Required Registration: Top Ecommerce Usability Mistake?

While preparing their upcoming report Customer Focus Study, 2007, Future Now observed “nearly half of the top online retailers still require people to register before they checkout.

The issue is not whether site registration itself is a bad idea, there are clearly benefits to both customer and seller which I will mention in a moment. The question is: Why are ecommerce websites still making registration a requirement, and asking for registration before the checkout process — especially when most of the user’s information will be entered in a standard checkout process anyhow?

How Registration Benefits the Customer

  • Facilitates post purchase order tracking
  • Allows visitors to bookmark products for later / add to wishlists and so on
  • Enables one-click re-order convenience
  • Makes for a quicker checkout process next visit
  • Allows user to submit product reviews
  • Registrants may be entitled to loyalty discounts and other creative membership perks (you gotta motivate ‘em!)
  • Shipping and tax estimates are easier when the user’s zipcode is remembered
  • Makes it easy for B2B customers to open and maintain accounts for scheduled orders

The Trust Barrier of Registration

If the customer doesn’t understand the benefits they will receive from registering, then the whole process will just be annoying (Web users are notoriously impatient). Or they will get suspicious as to what you’re collecting their information for. Will you send them junk mail? Are they opening an account with you? Is this a membership program with a fee?

There are also usability speed bumps in the registration forms themselves. Inexperienced Web users wonder if they are supposed to invent a password or if there is an existing one they just don’t know. Inexperienced Web shoppers might confuse registration with a “registry” for weddings or other gifts. International users may also associate the word “registration” with a sex-offender registry or HIV-infected persons registry as a study conducted by Nielsen-Norman in 2000 showed with users from Denmark.

Registration Best-Practices

  • Do ask for an email address as the first step of checkout. This does not mean they are registering, but explain that without a valid email address, you will not be able to send an invoice or confirmation email
  • Give visitors the option to also register for an account, but don’t make it a requirement, and do this at the end of the checkout process
  • State all the benefits to the customer for registering, but try to make these benefits available without registering if possible (example, just enter your zipcode to see shipping and tax calculations). Remember that cookies can store a name and address without the user having to login. Providing a “remember your details” checkbox will do the trick
  • Link to your Privacy Policy and tell the visitor exactly what their information will be used for
  • Don’t opt-in for the customer. Leave the checkbox(es) blank and let the user control what he or she signs up for
  • Make it very easy to cancel, and clearly state that you will delete their records from your database upon cancellation

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