eCommerce Registration and the Path of Least Resistance

The best interface, is no interface.” These were the pearls of wisdom offered by Alan Cooper back in 2012. Fast-forward six years, and here we are with ecommerce: forced registrations, whimsical delivery times, late/cancelled deliveries, basket analogies, wishlists, broken mobile-web journeys & impersonal recommendations.

If “Customer is King” and we follow User-Centered Design (or any of the other variants of UX), why is it that businesses, marketing and even sometimes UX put obstacles in the way of users reaching their goals?

What is the end-goal for a user in eCommerce? The user wants to buy a product. There might be other things that the user does before purchasing a product, but the final destination a user wants to reach, is the to have the product in hand. Yet, we like to throw things in the way of the user achieving this quite simple goal.

Forced registration is one of those obstacles/blockers. Why might this be?

  1. This is the user’s first time and he doesn’t trust the company/business yet; there is a long history of data misuse by business and marketing
  2. The registration process requires more data/information from the user than necessary for the user to receive their item. This may leave the user feeling suspicious.
  3. It takes effort to complete the form; for example , a first time user also needs to add an address and payment information.
  4. The user needs to wait for verification, before continuing with the purchase
  5. It is a one-time purchase and the user doesn’t want to buy again and is burdened with the effort of deleting/unsubscribing an account (if they can at all).

Depending on who was in charge in formulating this forced registration protocol, it might look like the following.

If business were in charge of registration, a registration form might look something like this: 

Business’ needs are based on what make their lives easier in order to communicate with a user, deliver to a user, keep track of user’s purchases, build profiles on users, determine their conversion rate, etc.

If marketing was in charge of registration, a registration form might look something like this:

Marketing’s needs are based on access to user data, in order to increase company reach and visibility. The more data they have, the more they can shove products in front of them and their friends. Does Marketing believe that you can increase your sales by 20% if you annoy 100% of your users all the time?

If you look at the “Age groups” on the form, you will notice that it covers 16-24, even though we all know that you can only purchase online if you are 18 years and older. A couple of years ago I worked on a product for a company, that was collecting data from under 18’s during the course of completing loan application. Marketing wanted the opportunity to target them later. To do so, they allowed all applications to complete the first two pages of the application and only asked “Are you 18+ ?” on the third page, in order to qualify the user to proceed for their loan application. I kid you not.

If UX were in charge of registration, a registration form might look something like this:

The UX Designer would have tried to keep the user requirements to a minimum, but you would most likely also have found the newsletter signup included, due to pressure from marketing, or a request from business to add location information (if business had multiple stores or did region targeting). The results is a focus on creating an experience (making the user feel good about their choice, add social proof, etc.) and making compromises with other departments.

If a user was in charge of registration, a registration form might look something like this:

If users designed this experience, then there will be no registration form. Their goal is not to register. Their goal is to purchase an item.

I believe my fellow UX Designers are sometimes misguided in their obsession with creating experiences, the timing of their compromises, and the fact that some compromises should never be made. Sure, we can’t ignore Business & Marketing as they serve their own purposes in a company, but everybody wants everything done or collected right now, instead of getting their timing right.

Since the day people wanted to capture the experience of the journey, the focus has shifted to creating experiences. This focus-shift led to the eventual problem of trying to make every step an experience (see “Log in” below). instead we should be asking: “Should this step be here in the first place?”

Ask yourself the following questions

  • Do you need a user’s personal details in order for him to see his basket?
  • Do you need more than one value (email, mobile no, etc.) to identify a user?
  • Does a user need to register for you to deliver an item to him?
  • Do you need access to a user’s social network in order to deliver to him?
  • Do you need to trick users to sign up to your newsletter? Are you admitting that you are actually not providing value?
  • Are you going to make users feel valued by asking them generalised questions like sex, age, job, etc.?
  • Do you have to push anything on your first “date”? Don’t you want to get to know them first, by looking at what they do, instead of what the answers are to YOUR questions?

Business’ response to registration drop-off is by trying to improve the experience, making it “engaging”, adding social proof, adding security icons (which most people don’t actually understand), etc. Instead they should be asking themselves: “Is this step necessary?” Maybe the reason you have a high drop-off rate is because users don’t want to engage in the extra effort of registering. If a user bought an item and comes back, they will appreciate the value of saving their personal details. Not before. It is the user’s decision to make, not yours.

Humans have one specific characteristic that is prevalent in almost everything they do: minimising effort. We call it following the PLR (Path of Least Resistance). With PLR, we question the validity of each step in order to remove obstacles that would interfere with the user reaching his goal. Just like the sport of curling, we smooth the user’s path to guide them to their goal. With PLR, we put the user back in User Experience.