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Making customers register before reaching the checkout is something that a lot of e-commerce websites are still doing,  though some are beginning to remove this obstacle to purchase now.

In a blog post this week, Jared Spool has a great example of why this usability mistake should be avoided; a 'major e-commerce site' that added $300m to its annual revenues simply by removing the register button.

The unnamed site in question had previously added a form asking for shoppers' email address and password between the shopping basket and the checkout page, asking for previous users to enter their details from the last time and for new users to register.

This was enough to put off plenty of first-time shoppers who didn't see why they should have to register first, while plenty of existing customers couldn't remember details and were forced to go through the process of getting a password reminder or setting up a new account. Interestingly, it turned out that 45% of customers had multiple registrations on the site

The simple fix of removing the register button altogether and giving users the option of registering during checkout produced a 45% rise in the number of customers purchasing and the additional $300m in sales.

Seems straightforward enough, and there are plenty of surveys showing that customers dislike having to register, but there are still sites that do this. For example, after pressing the proceed to checkout button from the shopping basket on M&S you get this unnecessary page:

I've also found this problem when looking at the websites of Asda, Next, Boots and Currys. Perhaps these retailers should take a look at such examples and see what happens to their conversion rates when they remove this obstacle.

UPDATE: Three years on from this post, plenty of retailers are yet to learn this lesson, and are still making users register before checkout

Graham Charlton

Published 16 January, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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Clerkendweller

Companies are often overly keen to collect data.  In this example the quality of the collected data was very poor (multiple registrations) so may as well not have been gathered.  The metric of 'completed sales' is a much better aspect to monitor than whatever data customers had to provide during the registration step.

And, why collect personally identifiable information un-necessaily?  It will add to the effort of tracking, storing, transmitting and disposing of sesnitive data securely.

over 7 years ago

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Anonymous

It seems that some retailers are paranoid about fraudulent orders so they put in an extra step.

over 7 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

getting someone's email address is a normal part of taking an order - we all want to be emailed confirmations, and 'order on it's way' stuff.

The issue Graham points out is forcing people to create a login account, complete with password - and prior to the order being completed.

Interestingly, in looking at ROI user journey measurements, any extra technology that can impact within the Checkout is a genuine risk.

I've seen examples like 2% sporadic errors in what should be a simple postcode_to _address function: intended to save the user time, instead it pushed 2% out of checkout - because of a subtle software bug, that incorrectly said 2% of the time 'that postcode doesn't match'.

Because it's a sporadic error, nobody spotted it; there are no errors logged in the tech evnt logs becasue a valid page was served...  the fact that the call centre report every month a small number of people with postcode problems, was the only hint of a 2% loss.

Likewise, having to create a login account is an extra bit of technology that could reduce your ROI if it were to slow down... or throw sporadic errors.  (Creating a new account must involve some code to check for duplicates: check that emails are valid (at least at a domain level) etc)

So that's a few reasons to push Registration back to after order completion.

But as consumers, we may not be thinking at that point of coming back to the same retailer anyway... so are not motivated to go through the process.

(which I guess is why those sites force it before order completion  -they probably have followed an evidence-based route, that showed they get 100% of registration is they force it before order... versus 10% if it's optiional afterwards! there's lies, damned lies and statistics'!)

I guess a retailer needs to do the harder work, of following up with emails after the order, and offering some incentive for those willing to create a login account, as part of placing a 2nd order.

Deri

over 7 years ago

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Lena Cardell

I'd be curious to know the stats on how this affected multiple registrations for a single person. This matters less on a commerce site to the user than to the business (well except for sites with robust recommendation engines like amazon), but it's difficult to determine the consequences for a community oriented site if you make registration a more integral part of the content submission process and thus make it easier for people to create redundant accounts.

about 7 years ago

Chris Rourke

Chris Rourke, Managing Director at User VisionSmall Business Multi-user

Registering before purchase is one of the biggest experience killers on e-commerce sites.  Having personally seen scores of people encountering this problem on various sites in usability testing it is a consistent trend - people see it as an obstacle to overcome and with relatively little benefit to them.  As one person in a usability test told me "its a bit like old communist Russia - you had to go stand in a queue to get a voucher to let you stand in another queue to but what you want".  And the odd thing is - 95% of what they ask for in registration is exactly the same as what the person would be asked for to purchase.  Much better to let them buy it, make that a smooth experience, and then at the end (when you have their money) invite them to register and tell the benefits of registering clearly.  Choose a password and job done.  Its a point I usually make in training courses (including my usability & user experience course for e-consultancy) . 

But that is the logical ideal world, and I realise that the imperative for most retailers is to validate the purchaser as explained above. I know of a handful of retailers that (perhaps bravely , perhaps wisely) allow anonymous checkout or passive registration as I call it.  Would be interested if anyone knows of good e-commerce sites that allow this?

Chris

about 7 years ago

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iamkeir

If you're a new shop or you sell unique items then most, if not all, of your sales will tend to be one-offs rather than from returning customers so there is no real benefit to the customer to make them register - it acts as a barrier and is only really of worth to the seller (data capture etc.)

However, for more established stores, or those which sell items more likely to be purchased regularly (i.e. reptile pet food), optional registration means that returning/loyal customers can benefit from faster checkout processes and special deals (although the latter can be achieved via email newsletters).

I agree that registration can in most cases be an obstacle but I do not agree that it should be removed outright - it should be a decision based oneach individual case and, in any event, if you choose to have registration, it should definitely be optional.

Overall, though, the most important thing is to have a user-friendly checkout process which is clear and concise, regardless of any optional registration.

Here's to an internet filled with better checkouts!

almost 7 years ago

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Brian H

I believe that registration should be an optional feature at the end of checkout as one person stated above. When shopping online, it's very easy to add the item you want to your cart, then get to checkout only to find that you have to jump through hoops to purchase. Another checkout killer is not displaying all costs before you actually get to the cart. I've seen sites that make you register first before you know the final price of your order. It may be $100 before you register only to find that the company adds $20 shipping onto your order. These practices are not good. A smooth, easy path to checking out will keep customers coming back to your site and encourage them to create an account.

about 6 years ago

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Jackyln K

I would like to see actual data backing up Mr. Spool's anecdote regarding an extra $300million in sales. Very few companies make enough money in that range. It sounds exagderated/

almost 5 years ago

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jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj1111111111111111

so i still have to register to leave this comment, plus i have to read your blurred print, get over your selves,

over 4 years ago

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Chris Wheeler

I agree. These numbers seem excessive even for a store such as M&S. However, I also agree that the user does not always want to register their details. Any obstacle put in the way of buying quickly and efficiently can only detract from the user inclination to buy, in my view. Nice article.

over 4 years ago

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