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Making customers register before they checkout is a barrier to purchase, yet many online retailers have yet to learn this lesson.
The arguments against this barrier are compelling. For example, ASOS halved its abandonment rate at the registration page simply by removing any mention of creating an account.
In a more famous example from Jared Spool, one retailer added $300m to its annual revenues by removing the registration button.
These are lessons that HMV needs to learn in order to optimise conversion rates and reduce abandonments.
HMV's checkout registration issues
I arrived at HMV's website over Christmas, having taken advantage of a £20 gift voucher for £10 offer from a daily deals site (seen via Twitter).
To redeem this generous offer, I needed to first create an account on HMV, before adding the code to my account (it would have been far simpler to enter the code at checkout).
The problem was, since I had created an account with HMV before (with both of my regular email addresses) and forgotten the details, I couldn't create a new one with this email address.
This is the first mistake. It would have been better to allow me to set up a new account with this email address, while offering the password reminder option as well.
Amazon has an interesting example of how to handle this. It will allow me to create a new account with a previously used email address, but warns me that the existing account will be disabled.
If I'm a reasonably regular customer who has simply forgotten their password, this will convince me to go down the password reset / reminder route and avoid losing my stored billing address and payment details.
However, if this is an old, unused account, then allowing customers to go ahead anyway avoids the pain of resetting the password.
HMV could also have given me a password reminder, or a couple of security questions, to avoid me having to wait for an email.
Another potential annoyance for customers, and this is not unique to HMV, is that I have to re-enter my email address after clicking the 'forgotten password?' button.
The email reminder also took two or three minutes to arrive, which may not seem a long time, but can be long enough to deter a potential customer. All in all, from attempting to log in, to resetting password wasted about 10 minutes.
If I hadn't have already purchased the gift voucher, and not been tied in to HMV, I would probably have headed for Amazon.
This compulsory registration approach will lead many customers to simply abandon the purchase, or to create multiple accounts using alternative email addresses.
The site in question for the $300m example quoted above found that 45% of customers had multiple accounts on the site, and this is likely to be the case with HMV.
Of course, HMV could improve its password reset process to provide a smoother experience for customers, but the best solution would be to remove the compulsory registration step altogether.
Consumers hate registration: the stats
A recent Econsultancy / Toluna study found that 25.6% of online consumers would abandon a purchase if they were forced to register first.
After adding items to your basket, what would make you abandon your purchase?
Previous surveys, including the Webcredible poll quoted here, also show a similar percentage of users opposed to registration, while retailers like ASOS have reduced abandonment rates by removing this step.
Approaches to registration
Online retailers want customers to register with them, as this provides useful information for marketing emails, as well as making subsequent purchases easier with stored address and payment details.
Amazon is the prime example here. Its saved address and card details, as well as one-click purchase options make it almost too easy for repeat customers, as well as mobile shoppers.
Also, asking customers to register only requires one or two additional pieces of information on top of the details required to make a purchase. It's just a case of setting a password, and perhaps a few preferences.
Paul Rouke explains this very well:
The key therefore, is in the presentation of the registration option. Paul Rouke looks into this in detail here, but here are the most common approaches to registration:
Compulsory registration before purchase
This approach is used by HMV, as well as plenty of well-known retailers, including Tesco, Curry's, Play.com, Amazon, TopShop and others.
I would argue that all of these sites could improve their abandonment rates by removing this barrier, and adding a guest checkout option.
Of the sites I mentioned, at least Play.com outlines the benefits of registration and attempts to reassure customers:
Optional registration before purchase
Why not give customers the choice? This is a good option as it offers the benefits of registration to customers but avoids the drawbacks i.e. it doesn't form a barrier to purchase.
If the benefits are explained to customers, then some may still choose to register.
House of Fraser's recently revamped site provides a range of choices to customers, and explains each clearly. A neat approach.
Compulsory registration during checkout
ASOS has a minimalist pre-checkout page, with no option to register before checkout, just a simple continue button.
This login screen was the result of lengthy split testing, and presents no barriers at all for new customers.
Customers do have to create an account during the checkout, but once they are 'in the door' it seems less of a chore.
However, i would question the need for customers to enter date of birth, or at least make it optional and explain why this question is asked. It does seem to be an unnecessary extra barrier.
Optional registration during checkout
House of Fraser offers customers the chance to create an account during the checkout process, but doesn't insist on it.
It could perhaps do more to explain the benefits and encourage more shoppers to register, but the key thing is that is doesn't make it a barrier.
No registration at all
This is the approach used by Comet. From the basket page, customers are straight into entering delivery details, with no intermediate step.
Comet does take customers' email addresses for order confirmation, but doesn't even offer to create an account, though there is an unobtrusive login / register link at the top of the page.
With this approach, instead of spending time registering, they are selecting delivery options and beginning the purchase. This means the checkout is shorter for customers, which should reduce abandonment rates.
There are, however, some significant benefits (easy repeat purchases, personalisation etc) 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 at some point during the process.
The ASOS approach to checkout registration, and the results it has already delivered, show that online retailers can have their cake and eat it. They can have the benefits from removing a potential barrier to purchase and still get customers to sign up for accounts.
Customers are essentially doing the same amount of work and entering the same information as before, it's the presentation that makes the difference.
I also like House of Fraser's approach, as it covers all bases and ensures that there is no barrier at all if customers don't want it.
As for HMV and other retailers that still make customers register before checkout, i'd advise them to try out some of these alternatives.
After all, that's what testing is for, and if a retailer can reduce abandonment, at anything like the rate that ASOS has, that would make a big difference to revenues.
What do you think is the best approach? Have you recently removed compulsory registration from your checkout? We'd love to hear from you...