmate ensures its notifications are purposeful and not a pain point.

To mitigate this, include personalized details in your SMS messages like the user’s name, the specific product they were browsing for, or a recent achievement within your app. When users receive a text addressing them by name and containing an offer relevant to their interests, they feel valued and like they are receiving a much more intimate offer than just another marketing email blast.

Examples of last-minute holiday SMS use cases include:

  • Personalized abandoned cart recovery messages
  • Bulk SMS promos targeting users who have not yet downloaded your app
  • Delivering exclusive last-minute flash sale promotions with redeemable codes
  • Sending transactional message updates to users who already converted to keep them in the loop about their purchases (while also keeping them engaged with anticipation)

SMS as a Supplementary Channel

The best holiday messaging strategy is the one that communicates with users across all touchpoints with timely and relevant information. With today’s automated cross-channel messaging tools, this approach is no longer reserved for enterprise businesses with enterprise budgets. It’s easier than ever for small to mid-sized businesses to get in on the action creating high-engagement user journeys.

For example, you may be running a holiday-themed email campaign to promote a discounted subscription for your app. Your in-app messages are already automated to send periodic reminders, targeting users who have not opened your app since the discount period started. You let your emails do the heavy lifting in terms of explaining the benefits of upgrading and you let your push notifications grab the attention of previously inactive users. But your existing users deserve the cherry on top. You send an SMS notification targeting an existing users segment on the last day of the discount period, giving them an urgent (and exclusive) 24-hour decision to make if they want to take advantage of the deal.

Alternatively, you may be running a limited-time experience in your mobile gaming app with push notifications sharing upcoming in-game events or holiday-themed challenges. As the event draws closer, you may use SMS alerts as reminders about the event start time, and provide additional details about participating. Once the in-game event has started, you may also use SMS notifications to prompt users to invite their friends using an exclusive referral code that expires in four hours.

To learn more about creating multi-channel experiences like these, explore OneSignal Journeys to learn how to start building your dream sequence… no coding experience required!

3. Abandoned Carts — The Ultimate FOMO Opportunity

As December progresses, users are inundated with increasing distractions and less time with each passing day, making unintentionally abandoned carts inevitable. A well-timed cart abandonment notification not only acts as a gentle reminder but also provides an opportune moment to infuse a sense of urgency. Users who have abandoned their carts have already displayed high purchase intent — these are the lowest-hanging fruits to boost last-minute conversions before the end of the Q4 blitz.

The average cart abandonment rate is 70%. That is a lot of money left on the table.

You have multiple channels at your disposal to tap into users’ innate desire to secure the best deals of the year. By strategically utilizing urgency in cart abandonment emails and notifications, you prime users for higher engagement, recover otherwise lost sales, and foster a sense of holiday excitement along the way.

This Time, It's Personal

Abandoned cart reminders will not be effective unless you show your users specifically what they’re missing out on. To do this on a user-to-user basis, you will need a customer engagement tool that supports customer tagging. By attributing customers with specific data tags based on which items they add to their carts, you can take that data and use it to make your email subject lines, push notification copy, and SMS reminders incredibly personalized. More often than not, the result is a very quick boost in sales.

Learn how to set up your abandoned cart tags to get started!

Now you don’t have to send a generic campaign to users saying “Hey! You left something in your cart, don’t forget to check out!” Instead, you can send a thoughtful and relevant message that combines your user’s name, specific item of interest, and a sprinkle of urgency in your marketing copy to seal the deal.

Some cart abandonment notifications may not even be for a traditional eCommerce shopping cart. For example, this notification for the SWRVE app applies the abandoned cart philosophy to travel booking. It does a wonderful job including “Prices are due to change,” implying urgency without beating its users over the head with heavy sales language.

The best part? Cart abandonment reminders can be used to re-engage potential users who aren’t using your app or aren’t even on your mobile site with web push notifications. Users can subscribe to these notifications with a single tap and receive reminders that resemble native push notifications, creating a seamless mobile-first experience. And they can be personalized in the same ways we described above!

Knowing When It’s Time

The best way to LOSE a customer who has left something in their cart is by sending them a reminder in the middle of the night! Just like we mentioned setting up customer data tags to target messaging around specific items left in carts, you can notify users at the times they are most likely to spare their attention. OneSignal’s custom time triggers allow you to set cart abandonment notifications based on time zone, time since last active in-app, and more to engage with users contextually.

We recommend sending your cart abandonment recovery notifications no later than 24-48 hours after a user’s last visit to your site or app. Early mornings (7am-9am) can be effective, as many people attentively check their phones as their work days are starting. As a general rule of thumb, avoid dinner time (5pm-7pm) — your notifications should be attention-grabbing but not explicitly disruptive to your users’ lifestyle.

Don’t be Afraid to Sweeten the Deal

You’ve personalized your abandoned cart recovery email and you’ve meticulously scheduled your reminder push notifications… but it still may not be enough!

Offering last-chance discounts on items in your customers’ shopping carts is one of the best ways to incentivize conversions for those late-season shoppers. Whether you’re offering free shipping, 20% off, or an exclusive bundle promotion, a well-timed discount can turn an abandoned cart into an irresistible decision.

Make sure, regardless of which channel you are using, to focus on urgency within your copy. This may take the form of a real-time countdown clock in your email campaigns, alerts including exclusive offer codes, or notifications that remind users of a dwindling inventory.

Get creative! FOMO comes in many forms:

  • “Last chance [User name]! Your [item names] are waiting, and the 20% discount ends in 2 hours.”
  • “[User name], time is ticking! Grab your [item name] before the 15% off deal expires.”
  • “Urgent: Your [item name] is in high demand! Get it before it’s gone!”
  • “Inventory running low! Secure your [item names] before they sell out.
  • “Act quickly! Your [item name] is part of a surprise flash sale – don’t miss it!"
  • “[User name], we saved your cart, but time is running out. Use this exclusive code (XMAS23) to complete your order!"

Urgency Made Easy With OneSignal Journeys

Ensuring your holiday messaging campaigns reach the right users at the right time requires a sophisticated cross-channel builder. OneSignal Journeys allows you to drag and drop your way to record-breaking engagement rates, all without requiring weeks of development time and engineering resources to get started.

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