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.