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Making people register before they can make a purchase is a needless obstacle to put in front of customers, and has been shown in various surveys to be something that web shoppers dislike, and cite as a reason for checkout abandonment.

Plenty of retailers are still insisting on customer registration though, despite the potential for reducing abandonment rates and increasing profits by removing this step.

I've been having a look at some of the top e-commerce sites in the UK to see how many are still insisting on making shoppers register...

Online shoppers hate having to register as it's one more step to go through before actually making the purchase. Most of the information needed to create an account for a customer will be asked in the checkout process anyway, so why not get the purchase first and think about registration afterwards?

Also, web users have plenty of passwords to remember already without asking them for more. Returning customers may forget their passwords and will therefore be forced to go through the process of resetting it, yet another barrier to purchasing.

I've looked at the top ten UK e-commerce sites to see if they insist on registration, loosely based on Hitwise's February Hot Shops list of UK e-tailers by number of visits, though I've excluded travel sites from my sample.

Amazon

You have to register before checkout on Amazon, first entering an email address, then confirming it on the next pages, as well as providing your name and setting a password. It is annoying, but Amazon is probably better positioned to get away with this than other retailers. 

Amaxon register

Argos

Argos has a much better approach to the registration issue; while a form is provided for users to login, new users aren't forced to register before they proceed to the checkout.

It also informs users that they will be offered the chance to register if they wish further along in the process, which is a smart move.

Argos checkout

Play.com

You have to register on Play.com, entering an email address and password twice:

Play.com register before checkout

Tesco Direct

There's no way you can but from Tesco without registering first, and the process is pretty annoying. After first entering and confirming my email address and postcode, I then have a huge registration page, asking me for name, address and passwords, as well as confirming that I have read the terms and conditions, 11 compulsory fields in all.

Tesco registration

This is way too much, and I suspect that many smaller e-tailers would never get away with this sort of over-complicated registration process.

Marks and Spencer

No chance of buying from M&S without registering:

M&S register before checkout

Next

There's little chance of me getting past the homepage on the Next website, thanks to the unwanted music I'm forced to listen to, but even if I did get near to the checkout, then the registration process would force me to bail out.

Next registration

While Argos, another catalogue retailer, can do without its registration process, Next even asks for customers' birthdates, while insisting that they pay £3.75 for a Next Directory before they can qualify for free delivery.

Currys

You have to register to buy from Currys, but at least the benefits of registration, order tracking, special offers, and saving time in future, are summarised for potential customers to tempt them to sign up.

Currys registration

ASOS

You have to register before the checkout on ASOS, though it also gives some reasons why it might be a good idea.

ASOS register before checkout

If you are going to insist on registration, then keeping it brief by simply asking for an email address and password is the best way to do it. ASOS asks for too much information though, which may deter some shoppers. I can see that finding out birthdates and customer's gender will be helpful for future email campaigns, but is it worth making this compulsory?

John Lewis

John Lewis is one of the more usable UK e-commerce sites, and it does insist that customers enter an email address, but doesn't make password entry compulsory for new customers, instead giving customers the option of choosing a password and registering later in the process.

John Lewis checkout

Comet

Comet gets straight down to business with its checkout process, it doesn't even have the option of registering before purchase, therefore no obstacles at all for customers. It may miss out on the chance to get registered users, but it has obviously decided that a smooth purchase is more important.

So, that's seven out of ten e-tailers that insist that customers register before they checkout. Some, like Currys and Play.com, make it easier than others, but it is still an obstacle that could easily be removed, as shown by Argos, Comet and John Lewis.

In his blog post on Monday, Paul Rouke talked about the need for retailers to optimise their existing e-commerce platforms to get the best conversion rates they can in the current economic circumstances, and registration is one area where small changes can potentially make a big difference.

Graham Charlton

Published 26 March, 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

Comments (18)

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Alia Formoy, CRM Manager at Dairy Crest

How about doing a study on how many registered customers prefer a quicker checkout process because on log in, their details are already saved?

Also, compare this to the number of people who contact customer services to ask about their order status because they didn't register on the site, and so don't have access to this info by virtue of logging in?

I'm not convinced by your argument here, as it's only looking at registration as a one-time barrier to purchase for people using that site for the first time. If the majority of ecommerce retailers insist on registration, yet are still remaining in the top 10 hitwise list - surely this means that the benefits of registration to both the customer and the retailer outweighs the barrier to first time customers? In my experience, registration leads to better customer retention for the people who do register, but I'd like to hear if others have experiences that disputes this.

over 7 years ago

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Christian

To an extent all online purchases require some kind of registration somewhere as delivery and purchase details are always required. Agreed not full registration but still form filling.

over 7 years ago

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David Fiske

Fully agree with Alia Formoy's points. You've looked at the largest online retailers here where registration is almost a given. Repeat orders are also very much likely with these retailers. For example, I've yet to come across someone who has only ever ordered one item from Amazon.

Perhaps it's worth looking at smaller sites where repeat purchases are less likely.

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Alia - Though it can speed up the process, logins can also be a barrier to purchase for returning users if they have forgotten passwords and have to wait for a reminder.

I'm not saying that e-commerce sites shouldn't have registration options at all, just that it shouldn't be placed before the checkout process, and that, ideally, it should be optional.

I think the examples from Argos and John Lewis, where users have the option to regsiter as part of the checkout process, are much better for users than the forms shoppers are required to fill in on sites like Tesco.

David - I agree that this is probably more of an issue on smaller sites, and that is something I may have a look at. The idea was to see what the big sites are doing, and see if it could be improved upon.

over 7 years ago

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Jason Puddephatt

Why did were travel sites excluded from the sample?

over 7 years ago

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Jason Puddephatt

Why were travel sites excluded from the sample?

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Jason - I didn't look at travel sites as, since the registration process has to more more complex for booking holidays(entering passport details, details of each passenger etc), it wouldn't have made for a direct comparison with retailers like John Lewis.

over 7 years ago

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Will Huggins

There is little mention of the customer benefits to registering e.g. protection and management of personal information, easy track and trace.

The isn't any real world examples to support this point. Many years ago when managing the wine direct site for a leading grocery retailer, I got obsessed that registration was a big barrier and needed to be at least put at the end of the shopping journey. I managed to get the investment needed to change this only to find conversion increasing by 0%.

My advice - be aware of barriers to conversion but be careful about knee jerk assumptions on how to fix it!

over 7 years ago

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James

Loginless checkout does provide for capture of customer details if one assumes billing address equals customer address which is the case most of the time. Forcing people to complete onerous registration pages does put off new customers and we have had evidence from implementing abandoned basket emails that some object and will go elsewhere. For smaller retailers without big brand recognition or those selling readily available products, ease of checkout is crucial, customers are not that loyal.

over 7 years ago

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ballon etailer

You don't have to register your details at our etailer (important occasions), however the option is there and over 90% of users do register. People kind of expect it

over 7 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

I'm with Graham, heart and soul.

our view is get them to buy first, with a highly optimised checkout and then give them the option to register using the details that they've already entered.

Our clients can take repeat orders without the customer even having their card details too - now that really does help conversion.

We know it's the case - our worst client has a checkout completion rate of over 60%.

it's not rocket science, just requires a bit of common sense - well done Graham for showing some.

over 7 years ago

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Alia Formoy, CRM Manager at Dairy Crest

Thanks for your reply Graham. What concerns me about this article is that is doesn't look at the overall impact of this (potential) change.

I would advise testing before and after to determine what cost or benefit this has had to the business. For instance, yes, you may get x% more first time customers but then have no means of retaining those customers - so it seems like a short-term gain. Would you see a drop in repeat customers instead? Now, I'm not saying you would, but I think it's worth testing and looking at all of these metrics rather than simply focusing on first time buyers alone.

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Alia,

I think you're right that any changes should be tested and a decision made that it based on firm evidence.

Perhaps I should have made it clearer that I'm not against the concept of registration per se, just making it compulsory before shoppers can checkout.

Giving users the option to as part of the process means that they can still have the benefits of registration on repeat visits.

Also, I think registration is made far too complex on some sites when all that is needed is an email address and a password.

over 7 years ago

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Tim Leighton-Boyce

I was very interested to see Will's comment. Instead of relying on what visitors to sites say they would do when asked in a survey (or what received wisdom says they will do) he refers to a test. On his site the guest checkout brought no improvement.

I wish there was more data on actual use available in the public domain, rather than opinions. But for obvious reasons almost none of us can share. Me included.

I work on the clickstream data and survey comments across several e-commerce sites.

All bar one require an email address and password at the start of the process. None have yet felt able to justify the cost of building a test 'guest mode' parallel checkout.

All also have conversion rates far above the 2% which is often repeated as if there could be such a thing as a meaningful average e-commerce conversion rate.

However I also know from clickstream and survey comments that difficulties with log in are a significant and perpetual problem for returning customers. And the survey comments do reveal a small trickle of people saying "why do I have to give you a password just to buy something?" But it's not one of the major themes.

If I was starting from scratch I would follow the advice here and ask for the email later in the process and the password right at the end when the site could "sell" the virtues of storing the information. But I don't yet know if it justifies the high cost of restructuring an existing checkout. Are those seven major retailers really making such a big mistake?

How can we move this subject forward, I wonder? Has anyone got any data they can share, please?

Tim

about 7 years ago

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Pete

Registration is a barrier which can deter people, however once registered it can be an encouragement for shoppers. If you have already registered with a shop and have bought before you can simply log in and buy without having to enter card details etc again, thus saving time. As a few people have said it makes a big difference the size of the retailer, if they are well known and successful they will be looking to retain customers for repeat sales.


Surely the best thing to do is to have a log in option, to make it easier for registered customers to buy quickly, but also have it open so you can buy without registering/logging in, then give shoppers the option at the end, simply by saying something along the lines of "would you like to register so you don't have to enter your details next time" This shows the shopper a benefit and puts them in the mind of shopping again

about 7 years ago

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Mark Bolitho

Testing, is, of course the way to decide which route to take. It is difficult to find industry data so it's really down to the individual organisation to run their own.

The advice i gave in my earlier post is the result of a continual process of testing on several client sites and development of our platform, but as an indication of the unpopularity of 'register to buy' sites why not ask a small sample of friends the next time you have a dinner party?

I'll reiterate that our clients have, at worst, checkout completion rates far in excess of the 40 (ish)% average - the worst being 63% and the best, 89%.

They all have a high level of repeat custom too, and we find that they're often complemented on how pleasurable it was for the customer to give them their money, and because of that fact they'll come back and do it again because it only takes 4 clicks even if they don't register.

Just give people the option and let them choose. if there's a perceived benefit, they just might do your bidding, but try and force an issue and people will be people and may choose to go elsewhere.

Mark.

about 7 years ago

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Tim Armer

I may be cynical but isn't the reason that customers are asked to register is to make life easier for the data analysts so that the can try to calculate visits / purchases by unique customers?

Obviously basic data protection intervenes and mandates registration + log-in when purchase history, repeat order and card wallet based facilities are offered.  However, too often, I've found it to be the unique customer identification that's made clients demand registration.  This error can then be compounded by asking customers to use a username rather than email address and then wonder why there are so many registrations for the same name and address set.  Data analysis is meant to produce actionable trends not 100% accurate data, so if we miss a few customer relocations is it the end of the world?  In any case many loyal customers will register if they can see the benefits and not have to rekey all the details each time they order.  The first step to getting the loyal customer is the first order: don't put them off!

about 7 years ago

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mark Bolitho

I wonder how many retailers ask people to register with data quality in mind? Not many I'd imagine. even if they engage in offline marketing there are other ways for them to segment customers - postcode, order frequency etc.

No, the purpose of an e-commerce site is to sell and that's the end of it - everything else is secondary, including the quality of customer data.

Of course, it's a big bonus if it's good, but the number 1 is to measure conversion rate, and understand how to increase it.

Depends what's required: better data or more sales. All the evidence is there to say that registration hinders the latter. But, as usual there are those that ignore basics. Either that, or they simply use a badly designed e-commerce platform that can't be changed.

Mark.

about 7 years ago

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