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Registration has benefits for both customers and retailers, but it can be perceived as a barrier by customers. 

It needn't be a barrier though, and well designed checkouts can reduce customer abandonment while still encouraging people to register. 

The key is to present web forms and order the process in such a way that it doesn't mean more effort for consumers. You can still have plenty of customers creating accounts. 

Here are some examples...

The benefits of registration

If you can persuade customers to register when making a purchase, there are plenty of benefits for both. These include...

Benefits for retailers

  • Improved customer retention. Registration allows businesses to begin to build a relationship with consumers. 
  • Ease of repeat purchases. Saving customer address and billing details makes subsequent purchases smoother and repeat purchases more likely. 
  • Ability to market to existing customers. When registering, customers can opt in to emails, and even set preferences. 
  • Easier mobile checkout. Not having to enter address and payment details removes much of the pain from mobile purchases. 
  • More reviews. It is easier to encourage registered customers to rate and review products they have purchased.

Benefits for customers

  • Ease of subsequent purchases. No re-entry of card or address details means less effort when you buy again. 
  • Order tracking. 
  • Access order history.
  • Special offers. Registration can mean early access to sales, special offers and more.  

The barrier of registration

In general, customers don't like having to register before they checkout. To be immediately presented with a form like the one below can present a barrier:

Customers' concerns about registration: 

  • Completing a purchase will take much longer with registration. Fear of long form filling. 
  • The site will require lots of personal information. Some sites, like Next above, ask for seemingly irrelevant information, such as date of birth. 
  • More passwords to remember. People have too many logins on various sites, as well as pin numbers for cards. Do they need another? 
  • Being 'spammed' with offers and promotions. People don't necessarily want to sign up for marketing when they buy a shirt. 
  • The retailer will pass my personal details on to third parties. This happens, especially when tick boxes aren't clear. 
  • Concern about privacy. Perhaps people don't want sites to store their payment details. 
  • Not understanding the need to register. Customers sometimes just want to make a quick purchase, not start a relationship. 

Overcoming customer concerns

Some of the customer concerns outlined above can be easily overcome with clear messaging and better form design. I'll deal with the main issue of the registration barrier in the next section. 

Don't ask for too much

I can see why marketing departments want to get as much detail about customers as possible, but there is a danger of deterring customers here. 

The resulting forms can be longer and more off-putting for customers, but they may also wonder why personal information is needed. 

At the very least, if you're asking for information which isn't strictly necessary for the completion of the transaction, then it makes sense to explain this. 

Here, ASOS does explain why it asks for customers' gender, though it should explain why date of birth is needed. 

 

Make marketing and third party opt-ins clear

Boxes should not be pre-checked to fool customers, and it should be clear what customers are opting into when they select these boxes. 

Explain the benefits of registration

There are benefits, as outlined before, so why not try to sell them to customers? 

Here, Walmart explains that creating an account means faster checkout: 

Removing the registration barrier

The main way to deal with customers' concerns is to remove compulsory registration after customers decide to head to the checkout. 

For example, Sears dispenses with the login page altogether and sends you straight into the checkout form

From the shopping cart page...

Sears shopping cart

...to this. No messing about, and no barriers to purchase:

This approach by Sears certainly removes any barrier, but sites should perhaps at least provide the option of registration, as in the Walmart example used earlier in this post.

This ensures that they can 'enjoy' the benefits from customers creating an account.

Another approach, used by Macy's here, is to dispense with registration before checkout and reassure customers that they can create a profile during the process. 

How to attract registrations without creating a barrier

To make a purchase, customers need to submit an email address, as well as address and payment details, so the only difference between compulsory registration and guest checkout is the creation of a password.

As such, it's possible to have customers create an account while avoiding the drawbacks of placing the option in front of the checkout. 

Surprisingly, the new M&S site makes this 'mistake' by insisting that customers register straight away. 

House of Fraser has a similar login page, but just leaves the account creation until later in the process. 

On M&S, this is the next page in the process. With the label 'create an account', it feels like a precursor to the 'real' checkout, and this is perhaps why some users would see it as extending the process.

This impression is also created by the fact that the main navigation remains visible, instead of seeing the progress indicator you would normally see after beginning checkout.  

House of Fraser, by dispensing with the upfront account creation and taking customers straight into the business end of the checkout, creates the sense that customers are making progress (the indicator bar helps too).

On House of Fraser and M&S, both checkout processes require much the same information from customers, the difference being that the latter has created a potential barrier to customers. 

This is surprising, given that the site was redesigned recently, and there is general agreement (and plenty of evidence) that upfront registration is best avoided.  

The ASOS approach to registration

The ASOS approach to registration is kind of crafty, but it works. 

Here's the old checkout login page. New customers had to create an account to enter checkout: 

And the newer version, introduced in 2011. It's neater for one, but the removal of account creation from the screen makes a big difference. 

Note that ASOS doesn't refer to this as guest checkout, or indeed make any reference to the creation of an account on this page. 

Here's the next page, where customers create an account. Only this page, like the previous one, doesn't mention the words 'account' or 'registration'. 

Still that's what customers are doing, and it works. The removal of the account creation step on the checkout login page reduced this site's abandonment rate by 50%. 

According to ASOS ecommerce director James Hart:

We didn’t fundamentally change any functionality or page flows at this point. One thing we did change was the login screen after lengthy split testing; the changes resulted in a 50% decrease in abandonment of the site at this page.

Why does this approach work? 

Unlike House of Fraser, and other sites offering guest checkout, ASOS doesn't make registration optional. You cannot progress to checkout from the page above without creating a password, and thus an account. 

It's still compulsory, and a barrier to progress, but it doesn't seem to matter at this stage. There are a couple of explanations for this: 

  • The use of language. By avoiding the words account and registration, ASOS has seemingly removed the impression of an obstruction to progress. 
  • The impression of progress. Customers head straight into the checkout and begin the business of making a purchase. This 'registration page' doesn't appear to be an extra step in the process. 
  • The progress indicator. This page is just step one in a five page process. The indicator reassures customers that they are in the checkout, not on some annoying pre-registration page. 
  • Psychology. ASOS has tricked us into thinking we aren't registering when we are, through a simple re-ordering of the process. It's a trick of the mind... 

As a side point, I'd wager that the removal of the date of birth and gender options would make this even easier, though perhaps ASOS has made the decision that the pros of gathering such customer data outweigh the cons of making this form a bit longer. 

In summary

I understand the imperative for ecommerce sites to increase the number of customer registrations, as the benefits are obvious, but too many sites take the wrong approach. 

As ASOS and others show, you can get customers to create accounts, you just need to avoid the perception of a barrier in the customer's mind. 

Perhaps M&S will test this at some point, but I'd advise the team there to see what can be gained by adopting an approach like that employed by ASOS. 

Which is the best approach to attract more registrations (and sales)? Let me know below...

Graham Charlton

Published 25 February, 2014 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 (9)

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Michele

Thank you for this article - really interesting and very helpful. Do you know of any research on a similar subject, i.e. which works better requiring an email, requiring registration or asking the user to add to cart in order to reveal a discounted price?

over 2 years ago

Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

ASOS have nailed it in my opinion. Registration is a seamless by product of the customer doing what they came to do in the first place - buy something. The word registration shouldn't appear anywhere near the basket and checkout. Simplifying the checkout process so that in the first step you simply collect the customer's email address reduces the likelihood of people being overfaced by too many form fields. It also allows you to retarget them should they abandon thereafter.

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Michele. I'm not totally sure what you mean - I don't see why a customer should have to take any action to see a discounted price. That's just asking them to abandon.

over 2 years ago

John Fox

John Fox, I help public bodies to be more effective and efficient at delivering their services through digital transformation. I'm currently assisting the government of the States of Jersey. at Muckle Flugga Services Limited

To encourage sign-ups, the benefits to the customer of completing registration need to be clearly explained, eg to create email alerts, to be able to submit reviews, to be remembered the next time they visit the website. It should never be necessary for an explanation to be provided of what the benefits are for the organisation - why ever would customers be interested in that?

over 2 years ago

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lee

I think the Sears approach does create a barrier, as you mention yourself earlier in the piece pushing a user directly from the bag into a form will naturally raise concern that they are being forced to register.

over 2 years ago

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Carly Barnes

Great article.

As a customer I always get so frustrated when I have to enter my details over and over again. However as a business I know the value of data.

So... if you must get your customer to register their address details, for example if part of the registration is about deliveries, at least make sure its a simple process for your customer. But more importantly make sure the address data is captured and validated for you - using rapid address auto fill software on your eCommerce site can do just that.

over 2 years ago

Lenka Istvanova

Lenka Istvanova, Marketing Project Manager at Freestak

Great examples, Garaham. There is nothing worse than when you need to register first before you actually buy something. Asos shows again that they know what they're doing and clearly understand 'us' customers.

about 2 years ago

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Russell Loarridge

With this whole article focused on the importance of getting registrations right, it is somewhat surprising that not one of these examples mention Single Sign-On as an offering?

Registration forms are lengthy and if you are trying to fill one out on your mobile they are almost impossible. the easiest option by far, that not only allows the customer to register quickly using one of their existing social profiles, but also provides brands with the all-important personal, social and psychographic information they crave.

And why limit the improved experience to the checkout process? The social information you receive should be used to create a better, more relevant and personalised end-to-end online customer experience.

By using Single Sign-On a user can register once, and their profile can easily move around your online channel with them. There’s no need for them to register a second time when they want to leave comments, participate in chat, or start their checkout process. Lowering the barriers to register is only of value if the customer only has to do it once!

Russell Loarridge
Managing Director Europe
Janrain

about 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Russell - there are benefits to social logins, though I'm not a fan as a user.

The aim here is for the sites to have the customer's address and payment details for future purchases, not a third party.

about 2 years ago

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