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Forcing people to register before purchase can be a barrier to conversion, so many ecommerce sites offer a guest checkout option

This has been the general trend from retailers, so it's a surprise to see ASOS moving away from this. 

So, is this a good idea? 

Why the previous version worked

The decision by ASOS seems, on the face of it at least, to be puzzling. A few years ago, Paul Rouke wrote about ASOS' persuasive checkout best practice

In it, then Ecommerce Director James Hart told Paul how revising the first page of the checkout achieved great results: 

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.

This is the old first page of checkout at ASOS. Note that customers are forced to login or create an account in order to proceed: 

asos checkout

The revised first page of checkout had one crucial difference from the previous design. Whereas new customers were previously told that they had to create an account in order to checkout, the new design mentions absolutely nothing about account creation.

Instead, new customers were asked to simply click the continue button: 

asos checkout

This reduced abandonment, but essentially customers still had to register. ASOS essentially 'tricked' customers into thinking they aren't registering, through a simple re-ordering of the process. 

After this page, customers still had to enter details as before. 

It seemed like the perfect solution, meaning that ASOS removed the barrier of registration while actually getting more customers to create accounts. 

So why change this? 

The new ASOS checkout page

Now, the first thing new customers see when they click through to checkout is this screen:

Any notion of guest checkout is gone. Instead customers need to register or sign in via social media profiles. 

Indeed, ASOS is pushing the social sign in, extolling the benefits - quick sign in, no passwords to remember etc. 

ASOS clearly sees some added benefits in encouraging social sign in, and I think it's less about ease of login and more about what it can learn about customers from their social profiles. 

I do wonder whether this is a good idea, as it does introduce some new questions for customers. 

For example, authorising ASOS to use your Twitter account may seem a bit much, considering the 'power' it gives the retailer. 

Personally, I'll never authorise any retailer to post tweets for me or update my profile. I won't be the only one.

ASOS may have no intention of doing this, but the warnings on this screen could prove to be quite a barrier. 

If customers do go ahead and use a social profile, they still need to enter an email, date of birth, address and payment details, so the workload isn't reduced significantly. 

If it detects you already have an account, ASOS offers to link the two, which will save time on address details: 

Or if new customers decide against social login, then they need to register to checkout. 

I think the upshot is that, whichever option people choose here, there are now more barriers for new customers.

Either having to accept the terms of use for social accounts, or actually registering before buying. 

A lot of this is about customer perception. Registering seems to be harder work than guest checkout, even though it may often involve the same amount of data entry. 

According to Paul Rouke, Founder of Optimisation Agency PRWD: 

The caveat here is that I'm not aware of ASOS data and I've not been involved in the decision making process to redesign the first stage of checkout.

What I do know is that simplifying this first stage of checkout for new visitors previously (including removing the toxic words "register") had a 50% increase in conversion rate for new visitors.

An alternative option

I spoke to Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh, and he is currently split testing a change which could make Schuh's guest checkout even easier. 

Now, even existing customers can use guest checkout, whereas previously you were only allowed one guest checkout per email address. 

Note that Schuh doesn't even offer login or registration: 

Stuart:  

One of the important points of it is that even if you are an account holder, you can still checkout as a guest should you wish. Many sites will force you to reuse your existing account. 

Then once you are in the checkout, we detect if you have an account and give you the option to login to access your address book. We think this is great for the user experience; the test is working well so far.

The Schuh approach here is to remove any possible friction that may prevent customers from completing a purchase, and goes further than most other ecommerce sites in allowing multiple guest checkouts. 

This is almost the polar opposite of the ASOS approach. However, what works for one retailer won't necessarily work for all, so perhaps both approaches could work. 

Losing guest checkout: a good idea? 

I asked Stuart McMillan and Paul Rouke for their views on this change. 

Paul Rouke:  

For existing customers I would recommend that if getting them to sign in and therefore have integration with one of their social accounts, they should be doing this via email communication and within their account area, with a key recommendation being to really sell the benefits for moving to social login, whilst also conducting user research to ensure any concerns or reservations are understood and can be addressed.

For new customers? I'd recommend ASOS revert back to the previous first stage checkout, providing new customers with the one simple, friction free button saying "continue" at the start of checkout.

From here ASOS has already starting building momentum up for these visitors, then when it comes to asking them to enter a password on the next page, the new social sign in options can be provided at this relevant stage within checkout.

The reality is that even if new customers choose the social sign in register option at the start, this won't mean they no longer have to choose delivery options, delivery address, payment method and billing address.

I'd be fascinated to see how this new checkout impacts the new visitor conversion rate, not to mention be a fly on the wall observing the facial expressions and decision making process of new visitors taking this in and choosing what to do or what not to do next.

Stuart McMillan:

I think social login is OK, but I think for many users it is trumped by no login. It’s something we have thought about, and may well offer it as an option in the future, but it’s not high on our list.

That being said, if you are a frequent shopper with a company, there may be advantages to a logged-in experience and social login may be an easier route, given that many people are already logged in to Facebook on their device. It all comes back to whether you can add value to the user’s experience.

I really can’t see any argument for removing guest checkout, it’s a UX pattern that customers are used to, and they like it. There are so many negative connotations of being an account holder, filling out forms and getting spam being two.

We’re going to continue to look at a) making the guest experience as easy as possible and b) adding value at the right place and time for those who are happy to log-in. 

In summary

On the face of it, this decision to remove the guest checkout option seems a retrograde step.

It adds a barrier to conversion that previously didn't exist, and you would expect this to have an impact on new visitor conversions.  

On the other hand, I'm not privy to the thinking behind this move, or any testing ASOS may have carried out before making this change. 

What do you think? Do the benefits of pushing social login outweigh the removal of guest checkout? Let us know in the comments... 

Graham Charlton

Published 24 February, 2015 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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Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

ASOS does seem to be asking for too many permissions, when you sigh up via Twitter, but I'd assume this is more a cock-up rather than any high-level strategy. Probably the programmer didn't see this as a big issue, so they asked for more permissions in the API call rather than less, just in case. If complaints reach their marketing team, I'd expect ASOS to rethink.

over 2 years ago

Matt Clarke

Matt Clarke, Ecommerce Director at B2B

The other possibility might be that ASOS have examined the profitability of the two approaches. The guest checkout approach limits the amount of email data collected, which reduces the quantity of customers to whom they can market directly, thereby reducing the potential revenue the channel might otherwise have generated. Perhaps this loss of potential marketing revenue is greater than the loss of transactional revenue they might incur through annoying some customers by removing the guest checkout?

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Pete, those permissions seem way too much for a simple login, though perhaps that's the fault of twitter's API rather than ASOS.

@Matt that's an interesting point. ASOS are no mugs, so there must be a calculation that the benefit from linking social accounts will outweigh customer annoyance. That said, the checkout as it was before still gathered all the information the new one does, it just didn't make an issue of registration.

over 2 years ago

Paul Rouke

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

To add to my comments I shared with Graham in the article itself, for me and based on all my experiences with users and testing in this critical 1st stage of checkout, I expect one or more questions could cross the minds of new visitors presented with this new register page.

I was going to copy and paste them in here but I'm on my iphone and it looks like the copy and paste functionality has been disabled in this comments box! I'll copyvthe questions in when I'm back on my laptop shortly...

over 2 years ago

Paul Rouke

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

Here goes with a range of potential questions or concerns new visitors could have:

> I don't use "social" so does this mean I can't checkout?
> What does the envelope mean? I usually see this when you have the option to email a friend or something
> I hate having to register - where is the guest checkout option?
> I just want to check out, this looks like a lot of hard work
> what will happen when I click one of these?
> Will this mean ASOS will be able to post things on my Facebook timeline or on my Twitter feed?
> I don't want to sign in with my social login details
> Is this secure?
> When will I have to provide my payment details? Through Facebook or something?
> I read an article once from a guy called Paul saying how quick and easy checkout was on ASOS. He told a white lie
> What's this small print at the bottom about creating an account and their terms and conditions?
> What is the difference between registering and creating an account?
> How much information am I going to have to provide to register?
> "no brain fail"? What are they trying to say?!

over 2 years ago

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eric keck, Owner at http://www.localstlouisroofing.com

I think this will work just fine. Almost every demographic is involved in some sort of social media. If there is a disclaimer to assure people that information will not be saved, or nothing will post to your social media outlets, then I don't see too many people having problems with it. You will always have paranoid people out there that think the world is out to get them, and that will never change no matter what.
http://www.localstlouisroofing.com

over 2 years ago

Jordan McClements

Jordan McClements, Owner at PPCNI.com

Interesting points.
Leaving aside the social side and just talking about guest checkouts..
Amazon force people to log in. How many customers do you need to have before this is a profitable approach?

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Jordan It's a good question and I don't think there's a definitive answer. It's certainly benefited Amazon in terms of saved customer details, repeat business, and easy mobile payments, but it would be a risk for newer, less established retailers.

It's something for sites to test and see what the stats tell them. ASOS is certainly well-established, and this move may well be the best thing for them.

over 2 years ago

Jordan McClements

Jordan McClements, Owner at PPCNI.com

I guess (extremely roughly) you need like a million customers to make this a profitable approach, but that's a complete guess and like you say it will vary.
Maybe someone has guideline figures on this?

over 2 years ago

Daniel Lee

Daniel Lee, Web Analytics Manager at Evans Cycles

Very interesting post. We've (Evans Cycles) been testing no guest checkout for the last 35+ days and results have been interesting, but not surprising.

My experience on this so far is; if a company creates a barrier to conversion, they need to have awareness that they are doing so (so it's a conscious decision) and also a reason of why they are doing it (more sign ups = more re-targeting for example).

I'm certainly not a fan of falling in line and doing the same things as other retailers, just because they are doing it - so 'Test, Learn, Action' is always my approach to debates such as this!

Great article! Thanks for sharing.

over 2 years ago

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Marc Woodall, Head of Ecommerce at T H Baker (est 1888 ltd)

I can tell you that I know from a very good source that they have done this because they are using this system : http://www.gigya.com/ . I'm not linked to either ASOS or Gigya, so can't comment on whether this has worked out for them, but I know that the purpose is to use social media to segment their audience, and then target advertising accordingly.

over 2 years ago

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Andrew Croasdale, Founder at TENcx

Thank you for an excellent summing up of the arguments against enforced registration. Perhaps the missing witness can be encouraged to share their account of events. Calling ASOS!

over 2 years ago

Ivan Burmistrov

Ivan Burmistrov, Usability Expert at interUX Usability Engineering Studio OÜ

I think pushing (almost forcing) the social login is a bad idea because many customers do not want:

(1) to share their personal details with the supplier;
(2) to share their purchases with their friends;
(3) to share their purchases with Facebook marketing robots;
(4) them or their friend to be spammed.

Increased salience of the risks to personal information being made by popular news and media outlets will raise people’s sensitivity to the potential issues of granting 3rd parties access to their social network profiles.

PS Can anybody share their own statistics on the use of social login among their customers? I do not trust the numbers announced by Janrain (more than 50% of customers use social login). MailChimp data (3.4% of visitors use social login on their website) look more realistic to me...

over 2 years ago

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David Shaw, UX & Conversion Manager at vouchercloud

I think this balances out well as an argument for short term vs long term conversions.

A guest checkout can secure you those extra sales at the time of purchase but what are the long term affects on customer lifetime value? For a retailer like ASOS an impact on lifetime value could become noticable 6-9 months down the line after implementing a guest checkout.

It would be good to know if any retailers who have implemented guest checkouts monitor the lifetime value of those users and notice any negative impact on this metric?

over 2 years ago

Daniel Lee

Daniel Lee, Web Analytics Manager at Evans Cycles

@David Shaw
I am working on implementing User ID and Measurement Protocol via Universal Analytics this year.

This will enable Evans Cycles to comprehensively understand the customer journey from start to finish, regardless of device swapping and platform (contact centre, stores, online).

Implementing these features will also enable Evans Cycles to factor in lifetime value when it comes to Marketing and AB Test analysis.

This hasn't been setup previously, so I have no insights to share currently - but exciting times ahead!

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@David I think ASOS had the best of both worlds with its previous checkout. Registration wasn't presented as an upfront barrier, but customers registered during the course of the checkout anyway. Most guest checkouts work in a similar way - essentially the only difference is adding a password. The key is not to deter customers before they even begin to enter details.

I think this is less about short vs long term conversions are more about the benefits of social login outweighing the potentially increased abandonment rates.

over 2 years ago

Paul Rouke

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

A key influencing factor for me when it comes to new visitor checkout conversion is the placement & communication of encouraging new visitors to create an account/register during checkout, particularly for retailers like ASOS where regularly purchases are highly probably compared to, for instance, ao.com.

A few insights from me and our team having spent literally hundreds of hours in user research sessions for a wide range of retailers over the past few years:

> The words register or create account at the start of a checkout process are highly toxic and generate a range of negative connotations
> The reality is that register/account creation boils down to asking new customers for a password - ASOS have for the past few years integrated this seamlessly in the "about you" step of checkout - no big fanfare around registration
> users will more than happily register/create an account when a) they have completed or nearly completed their checkout b) when there are clear, user focussed benefits provided c) it's a simple case of entering a password (ideally without too strict a requirement ie. No need for special characters
> we've often ended up asking new customers to simply choose a password on the order confirmation page - the orders complete, there are clear benefits to have an account, and it's a 10 second process
> providing people feel like having an account is mainly to benefit them rather than the retailer, then there aren't too many barriers to this

In summary Im a firm believer in retailers encouraging customers to have an account and therefore to have more control over their marketing communication preferences, previous orders, address books etc - but being aware of their perception and keeping this whole process customer centric is crucial.

over 2 years ago

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David Shaw, UX & Conversion Manager at vouchercloud

@Graham - Yeah, that is true. I have never been a fan of social login's during the conversion funnel as I often think it can be more of a distraction than a time saving exercise for the user.

Am interested to see how it plays out over the coming months.

over 2 years ago

Adrian Berry

Adrian Berry, Product Owner - myhermes.co.uk at Hermes Parcelnet

@Marc - totally agree. It looks like ASOS have decided to take a hit on conversion in return for the data Gigya will give them. In order to make the most of it they've probably set up a whole team to understand the data and the targeting and remarketing they can get from it.

over 2 years ago

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Marc Woodall, Head of Ecommerce at T H Baker (est 1888 ltd)

@Adrian - yes, that is what they are doing. I've had some interesting chats with the guys gigya this year, and they talked through with me some of the strategies that some of their clients are employing. A more extreme strategy was to actually make all visitors log in using social media just to browse the site - however it all seemed a little risky to me. The pay-off could be interesting though, because it opens up the opportunity to segment your own customers in interesting ways. From social media they will know some deep and exact demographics including likes, dislikes, background, education, geographic data, times online etc, plus the all important email address. So this could be more than just grouping customers in an attempt to understand audience demographic. This could be real granular advertising at individuals rather than targeting groups of audience.

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Marc - thanks for the tip off - I can see ASOS in Gigya's list of clients so it looks that that's the reason.

I can see the value of all that social data, but ASOS is putting some obstacles in front of customers to push it. As Paul suggests, I wonder whether they're doing enough to explain / sell the benefits to customers.

over 2 years ago

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Amanda Cano, User Experience Consultant at Amanda Cano S.L.

A few years ago I worked on some research that touched on social sign in and users willingness to use it and attitudes to being presented with it as an option. Our findings were that the under 25s were very willing and would prefer to log in using social sign in than other methods but the over 25s were worried about security implications and that even presenting social sign in as an option on the login/registration screen could be a barrier to even being willing to register at all. My thoughts are that ASOS has probably done a lot of research around this and their target audience is young and willing to use social sign in and may even prefer it as an option. This, along with the benefits to the company of the data collected from social sign in, has possibly been a deciding factor in abandoning the guest check out and promoting social sign in.

over 2 years ago

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Marc Woodall, Head of Ecommerce at T H Baker (est 1888 ltd)

@Graham As none of this info is explained at point of logging in I would suspect not, however this is kinda moving away from checkout design, and into the topic of data privacy.

Also I do know that ASOS have made a heavy commitment into this project as I was given rough costings of a campaign of their size (I'm not going to repeat them here because I'm not sure I'm supposed to know), so I would imagine that they have been given enough statistical data to encourage them that this is a good idea. It's also possible that their audience (I don't know their audience but would assume it to be 18-30, fashion concious, with a reasonable disposable income in comparison to outgoings) is just more susceptible to logging in with social media than a sceptical, cantankerous, 37 year old misery like I am!

over 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

People seem to be making the assumption that social signon gives sites access to significant amounts of personal data. But is this actually so? Young people have multiple social accounts, so you're not going to get a complete picture, and e.g. facebook doesn't let you syphon their data out anyway. But I can see the point of allowing social signon for convenience.

over 2 years ago

Mark Pinkerton

Mark Pinkerton, Director of Optimisation at Practicology

I totally agree with @Adrian - Gigya is an interesting option.
But I still think they will now fail the Steve Krug test - "Don't make me think" is still the right approach.

over 2 years ago

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Marc Woodall, Head of Ecommerce at T H Baker (est 1888 ltd)

@Pete - Absolutely right. The assumption is made that social data is powerful because this is precisely the cornerstone of Gigya's proposition. i.e. if they don't convince people that this is true then nobody will buy the service. The truth of it will be in the data after trying it out.
@Mark - yes, for what it's worth I agree with you. I had a few conversations with Gigya but ultimately I decided against it. I found the idea a little scary, and certainly not a risk that I thought was stacked in my favour at the time. Having said all that though, I don't believe that ASOS would jump feet first into this without having had some initially encouraging results, so I'm sure that there must be something in it.

over 2 years ago

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Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Insight at Jack Wills

This is definitely an interesting approach given that as Graham flagged earlier, even though ASOS previously had a guest login, they still captured all of their customers' data. On this point, they even had a clear opt out which meant that unless users were opting out of this (which based on data I've seen from different sectors tends to be done by around 50% of customers) so I'm not sure how much data (in terms of volumes of people) they would capture through Social sign in.

Also on this, even with the Social sign in they still send you to a page to sign up / opt out of communications and to capture your email address so it all feels a bit unnecessary and not especially customer focused...

over 2 years ago

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Louisa McGowan, UX web designer / owner at Into the Grove

It would be really interesting to see demographics on who signs up to ecommerce stores using social media accounts. My immediate thoughts would be that they're likely to be young(er) and less likely to care about sharing data. It seems the older you get the more protective of your data you are (or is that just me!?). And in that case surely the data they collect is likely to be biased? But perhaps this still outweighs all the negatives mentioned. I guess only time will tell.

over 2 years ago

Adrian Berry

Adrian Berry, Product Owner - myhermes.co.uk at Hermes Parcelnet

@Louisa - when you see the data that Gigya can provide it's quite an eye-opener!

over 2 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Gigya are aware of the privacy issues: they envisage sites misusing the data, so have processes in mind to allow consumers to report such misuse:

"Gigya is working with the Future of Privacy Forum and leading privacy and safety experts through an independent advisory board to oversee and provide ongoing guidance for the SocialPrivacy™ Certification Program. Businesses that receive SocialPrivacy™ Certification are subjected to an in-depth audit to verify that approved guidelines are being followed. .. the Data Misuse Resolution Program allows you to report data misuse by websites the displaying SocialPrivacy™ Certification Seal."

https://www.gigya.com/solutions/social-privacy/misuse-resolution/

over 2 years ago

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David Hefendehl, Head of Online Marketing at netzkern AG

Schuh is testing this now. I had that built into our checkouts nearly two years ago. Simply believing it being good user experience. All these passwords, surely some will forget theirs. Why would I force my customers to use the forgot password if the system detects the email had been used before on a registered account.

over 2 years ago

Gary Robinson

Gary Robinson, Head of Marketing at Crunch Accounting

Fascinating decision by ASOS - and equally fascinating debate on the choice here in the comments (and quite educational - thanks).

You only have to look at the list of questions @Paul reeled off - and I'm sure we could all add others - to see how the change has introduced so much doubt (read: obstacles) in the users decision making process.

Sure ASOS can get a lot of social data - and there have no doubt been a lot of internal calculations and debates - but it could prove quite costly if the forecasted payoff is not achieved.

about 2 years ago

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Vassilis Kouvas, Graduate Student at NYU

Great article and quick response to ASOS' move. I agree that this change seems a high-risk decision, but I can't believe that ASOS hasn't tested this feature for a long time and measured its effectiveness. Will be interesting to listen to their results after a while...

about 2 years ago

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James Young, Creative Director at Offroadcode

Social login seems such a weird mechanism to use, I'm not going to be saved any time in the checkout process because none of these logins store my address for example. Feels like a bit of a try for a data grab and nothing to do with making the checkout for the actual customer any easier.

If I have the option to log in with social on things like blog comments I'm all for it, it's way quicker but for a checkout - personally for me at least - I want to save time not read and then worry about whether a shopping basket is going to tweet that I just bought a pack of undies or something.

about 2 years ago

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Giles Airey, Associate Creative Director at Session Digital

Having worked with many eCommerce clients with Session Digital, if you can avoid a hesitation, a barrier or mind clutter then do so. Personally I was a fan of the previous checkout for ASOS, it was proactive and showed me the way and 'answered' my questions of what my next step is. For me the social aspect unsettles me, immediately makes me suspicious and makes me 'ask' questions as to what I am signing up for. Then again at 38 I am not the plumb ASOS demographic and maybe have a bit more cynicism and care for my privacy than most of its target customers. I would be interested to see the abandonment rate on this.

about 2 years ago

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Xu Han, Product Manager at Finery London

I used to work at ASOS from support, to development to product management, ASOS never had guest checkout.

about 1 year ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Deputy Editor at EconsultancyStaff

Xu, Graham is referring to the user journey shown in the second screenshot. The 'appearance' of guest checkout was enough to reduce abandonment.

about 1 year ago

Ivan Burmistrov

Ivan Burmistrov, Usability Expert at interUX Usability Engineering Studio OÜ

Now ASOS explicitly shows the email login form instead of the envelope icon. Hope they will remove social login completely...

about 1 year ago

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Diego Dias, Assistant Web Designer at REF+T

Sup, actually they still using the guest checkout :D

4 months ago

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