Practical Ecommerce

Tech Support: Passwords And Avatars

Can ecommerce merchants help their customers manage multiple user names and passwords?

Many websites require users to create an account to participate. This applies to social networking sites, ecommerce sites, news sites and others. For the site owner, the strategy of requiring a user to first create an account is frequently part of a larger marketing strategy of tracking what users purchase, what they read and so forth. It also helps cut down on spammers and unwanted, automated participation.

However, many consumers do not want to create user accounts. And it’s becoming burdensome for these consumers to monitor and update multiple user accounts across multiple websites.

But ecommerce merchants can alleviate these concerns by interfacing with emerging services such as OpenID and Gravatar. These two services allow consumers to, respectively, create a single user account and a single avatar, which is an image rendered on a website. Ecommerce sites that link to OpenID and Gravatar can inform their customers of the functionality, which will help those who have registered with one or both of the services. A customer may be more apt to open an account with you if you will recognize and interface with the account they’ve already opened in OpenID or Gravatar. And, if the customer changes his/her centralized information at OpenID and Gravatar, those changes are carried to all applicable sites, including your ecommerce site, that link to the two services.

To be sure, most sites that require a user to first create an account do not presently interface with OpenID and Gravatar. But for consumers who are annoyed by the create-an-account requirement, OpenID and Gravatar represent an attempt to help. As a developer, I have found both OpenID and Gravatar easy to work with. Each provides a robust application programming interface, or API, that allows developers to customize the interaction between their website and the centralized service. OpenID is a little more work, I have found, only because there’s more user data stored in it.

Linking to OpenID and Gravatar does not prevent you from also providing a method for your customers to register just with your site. I have seen many ecommerce sites that say “OpenID Enabled,” for example, on their registration screens, clearly providing their customers with the option of linking to their OpenID account or creating a separate account with that merchant.

Hopefully, in the future, one dominant service will emerge that will be the ubiquitous identity management solution. Until then there are at least options available to appease your users and make your site a bit more convenient for people to use.

Brian Getting

Brian Getting

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  1. Legacy User February 5, 2008 Reply

    I tend to hit the back button with all due speed when a site requires me to register in order to buy. My ecommerce customers are rewarded one click add-to cart and shipping rates that appear as soon as an item is added to the cart. There are plenty of sites offering the same things I'm looking for without registration requirements, so I tend to say the heck with 'em.

    — *Eric B*

  2. Legacy User February 5, 2008 Reply

    Hi Brian,

    Good article. I do agree that with the release of OpenID 2, backed by all the big guys (, this framework becomes much more interesting and ecommerce software providers should start looking into it. At Early Impact we currently don't support it in our ProductCart software, but will look at doing so in the future.

    I'm interested in knowing if other ecommerce software publishers reading this post are planning to do the same. OpenID will ultimately take off only if there is wide support for it in the apps we design.

    — *Massimo Arrigoni*