Use the Force, Young Marketer: The Power of Forced User Registration

Forcing user registration does not make you the Evil Emperor, but you do need to smooth the path to galactic domination. A long time ago in an Internet far, far away…the Force Wars raged. The Guest Registration rebels faced off on major retail sites against the Forced User Signup empire.

However, recent moves by major retailers like Walmart, CDW, Costco, all of whom (along with many others) now obligate users to sign up for an account at checkout, have tipped the scales: The war is over. Force has prevailed.

The thing is (and I promise to drop the Star Wars motif right after this), the subjugated consumers of the galaxy are actually embracing their enslavement. Users on all platforms, user experience professionals, and of course web retailers have accepted, even prefer, forced registration.

The benefits of user registration for marketers are clear: you learn more about your customers, can better track their behavior, and better adapt your offering to their preferences – upselling, cross-selling, personalization, etc. Consumers get the convenience of not having to fill out time-consuming forms for each purchase, and whatever loyalty benefits retailers provide. Everyone truly wins.

But there’s a catch. As long as it’s done right, forced registration has become acceptable web practice. The trick is getting it right. Here are some tips when it come to forced registration:

1. Who You Are Matters

Customers of major web retailers invest significant time in their carts. Consider an online supermarket, where a shopping session can easily top 30 minutes. A customer who has just invested that much effort will be less likely to balk at pre-checkout registration.

On the other hand, if you sell Widgets for under a dollar, and your average order is 1-2 Widgets – users will be less likely to join your Widget Loyalty Club.

The point is: perceived consumer value is crucial in forced registration. If a consumer has invested sufficient time and effort in your site, the value he or she is receiving will negate the annoyance of signup. Make sure your expectations from your customers are in-line with their perception of your value.

2. Natural Part of the Process

A major retail site that recently moved to forced registration decided to display shopping cart contents on the registration screen itself.

Why is this relevant, and highly-effective? Online shoppers are notably goal-oriented. Placing the cart in front of them on the sign-up screen subtly reminds them of the end (buying what they want), and de-emphasizes the means (the registration process).

Interestingly, on the initial version of this page, consumers that wanted to review their cart one last time before checkout had to click over to a separate cart page. 42 percent of them did just this. The problem was, 47 percent of these never came back to checkout. The retailer alleviated this dropoff by making the cart on the signup screen editable. This removed the need for consumers to leave the funnel to tweak their cart – helping keep their eyes on the prize, so to speak.

3. Registration UX and Trust Are Mission-Critical

Another major web retailer initially seemed to contradict the Guest Registration theory. 68 percent of tablet users visiting their site seemed to prefer Guest Checkout, versus only 29 percent who checked out as registered users.

Why was this happening? It turned out that 23 percent of visitors on the page experienced some kind of validation error when choosing a checkout method, and 20 percent required help recovering passwords. Many visitors who failed the sign-in as Returning Users were seen to start the checkout as guests.

Adjusting the numbers to correct for these technical problems, it turns out that checkout via Sign In was actually three times more popular than checkout as a Guest.

Image Credit: Flickr / cropped, resized

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Written by:
Director of Consulting Services, ClickTale
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