Pros and Cons of Online Visitor Registration

By Julie Rains on 22 February 2010 (Updated 25 April 2010) 0 comments
Photo: SpiffyJ

I tried, but failed, to complete a shopping transaction with Target.com because I couldn’t remember my password. (Typically, I am adept in answering challenge questions that release passwords, having learned to be specific when identifying my pet’s name, differentiating current vs. childhood, and both creative and consistent in recalling my kindergarten, deftly substituting my first elementary school for the church-based schools I attended as a 4-year-old and 5-year-old when no public kindergarten existed.) But the steel walls of the password-recovery process for this ecommerce business were intrusive, intimidating, and impenetrable, and I abandoned my shopping cart for a simpler, faster, more intuitive shopping experience.

Online registration can drive sales (consider 1-click ordering with Amazon.com) or roadblock them (consider my experience with Target.com, which has since partnered with Amazon for online selling). Similarly, your company’s approach to online visitor registration can cement or destroy a customer relationship.

Making the decision to require registration isn’t simple for the site owner. Likewise, making the decision to register isn’t always straightforward for the site visitor. Influencing factors include:

  • Frequency of site visits and purchases by individual customers
  • Value of information to be gained through registration
  • Simplicity of the registration process (specifically, the amount of contact and profile information required for registration, and how long it takes to complete the registration)
  • Confidentiality of information necessary for each transaction along with sensitivity of information being stored by the site owner
  • Necessity and urgency of communicating with individual customers when they are not interacting with the website

Consider these advantages and disadvantages of requiring (or offering) registration.

Pros

  • captures information about visitors that enables your company to present relevant products and services immediately, during subsequent visits, or through follow-up communications such as email campaigns
  • offers privacy and security for sensitive transactions, such as making a credit card payment or accessing bank information
  • gives the visitor a sense of belonging, transforming the anonymous user to a member with privileges such as ability to access site features and learn about promotional deals
  • helps to distinguish the serious buyer from the casual window shopper
  • conveys expertise and gives value to visitors when registration is combined with offers for registered users only (such as an industry report or e-book)

Cons

  • causes visitors to leave your site to get similar information at a competing site that doesn’t require registration
  • spurs shoppers to abandon carts if they have to register before making a purchase
  • requires secure storage and back-up of personally identifiable information as well as resources to provide users with forgotten usernames and passwords
  • yields false leads or dummy contact data from visitors who want to investigate your site but aren’t potential customers
  • frustrates visitors who want to get information quickly

Ditch the debate about the merits and annoyances of visitor registration. Instead, align the benefits of registration with usefulness for the visitor’s experience.

Speaking with Jeff Finkelstein of Customer Paradigm, a website design and Internet marketing firm in Boulder, Colorado, gave me understanding of how to use registration to improve the online experience. He began by telling me that user registration is a major factor in shopping cart abandonment. But then he showed me how one of his client companies (DiscountDecorating.com) offered registration to give shoppers a bonus. Here are examples of alignment in action.

DiscountDecorating.com, source for wall coverings. Shoppers create an account in order to use the “wish list” feature for subsequent reference. Site visitors — comprised of interior designers doing research on behalf of clients and do-it-yourself decorators considering various options — may not be ready to make a purchase on a first visit. The wish list feature provides a convenient way to save information on specific wallpaper styles for subsequent evaluation and purchase.

Realtor and real estate agency sites. Prospective homebuyers may be asked to register after a series of page visits. Benefits of registration might include greater detail relating to property specifications, storage of saved searches (similar to the wish-list feature), and newsletters or email alerts featuring new listings. Kaya Hardin of IDX, which provides tools for online real estate searches, shares ideas for making registration attractive in an article on the pros and cons of forced registration.

PaperBackSwap.com, source for swapping books online. Visitors can browse selections but must register as members in order to trade books. Members create profiles indicating their reading preferences, enter email and USPS mailing addresses, and post titles to their respective bookshelves. The registration process allows the member to earn credits toward future trades and allows them to request titles from fellow members. PaperBackSwap.com sends email alerts to members, which advise on book requests, explain next steps in fulfilling requests, and convey status of trades from initial inquiries through receipt by requesting members.

Structure registration using these techniques:

  • Select registration most suited to your company’s needs: 1) no registration; 2) optional registration; or 3) forced registration.
  • Provide basic access to all visitors but give premium services to registered users.
  • Be clear about your intentions regarding the use of customer information and the benefits of registration so that visitors can qualify themselves and make an informed decision about whether or not to register.
  • Make registration simple and offer quick access to forgotten usernames and passwords; avoid unusual password conventions that make it difficult for the user to recall passwords (unless you store highly sensitive, confidential data, such as access to bank account information, and need extra protection to reduce the possibility of third-party account hacking).
  • Don’t make registration a barrier to online purchases, particularly avoiding a registration process as a hurdle in the final phase of a transaction.
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