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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7 Responses to “Required Registration: Top Ecommerce Usability Mistake?”

  1. Dan says:

    Interestingly enough, another ecommerce blog I’ve been visited posted a differing opinion, justifying the requirement to make customers register. Seems there’s a lot of opinions on this still!

  2. [...] 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). [...]

  3. Nick says:

    The difficulty is sorting out opinion from commercial fact. If you require registration, what are the metrics in terms of how many people refuse to do so? What commercial benefits does the company *actually* derive from the registrations? How many people register but are pissed off? Any of us can have opinions on the matter, but commercial organisations need some facts, which are hard to come by.

  4. I would start by looking at bounce rates on that page or in the registration funnel. I would also employ the newest form of visual analytics to see exactly where people are abandoning. Tape Failure, Robot Replay, and ClickTale are three such services that let you visually play back a user session – where the mouse was on the screen, what they highlighted, where they clicked, what they typed into form fields (even though they didn’t submit) and actual screen scrolling.

    I will always suggest asking for the registration AFTER the conversion and supplementing the request with an offer.

  5. I agree with Nick that opinion is not hard data, and to make it more complicated throw in all the different ways you can approach registration. You can have a very simple and fast required registration with just an email and password to get you going and accessing wishlist information, or just entering an email so that the merchant can send a quick follow up message if you abandon your cart to make sure everything was ok (and hopefully save the sale).

    I think Grokdotcom is on point that:

    “Now, I understand how valuable executives think it is to have these customer accounts, but — of the hundreds we’ve analyzed — how many retailers do you think actually tested whether requiring people to register pre-checkout is costing them conversions (read: sales)?”

    Because difference in industries and even the registration form design on individual sites complicate this, each retailer needs to do their own testing and analysis. Unfortunately the psychological elements are much more difficult to measure.

    Visual analytics sounds very interesting, is this a lower cost form of live user testing, where the user is unaware he is being observed, which makes the test all the more authentic?

    That would be interesting to also capture what customers are saying out loud (or cursing in their heads). Maybe in the next 5 years we’ll have that technology ;-)

  6. [...] Login to Order: I would agree with Get Elastic’s Linda Bustos that this is one of many e-tailers’ favorite usability mistakes. Requiring registration is very obnoxious, especially when you have yet to establish any [...]

  7. Another alternative (which is done by some shops) is to let the user skip registration and finish shopping. When you send the invoice to their email, you also inform them that an account has been created and provide their login/password in case they want to return. This way they don’t feel the pressure to make a choice b/w register or not. You simply create a new account for them and let. Just an alternative…

    And I would agree with Jason about the funneling. Such funnels can be easily set up and provide very useful insight on where exactly a shop is loosing the customer.

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