Following up on previous posts about permission marketing and welcome emails for ecommerce websites, I’d like to share my personal experience registering for 87 accounts with the top online retailers and offer some tips for registration form design.
Your site may have several forms that ask for personal information – for email subscriptions, creating an account, entering billing information, requesting help, general contact, creating a wishlist or order tracking. It’s important to note that in my test I was taking initiative to sign up for an account by clicking “Register” or “My Account”. I did not reach these forms in the middle of a checkout process (required registration).
Popular Form Fields and Frequency
1. Password – 100%
Obviously this is a requirement for all sites, but 100% required users to invent their own passwords rather than sending computer-generated temporary passwords (which are terribly annoying). But Dell and Nieman Marcus failed to mention clearly that their passwords require at least one number until you fail at your first password attempt.
2. Repeat Password Field – 89%
Though it takes a small amount of extra time, this is recommended because it’s easy to make errors when you only see **** as you type. How frustrating for customers when they cannot log in because the password they *thought* they entered is wrong.
3. Email Subscription Option – 66%
Of the two thirds who took advantage of the registration form to ask for opt-in email subscriptions 57% pre-checked boxes.
4. Required First / Last Name – 54%
Unless you are not asking for a mailing address at the same time (for billing and shipping information), don’t require first and last names, because customers will have to re-enter this at a later time.
5. Required Address – 33%
I really don’t want to argue that for the sake of a short form, retailers shouldn’t require an address. Because billing and shipping information is essential to ecommerce, there is reason for having this information in the form, but I recommend making it optional (see below). 7% of retailers just asked for postal code – perhaps to notify registrants if they fall outside of the shipping area, or to collect demographic information. “Birds of a feather flock together” and your postal code tells a lot about your income.
eBags asks for postal code “for information on events in your area” in an “optional” section – but uses an asterisk. Why?
6. Confirm Email Address – 32%
This is recommended as it’s easy to mistype an email address. Incorrect email addresses create log-in problems and makes it impossible to send confirmation emails and other messages.
7. Security Question – 20%
As an alternative to sending you your login details via email for handy reference, some sites employ a security question feature — either by dropdown menu question or an open-ended “hint” field.
Jakob Nielsen did a study back in 2000 and found that the majority of users hated this feature. Get Elastic reader Adam H also shares his distaste for silly password reminders: “Inevitably, I can’t remember what answer I gave to the question ‘What is your favorite dessert?’ “
8. Benefits of Registration – 14%
Among the very few sites that reinforce why customers should take the time to sign up, the following benefits were listed:
- Faster check out
- Save multiple shipping locations
- Save multiple billing options
- Exclusive offers
- Order tracking
- View order history
- Faster customer service (reps can pull up customer info quickly)
- Save items to wishlist
- Save items in cart
- Check reward point balances
- Incentives for referring friends
- Birthday and holiday reminders
- Access across partner stores (GAP, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piper Lime)
Although some retailers get really creative with their benefits pages, I prefer bullet point lists – makes it easier to scan.
9. Username – 13%
Email addresses make fine user names — they’re easy to remember and unique. Because you need to have a user email addresses anyway, save them the trouble of trying 15 times to find a username that’s available, or having to remember their preferred handle appended with a bunch of numbers. Playing the username creation game is frustrating as it forces the user to re-enter password information every attempt.
10. Non-Canadian Friendly – 13%
There are at least two ways you can prevent Canadians (or other citizens of the world) from doing business with you. You can make your postal code field only 5 digits long, or you can include a dropdown menu of just US states.
11. Required Birthday – 7%
A few reasons you might ask this:
1. To segment your list 2. To verify the registrant is at least 13 years old 3. Customer relationship building – Macy’s includes a line: “In the future, we will use this information to send you something special”
12. Terms and Conditions – 6%
I noticed this is not very common among retail websites, though very common on other types of site registration. I’m interested to know what percent actually read these statements! 3% of sites used an “I am 13 years or older” checkbox.
13. Personalization Questions – 5%
The Disney Store, J.Crew, Bloomingdale’s and American Eagle Outfitters provided fields for optional personalized information like:
Disney communicates well that this information will be used to provide a more personalized shopping experience.
14. Captcha – 1%
Only 1-800-Contacts used a Captcha to make sure you’re human.
Note: iBuyDigital and Office Max required credit card information up front and were excluded from the study for this reason.
What’s The Ideal Registration Form Length?
Usability experts recommend keeping forms as simple as possible because the longer your form is, the lower your completion rate. Don’t ask for too much information. I see there being 4 reasons for this:
- Trust– The amount of information I give you correlates with how much I trust you to use this information responsibly, and that giving you this information somehow will benefit me. If I am signing up to create a wish list, I am not ready to enter my credit card information.
- Time– If a form looks overly complicated, I might not be that motivated to fill it all out if there is a shorter alternative (competitor I have done business with or have recently visited)
- Typos– The more fields to fill out, the more chance for error – especially with captchas and password fields, causing user frustration and abandonment
- Technical Issues – Programming errors and bad design (problems for international users, for example)
However, if address and billing information will inevitably be required to process payment and ship goods, it also makes sense to collect this information in one go. You definitely don’t want to double up on information in all your different forms. What’s the solution?
- Give users the option of filling in what they are willing to share with you
- Clearly state the benefits of providing this information now (i.e. this will make your check-out process so much faster)
- Distinguish required fields from optional fields with the conventional *
I like Macy’s form for a few reasons:
- Uses * to indicate required fields
- States short and sweet benefits to creating an account
- Birthday and gender are optional, but there is an incentive to enter birthday
- The postal code input field is long enough to accommodate 6 and 7 digit entries
- Customers have the option to also “Add My Card”
However, the faint “Add My Card” button is easily overlooked this way, and would be easier noticed if the fields were included on the form, only made optional. 1-800-Flowers’ makes the option of adding additional personal information (this could easily be a billing section too) hard to miss and provides a rationale for adding it to boot. But without using asterisks to differentiate required from non-required fields, many people will assume it’s a requirement.
Another option is to make the registration process very fast and simple, and take customers to an overview page where additional information can be added at any time, like Land’s End:
Lovely. The one beef I have with this design is the right hand sidebar looks too much like Google Adsense and may be ignored entirely.
The most annoying required section was Foot Locker’s survey. This is great for the marketing department, but if requiring this information is not bad enough, using the word “survey” communicates the customer is offering Foot Locker free market research. Customers need to see how any additional personal information is going to ultimately benefit them, not you.
Registration Form Usability Tips
- Make the email address the username
- If a password requires a number, clearly say so
- Ask user to confirm email and password
- Always distinguish required fields from optional with an asterisk
- Avoid security questions, instead send a confirmation email with login details
- Send welcome / confirmation emails within 24 hours if possible
- If you sell internationally, make sure your registration form is usable
- Don’t ask for more information than is required
- State benefits of registration using a bulleted list
- For unusual information items, explain how this helps improve customer experience
- Avoid hiding important information in graphics that look like ads or buttons that can be overlooked
- Allow customers to enter billing address and credit card information at a later date
- Don’t pre-check email opt-ins, and don’t send promotions without gaining permission