Post image for Why require registration? Part 1

Why require registration? Part 1

by Mike B. Fisher on May 5, 2009

Quick summary: Many websites require new users to register before they can access information and services, or complete a transaction. But upfront registration can be counterproductive and can have a negative impact on conversion. In part 1 of this 3-part article we’ll look at why registration sometimes causes abandonment.

These days many e-commerce websites require registration as part of the purchase process, and many web applications require full registration upfront before users can demo a product or service. Does this paradigm really make sense? Or is it perhaps counterproductive?

Certainly it’s fair for companies to request at least some user information when there’s an exchange of value. And in some cases collecting personal information is necessary to delivery of the goods or service (for example you can’t offer a service based on users’ locations without requesting it).

The problem is that many companies assume they’ve done an adequate job of presenting their value proposition, and that users will register with little or no reservation. Unfortunately this often this isn’t the case; in my experience companies often fail to convince users that they should register.

It should come as no surprise that most users are extremely skeptical about registration until they:

  • Clearly understand upfront what they’re getting in return
  • Have reason to believe it’s of significant value to them
  • Have a good sense for how their personal information will be used and/or safeguarded

Because users are skeptical and because companies often fail to present a compelling value proposition, registration can be a significant barrier to conversion. It can even cause some users to abandon a process or website entirely.

There are a few ways to address this – but first let’s understand the problem at a deeper level.

One of the issues here is that companies often don’t recognize the disconnect between the way they see the world and the way their users see it.

How companies see registration

Many companies start from the understandable but flawed viewpoint that it’s in their best interest to gather as much personal data as possible, and sometimes they also feel it should be gathered as early as possible in the customer relationship. They see their product or service as a value to users and conclude that users will see things the same way. These companies are often puzzled when they find users abandoning their website or process at the point where personal information is requested. They feel they’re providing a useful service or product, and that users have every reason to want it and to trust that they’ll use registration information in an appropriate manner.

How users see registration

Most users see registration from a very different perspective.

I covered aspects of this problem in the previous articles “5 shopping cart showstoppers” and “Your users have baggage”, but to summarize:

  • Users come to your website with expectations and biases created from previous experiences.
  • They’re often very skeptical about giving out personal information, especially to companies with whom they don’t already have a trusted relationship.
  • Users naturally avoid situations they feel might compromise their privacy.
  • Many users also avoid anything they perceive as likely to result in “yet more junk email”.
  • Many users have difficulty managing the numerous ID/password combinations they already use – and they’re disinclined to create more.

In this context it’s not surprising that many users will avoid registering at a website if they can reasonably avoid it.

Here’s an example. Recently at a coffee shop I overheard the following comment from a woman sitting nearby, using her laptop:

“I hate it when they ask for your information, but they don’t quite tell you why they want your information.”

Clearly there was a disconnect between the expectations of this woman and those of the company with whom she was considering doing business. She’s not alone; her statement is a good example of what I’ve heard countless times in user testing sessions. Look at it this way: how would you feel if a total stranger asked for your home address? Your phone number? Your credit card number?

Even if users already have a trusted relationship with a company or website they may still wonder what becomes of their personal information. Will it result in a barrage of spam? Will it be sold to other companies? Is it safe from hackers?

It should surprise no one that users often find registration processes off-putting, annoying – even offensive.

So what’s the solution? Obviously for some products and services some type of personal information must be collected. And for some services it’s logical that users must have some type of account.

Still, there are cases where registration might not be necessary at all – or it may make sense to ask for only minimal information during the initial registration process, then collect more information gradually as the relationship between customer and company matures.

Here are four questions to consider when evaluating how registration should work for a given website or process:

  1. Is it necessary? Determine if you really need registration for your product or service, weighing the benefits of having more users versus having more information about fewer users.
  2. What information should be required and when? If you determine that registration is necessary, determine when it should best be presented – and importantly how much information you need from users. As we’ll discuss in Part 2 often “less is more”.
  3. Is the value proposition clear? Ensure that by the time users are asked to register they have a very strong sense for why they should, and what they’ll stand to gain from it.
  4. Is security & privacy addressed? As I mentioned above users will often walk away from a registration form or process if they’re not convinced their personal information will be handled appropriately.

In part 2 of this article we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of each of these points and we’ll look at some good and bad examples of registration processes.

Image based on a photo by scragz. Creative Commons licensed.

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Related posts:

  1. Why require registration? Part 3
  2. Why require registration? Part 2
  3. Product image best practices, part 2

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc Resnick May 6, 2009 at 10:34 am

There is also a lot of evidence showing that users are much more willing to provide personal information after they have received something of value from the site.

So it’s not just about having a clear description of your value proposition. You also want to peel of a piece of that value and provide it up front – not as a quid pro quo but as a free offering. Then, you can ask for personal information.

Mike B. Fisher May 6, 2009 at 10:52 am

Good point Marc, and I agree – putting some of the value ahead of registration makes sense in a lot of situations. I’ll be getting more into that in part 2 of the article.

sm May 11, 2009 at 4:28 pm

good information like your site.

roth May 13, 2009 at 5:08 am

I really like your blog, thanks for sharing these tips with us.

Preston June 18, 2009 at 11:00 am

Thanks for addressing this issue, there is nothing more annoying than wanting to comment on an ISSUE, and then being presented with the frivoulous hassle of ‘giving’ my email and being ‘given’ another password to remember. What’s the point? Other than pure annoying NOSEYNESS.

Mark February 10, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Some e-commerce sites even require you to register just to look at what they have for sale. If I’m looking at 30 different sites, I’m not going to waste my time registering at each of them before even I’ve made my decision. I’ll just skip the sites that require registration.

BTW, let’s call a spade a spade, registration is really just a variety of 3rd party cookies.

Because of registration, other forms of snooping, and other problems such as getting junk mail (catalogs), I almost never shop on the Internet anymore.

And PLEASE don’t ask me to enable javascript again. I won’t do that anymore.

Andrea Ong Pietkiewicz January 9, 2012 at 3:03 am

It may sound crazy, but some companies will ask for data that they plan to do nothing with. They ask because of misguided and ill-informed staff thinking that asking for such info is a necessary part of the process. In this case, they’ve added friction into a user experience without benefiting even themselves.

Anonymous June 6, 2013 at 7:42 am

I don’t mind registering for a reason. What I hate is when there’s a lovely conversation going on and I’d like to chime in but I am required to register before I can even leave a comment! I mean come on, why can’t I comment as “anonymous” and leave no info. Its not fair.

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