Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Account Sign-in: 8 Design Mistakes to Avoid

Mistakes to avoid ...

"Along with their popular line of high-end networking equipment, Cisco Systems offers something else for Cisco.com visitors to buy: a line of Cisco-brand leisure wear and accessories, everything from wind breakers to golf balls. The only problem is, to see the line of logo-emboldened products, you need to first fill out a registration form.

Yes. You read that correctly. Just to *see* the available products, you need to create an account by filling out the four-page, 45-question form. (You have to tell Cisco your job role twice, your job title once, and the language you prefer to speak 3 times -- all in English.) Then, if you can find your way back to the online marketplace, you can see the selection of laser-light key chains with the Cisco logo.

There are many great business advantages to having users create an account and log into the system. You know who is using your system, how often they visit, and what they do on the site. You can store information they might need later, such as their order history and their billing info for future purchases. And, you can offer them content and services reserved for only your best clientele.

Yet, in usability test after usability test, we see the registration and sign-in processes to be consistently problematic. It's the most common thing that scares users away from shopping on e-commerce sites. It generates the most calls to the customer-support call center.

Designing an account registration and sign-in process that doesn't frustrate users turns out to be very difficult to achieve. It looks easy at the outset, but a pile of subtleties can sneak up on your experience, making something that should be simple become stressful for the users.

Here are 8 common design mistakes we often see as we watch users try to create accounts and sign into the site:

Mistake #1: Having a Sign-in In The First Place

It seems the reason Cisco requires you to log in just to see the golf balls for sale is not all products are available for the general public. Some are only for employees (who also get a nice discount). Some are only for certified Cisco engineers. To know what products and prices to display, the site needs to know who you are.

Fortunately, most sites don't take this approach. On most sites, you can do many things without identifying yourself.

And, that's the way customers like it. They hate having to create an account to do something simple, such as download a white paper or pay for a product they've chosen. As one online shopper said recently during a usability test, "I don't want to develop a relationship with these guys. I just want to buy something."

Practically unheard of in the travel industry, Midwest Airlines doesn't require their customers to register to buy an airline ticket. Instead, customers can make a purchase as a guest. Of course, they still have to enter their name and billing info, but they aren't forced to create a username and password if they don't want to.

Mistake #2: Requiring Sign-in Too Soon

Part of Cisco's issue was requiring the customer to sign in (and new customers to register) before they could see the products. Had they required it later, maybe after clicking on a link labeled "Show me my employee discount" or "Checkout", the shoppers would have been less frustrated.

Amazon set the gold standard by waiting until the last possible moment to require sign-in. Clicking on "My Account", users sees the entire list of account support options before they identify themselves. In some cases, such as one-click shopping, they never have the user sign-in. The cookie on the machine is good enough."    (Continued via UIE, Jared Spool)    [Usability Resources]

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