Practical Ecommerce

The Case for Registering Online Shoppers

With the addition of one unobtrusive form field, online retailers may provide shoppers with a better ecommerce experience and possibly earn loyal customers. Unfortunately, to enjoy this additional ecommerce success, you have to be brave enough to take an unpopular position in online marketing and register all of your customers.

Many vocal online marketing experts discourage user registration on ecommerce sites. They argue that asking shoppers to register deters would-be customers from making any purchase at all and, thus, leads to cart abandonment and lost sales.

Here is an example of how many marketers think about ecommerce registration.

Concerns about Ecommerce Registration

“If you want every new buyer at your store to create an account before purchasing, you’re massively undercutting your conversion rates,” wrote ecommerce consultant James Corr, in a September 10 blog post for Shopify.

Corr’s position is common among marketers, and understandable. In fact, Corr is encouraging ecommerce business owners and marketers to think about customers first, which — in and of itself — is good advice.

“To understand what a big deal this is,” Corr wrote, “look at the problem from a shopper’s point of view. They come to your website to buy stuff. When they see something they like and add that item to cart, they don’t want to be forced to make up a password and create an account.

“They want instant gratification, not in-advance commitment to your brand.”

But what if Corr and those who agree with him are mistaken? What if registration is not a burden to shoppers? What if it is beneficial to customers?

Registration Improves the Online Shopping Experience

At the very least, there are three significant benefits available to your registered users: (a) better customer service on every order; (b) improved on-site recommendations and merchandising; and (c) faster checkout on subsequent orders.

Better Customer Service

Imagine that you’ve just made a purchase on a site that did not bother to register you. Moments after you place your order, you get a nice email thanking you for the purchase. But then nothing.

After a couple of days you have not received the order or even a shipping notification. You want to contact the seller about your order, but how?

The thank you message is from a “no reply” email address, so you cannot reach the store that way.

You return to the store’s site to try and find a contact number, but the company is based in a city two time zones away, and it is already closed for the day. So you cannot call to find out what’s going on with your order until at least tomorrow. You have a bad experience.

If you had been registered, the thank you notice could have included a link to your account. You could have easily clicked through, logged in, and looked up your order. You get your question or concern answered in moments because the store cared enough to register you. You weren’t just a sale to them, you were a customer.

When your customers are registered, they have access to order history and shipment tracking information right on your site. Their information is both available and private.

Personalized Recommendations and Merchandising

Registered shoppers may enjoy better on-site experiences too.

To help put this in perspective, consider Dutch Bros. Coffee in Caldwell, Idaho. This purveyor of fine caffeinated beverages is a temple of customer service. When a returning customer pulls up, the Dutch Bros. staff typically knows that customer by name and remembers his favorite drink, which makes for a good, personalized customer experience.

What this Dutch Bros. Coffee shack is doing is analogous to ecommerce customer registration. Notice, for example, that Amazon recognizes customers by name when they return to the site.

While just being recognized is sort of nice, knowing who a customer is also allows Amazon to make recommendations based on that particular customer’s shopping behavior. These personalized recommendations mean that Amazon customers are not simply getting the vanilla experience but a unique one, designed to help them discover the products they might like best.

Amazon registers its users and greets them with personal recommendations. In ecommerce, registration is the best way to get to know your customers and better serve them.

Amazon registers its users and greets them with personal recommendations. In ecommerce, registration is the best way to get to know your customers and better serve them.

Notice the screen capture above. It is meant to show that Amazon recognized me by name when I returned to the site. But take a closer look. There is an item in my shopping cart. It was from three days before I took this screen capture. I had been trying to place an order, but I got distracted and forgot about it. Fortunately, Amazon did not forget, but, instead, remembered the order I’d started and provided me with a better shopping experience because I am a registered customer.

Fast Checkout

When customers register on your site, they are stepping into the fast lane for all future checkouts. To make this point, consider just one feature registration enables: customer address books.

When a returning shopper checks out on Amazon — which requires all users to register — that user does not necessarily need to enter an address or even payment card information. Simply confirm the purchase and you’re done.

A checkout process that required form fields for street address, city name, state or province, country, postal code, payment card number, and payment card expiration date is reduced to a checkbox and button. It simply takes registered users less time to check out.

But Won’t You Lose Sales?

Some critics might agree that there are benefits to registration, like better service, personalization, and faster checkout. But those critics argue that the potential downside — losing sales — outweighs any benefits for your customers.

But requiring registration does not have to hurt conversation rates or sales.

Anecdotally, I have been requiring registration on an ecommerce store that I manage for more than three years without any negative impact on sales or sales growth. Cart abandonment has gone down during that same period.

The difference may be in how registration is executed.

In his blog post, Corr cites a four-year-old Econsultancy article that, in turn, cited a six-year-old finding, which showed that a quarter of customers would leave your site rather than register. But six years ago, site registration was done differently.

It was common for sites to have a blocking screen of sorts that divided registration and guest checkout. Ecommerce platforms at the time typically had something like this built in to the checkout workflow.

Six years ago, customer registration was treated like a feature in some ecommerce platforms. Because it was an addition to the checkout flow, it required an extra account creation step.

Six years ago, customer registration was treated like a feature in some ecommerce platforms. Because it was an addition to the checkout flow, it required an extra account creation step.

Because registration was a feature in ecommerce platforms, it required an extra step, and when a site was requiring registration (effectively turned off guest checkout), there would be a screen that interrupted the checkout process and said something like “Create Account” or “Register.” It is little wonder that this discouraged some shoppers.

Because registration was a feature separate from checkout, when a business required it, it created an extra and upsetting step.

Because registration was a feature separate from checkout, when a business required it, it created an extra and upsetting step.

Now registering every shopper can be done with a simple password field and no other fanfare or obstacles.

The form shown below, as an example, includes a password field at the bottom of the checkout.

Registered users can log in and bypass the form altogether. First time customers step through a checkout process identical to what a “guest” experiences on sites that Corr and other registration critics approve of, with one change. The addition of the password field. That is it. No other extra steps are required.

Registration is as simple as the addition of a single form field.

Registration is as simple as the addition of a single form field.

Registration Improves Sales

Registration and its associated benefits may encourage some of your customers to make a second, third, or even fourth purchase from your site. Repeat customers can be very valuable to your business. They often spend more on each order, and they are worth more over time because of their many orders.

Some marketing experts believe that registration reduces conversion rates. But this does not have to be the case. Test registration on your own ecommerce site to determine what works for your business.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. Euge September 11, 2015 Reply

    The only thing I can say on that example is that it is not clear that you are creating an account.

    • Armando Roggio September 11, 2015 Reply

      Euge, I suppose that is my point. I think we get wrapped around the word “registration” or “account” when we should not. Registration, if we must call it that, is simply part of the checkout process. It should not be called out or separated.

      To become a registered user, the shopper is not providing any more transactional or personal information.

      There is no substantive difference in how the customer’s information is stored in the database. There is also no legal difference in the relationship.

      But collecting a password helps our customers and allows us to serve them better.

  2. Elizabeth Hollingsworth September 11, 2015 Reply

    Many shopping carts now include cart abandonment apps so if they’ve got through to the checkout and stopped, it will take their details and email them about the items left in their cart.
    My Shopify cart app has rescued sales that way, and for the others, I call them. It also places a cookie on them so it recognises them from their email for future purchases; however, they have not been forced to register. I wonder if they would consider it an account?

  3. SirTin Lee September 12, 2015 Reply

    As a buyer, registering or Opening and account does not deter me from buying. Asking me to register when I first visit a website or to register in order to view prices is really upsetting and will cause me to leave the site quickly.

  4. Yigal Carmy September 19, 2015 Reply

    Nice article, one question: why not go the extra mile and create the password for the user?
    In an e-commerce site I’ve managed, when a non-registered user made a reservation, we created an account for him and sent him an initial password, which he DIDN’T have to change. The results were great.

  5. Giles November 7, 2015 Reply

    Anecdotally, as a customer I will abandon an online shopping attempt over 90% of the time if I’m forced to register – it is sooo annoying.

  6. Giles November 7, 2015 Reply

    Anecdotally, as a customer I will abandon an online shopping attempt over 90% of the time if I am forced to register – it is sooo annoying.

  7. Alexandru Rada November 21, 2015 Reply

    Hello Armando,

    You put together a great article with lot of information. I have another opinion about registering online shoppers: personalizing their online experience should not be related to registering and entering their accounts.

    This should be done in a smarter way, because now we all use multiple devices, and the personalization tool should take that into consideration.

    I’ve build Vibetrace.com as a marketing automation and personalization solution and we cover this think as well.

    Forcing the user to register an account will drive down sales in some cases, but increase conversion rate in other. (Mostly in b2b businesses)