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If you love your customer set her free

There is a great story on Jared Spool’s blog of how a desire to build a relationship with customers can be counter-productive (thanks to Joe Andrieu for the pointer).

The un-named etailer made the mistake of asking customers to register with the site before they checked out – I can fully understand the impulse behind this – build a list of registered members, improve their future purchase experience, and hopefully improve their loyalty and repeat business stats.

The result, however, was very different.  Total mayhem in fact.

Firstly, when it came to it customers didn’t like having to register:

We conducted usability tests with people who needed to buy products from the site. We asked them to bring their shopping lists and we gave them the money to make the purchases. All they needed to do was complete the purchase.

We were wrong about the first-time shoppers. They did mind registering. They resented having to register when they encountered the page. As one shopper told us, “I’m not here to enter into a relationship. I just want to buy something.”

Some first-time shoppers couldn’t remember if it was their first time, becoming frustrated as each common email and password combination failed. We were surprised how much they resisted registering.

Without even knowing what was involved in registration, all the users that clicked on the button did so with a sense of despair. Many vocalized how the retailer only wanted their information to pester them with marketing messages they didn’t want. Some imagined other nefarious purposes of the obvious attempt to invade privacy. (In reality, the site asked nothing during registration that it didn’t need to complete the purchase: name, shipping address, billing address, and payment information.)

Lesson 1 is don’t make people feel like you are making them trust you or that you assume they want to be your friend.

I’m not here to be in a relationship – that sums it up for me.  If I think about the good relationships I have with offline retailers they didn’t start on the first visit – they started some way down the track, once we had started to get to know one another.  The first visit was all about efficient execution of the purchase process.

Secondly, even if people don’t mind registering in theory, in practice it is a massive hassle:

Except for a very few who remembered their login information, most stumbled on the form. They couldn’t remember the email address or password they used. Remembering which email address they registered with was problematic – many had multiple email addresses or had changed them over the years.When a shopper couldn’t remember the email address and password, they’d attempt at guessing what it could be multiple times. These guesses rarely succeeded. Some would eventually ask the site to send the password to their email address, which is a problem if you can’t remember which email address you initially registered with.

(Later, we did an analysis of the retailer’s database, only to discover 45% of all customers had multiple registrations in the system, some as many as 10. We also analyzed how many people requested passwords, to find out it reached about 160,000 per day. 75% of these people never tried to complete the purchase once requested.)

The form, intended to make shopping easier, turned out to only help a small percentage of the customers who encountered it.

Read the punultimate paragraph in the above quote again – those are some jaw-droppingly-big numbers.

Asking people to register makes the mistake of assuming you are important enough to the customer that they will remember the details they have used.  The second lesson therefore is the folly of that (arrogant) assumption.  (Note this pattern will shift as OpenID and Facebook Connect gain traction.)

Joe quotes Doc Searls as saying “a free customer is more valuable than a captive one” – I’m a big believer in that.  Trying to capture people (or forcing them to register) makes you less attractive.  In the real world we have always known that being needy is a turn-off – yet somehow this doesn’t always get translated online.

And the punchline?  When the un-named retailer changed the process so people weren’t forced to register sales lept up by $15m in the first month and $300m in the first year.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/elpinturrichio elpinturrichio

    Classic example of putting your own needs before customer needs. Speaking about this particular example – this is a very common mistake, in fact it is so common that I would think most businesses would have learned by now not to turn the customer's experience into a burden of some kind.

    Stepping back to look at the broader issue, I think the key is to be polite, informative and attentive with your product's experience. Or in other words – care to offer, but don't force. Much like a traditional retail store should be.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/elpinturrichio elpinturrichio

    Classic example of putting your own needs before customer needs. Speaking about this particular example – this is a very common mistake, in fact it is so common that I would think most businesses would have learned by now not to turn the customer's experience into a burden of some kind.

    Stepping back to look at the broader issue, I think the key is to be polite, informative and attentive with your product's experience. Or in other words – care to offer, but don't force. Much like a traditional retail store should be.

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    Re: elpinturrichio commented on If you love your customer set her free Approve

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/brisbourne brisbourne

    Re: elpinturrichio commented on If you love your customer set her free

    Approve

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  • http://blog.sweepery.com matt oesterle

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

    It's interesting to look at how the problem of registration generation affects a massive segment of websites, notably online retailers. As you identify in this example, once someone has indicated they're interested in making a purchase, it's tough to justify increasing the bounce rate of that purchase funnel, regardless of the data you can collect — particularly in commoditized retail businesses where an assumption that people even want to give you that data is, as you mention, "arrogant".

    Looking beyond the purchase funnel, it seems that retailers face this registration-generation problem across their entire site. Checking Quantcast traffic metrics for most retailers, it's a common profile: 50-90% of unique visitors will essentially bounce, becoming grouped into a "Passers-by" class of uniques that will rarely, if ever, return. The problem of generating registration profiles for the few percentage of visitors that get to the purchase funnel seems to be the tip of the iceberg if we look at the massive volume of anonymous traffic that doesn't even get that far.

    So how can sites increase registration data and "de-anonymize" traffic while making the user feel that their time hasn't been wasted? This reminds me of a study that Jupiter Media released, showing up to 82% of people will provide information about themselves in exchange for a chance to win something.

    I'd be willing to bet that the real key to generating registrations comes from incentivizing people to do so, not forcing it — and to look beyond the few percentage of visitors that purchase, and instead focus on the majority of people that don't. Could a few percent of you please give us your email address and password and waste more time during check-out? No thanks. Would the rest of you like to enter to win $1000 in exchange for giving us your name, email, and A/S/L while you're surfing our site? Yes please.

    Of course, I'd be willing to bet this because it's exactly what Sweepery, my company, does ;)

  • http://blog.sweepery.com matt oesterle

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

    It's interesting to look at how the problem of registration generation affects a massive segment of websites, notably online retailers. As you identify in this example, once someone has indicated they're interested in making a purchase, it's tough to justify increasing the bounce rate of that purchase funnel, regardless of the data you can collect — particularly in commoditized retail businesses where an assumption that people even want to give you that data is, as you mention, "arrogant".

    Looking beyond the purchase funnel, it seems that retailers face this registration-generation problem across their entire site. Checking Quantcast traffic metrics for most retailers, it's a common profile: 50-90% of unique visitors will essentially bounce, becoming grouped into a "Passers-by" class of uniques that will rarely, if ever, return. The problem of generating registration profiles for the few percentage of visitors that get to the purchase funnel seems to be the tip of the iceberg if we look at the massive volume of anonymous traffic that doesn't even get that far.

    So how can sites increase registration data and "de-anonymize" traffic while making the user feel that their time hasn't been wasted? This reminds me of a study that Jupiter Media released, showing up to 82% of people will provide information about themselves in exchange for a chance to win something.

    I'd be willing to bet that the real key to generating registrations comes from incentivizing people to do so, not forcing it — and to look beyond the few percentage of visitors that purchase, and instead focus on the majority of people that don't. Could a few percent of you please give us your email address and password and waste more time during check-out? No thanks. Would the rest of you like to enter to win $1000 in exchange for giving us your name, email, and A/S/L while you're surfing our site? Yes please.

    Of course, I'd be willing to bet this because it's exactly what Sweepery, my company, does ;)

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    Re: matt oesterle commented on If you love your customer set her free :) Thanks Matt

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/brisbourne brisbourne

    Re: matt oesterle commented on If you love your customer set her free

    :)

    Thanks Matt

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