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Having looked at whether some of the UK's most popular online retailers are still making customers register before they checkout a couple of weeks ago,  I'm now going to look at the different options for dealing with the issue.

While I'm not in favour of sites making registration compulsory before entering the checkout, user registration does have its advantages; retailers can use the information to customise future emails, while from the customer’s point of view, logging in to the site avoids having to type in all their delivery and payment details again, making subsequent purchases smoother.

So what is the best way for e-tailers to deal with registration? I've been looking at a few different approaches to the issue...

  1. Compulsory registration before purchase

I think that making registration compulsory is an unnecessary obstacle to place in front of customers, but if e-tailers are going to do this, then making the registration process as simple as possible is important.

In a previous post I found that retailers including Tesco, Next, and ASOS had relatively lengthy registration forms, asking for details like birthdates, name and surname, contact numbers and more, all adding more of an obstacle to purchases. These retailers, with powerful brands and market dominance, may well get away with this, but I wouldn't advise any smaller online retailers to take this approach.

A better option, if you really want to make customers register first, is to keep it simple, as WHSmith has done. It is still compulsory, but an email address is all that is required, while the benefits, (easier purchase process next time, order tracking etc) are explained.

WHSmith registration

Optional registration before purchase

This is a good option as it offers all the benefits of registration to customers but without the drawbacks of the previous option i.e. it doesn't form a barrier to purchase.

If the benefits of registration are explained to customers, then plenty will still take up this option. Argos provides an excellent example of this here, offering the option to skip registration for the moment and sign up later in the process.

Users are reassured that, if they do want to set up an account, then they can do so later:

Argos - optional registration

Optional registration at or near the completion of the purchase

This is another good way of making registration easy and keeping it from getting in the way of purchases. Using it in conjunction with the previous method is one good way of doing it.

The Book Depository provides an excellent example; it doesn't even ask for users to sign up before they begin the checkout process, but instead provides the option after users have entered payment details.

It reassures users that they can register later in the process, and though an email address is taken as part of the form, an explanation is provided that the email is needed to confirm the purchase. This means that users only need to set a password to register.

Book Depository checkout

No registration at all

This is the approach taken by Comet, and certainly makes the checkout process a lot easier for customers to buy from the site without any hassle. From the basket page, shoppers are taken straight into the purchase process.

With this approach, instead of spending time entering details to create an account on the site, they are selecting delivery options and beginning the purchase. This means the checkout is shorter for customers, which should reduce abandonment rates.

Comet checkout process

Whatever option for registration an e-tailer adopts (except the Comet option obviously), it is important that customers understand clearly the benefits of registering.

Benefits of registration can include:

  • Faster check-out thanks to pre-populated delivery/billing information. 
  • The ability to check order status and track deliveries.
  • Services such as wish lists and saved baskets.
  • Access to additional services and benefits – promotions, discounts etc.
  • Personalisation of offers.
  • Joining a ‘community’ to leave reviews and opinions.

Insisting that customers register before they begin to purchase items can be the kiss of death for a sale, so I think only the bigger, more established retailers can still get away with this, and it isn't an approach I would advise, especially for smaller e-commerce sites. 

There are, however, some significant benefits to both customer and retailer from registration, and for this reason I think the option to sign up and create an account should still be provided, as in the examples from The Book Depository and Argos. It doesn't make it a barrier to purchase, and also forces retailers to explain the benefits in order to persuade shoppers that it is worth the effort.

The process itself should also be considered; a lengthy form will be offputting, so a simple, well-designed and intuitive registration form is essential. Better still if the registration can be blended into the checkout process. 

Graham Charlton

Published 8 April, 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 (7)

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Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

A great article Graham. It's interesting you've picked out The Book Depository as a good example - I've found many good examples of both usability and user experience with their shopping experience, and they are featured in my upcoming e-commerce training course for Econsultancy in a number of areas where they excel in.

As you also touch on, the importance of form design is another crucial factor in making the registration process (if a shopper does need to do this) intuitive and simple.

Finally as you say by providing the option to register as with The Book Depository and Argos "forces retailers to explain the benefits in order to persuade shoppers that it is worth the effort" - whilst not creating a barrier to purchase, an approach I fully advocate!

over 7 years ago


Nupur Manchanda, Director at Practicology

3 years ago I bought something from a bricks'n'mortar department store in the US. Before keying the price into the till, the lady at the checkout asked me for my name, country of residence and email address - the first two of which she keyed faithfully into her till before my internal spam alert started beeping, I regained my senses and told her my personal details were none of her business.

She had made zero effort to explain why they were asking for my personal data nor what the information would be used for. Also it wasn't clear to me at all that I would be able to complete the transaction without having to go through the rigmarole of giving up my data in the first place. I was totally outraged. Eventually I was able to pay and skip the intrusion into my personal life but the only thing that really kept me going was that it was minus 20degrees outside and I needed that coat to prevent hypothermia. Otherwise I would have walked away immediately. 

The good ole adage applies here - if you wouldn't behave like this in the real world, don't try and get away with it online.

over 7 years ago


Will Jones

One issue we do get with our approach is that is so easy to checkout without signing in or registering that sometimes customers don't understand why they don't have a history of their order in their secure account.

This can be overcome by giving customers access to an order tracking service and carefully signposting the option to sign in/register after checking out - but customer are not fully accustomed to this yet.

Either way, this is preferable to them not making the purchase.

Will Jones, IT Director, BookDepository

over 7 years ago


Jason Billingsley

Overlooked is post-checkout registration. It reduces the friction upfront and with an incentive can lure the purchaser to enter final registration details (at this point it should simply be a password and maybe a newsletter signup w/promise of coupon for second purchase via email). This also promotes repeat purchase behaviour whioch is essential for long-term customer affinity. The quicker between purchase 1 and 2, the higher the chance of an ongoing relationship with the shopper. Cheers.

over 7 years ago

David Hamill

David Hamill, Usability Specialist at Freelance

The approach shown by Argos here might be helpful, but the way it is displayed could be vastly improved.

Lots of people don't actually notice when its possible to buy without registering. This is because websites don't do a good enough job of explaining this fact to them.

It's not enough to provide the option. You must also make it very clear that the option is avaialble. I'll explain by having a go at the Argos approach.

The box is headed 'Account sign-in' which will be enough for some people to make an assumption of what is going to happen next.

The sub-heading is 'Not-registered' which is consistent with the 'Sign-in or Register' approach.

The message that says you don't have to register is below the big blue button so is likely to be overlooked.

You see, we don't read everything on the page. We often read just enough to validate an assumption.

over 7 years ago



Registration should only be requested after the customer or prospectful customer has decided they want to buy. Any etailer that asks for it before the fact is trying to look for information with which to spam their website visitors.  

over 7 years ago



A growing trend with the bigger retailers is not to use the word 'registration' at the sign in page. Instead they use 'new customers' checkout and 'returning customers' checkout. This may be because the word 'registration'' is tarnished and has negative conertations.

about 6 years ago

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