Why do I have to create an account?
December 27, 2008 9:16 PM   Subscribe

Why do an increasing number of e-commerce sites force me to set up an account, including an e-mail address and a password, as part of the checkout process.

I understand (and don't mind) when this is optional. But when a store forces me to set up an account and give them a password before they will sell me a product (or accept a donation, even) I find it obnoxious. This seems to be more and more common.
posted by alms to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it's oldthink: "Hey, this is great! We can create mailing lists this way!"
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:21 PM on December 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Because being able to effectively sell people items is something many people will pay for, so all open source solutions are highly technical, limited, and generally suck--making them better would kill the golden-egg laying goose.

One-screen and accountless checkouts is on the roadmap of approximately -10% of the open source shopping carts, due the Wednesday after Never, right after they finish the "simple to theme" feature and the "uncluttered interface" design.
posted by Nonce at 9:22 PM on December 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

A lot of off-the-shelf shopping carts don't allow people to purchase stuff without an account out of the box. If you're buying from smaller stores that don't use custom software, that could be part of it.
posted by !Jim at 9:35 PM on December 27, 2008

Lots of places justify it as a service. "You don't have to fill out your shipping address next time."

But, mainly I think Chocolate Pickle is right... it's a chance for them to gather more information on their customers, including the opportunity to send them obnoxious email that "isn't spam, 'cause you have an account with us."

Luckily, google is perfectly happy to let me mark these "legitimate" communications as spam nonetheless.
posted by Netzapper at 9:36 PM on December 27, 2008

I agree. I despise having to create an account everywhere I go... They're doing it to pass off responsibility should anything go wrong. No, that's J.Q.Random@gmail.com... go ask gmail if you want details. Fraudulent credit card... not our problem and we got a name, it's lah.di.dah@gmail.com, go ask them. We made sure to keep a tiny bit of identifiable material to cover our ass. GO ASK THEM!!! My best guess.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:37 PM on December 27, 2008

Same reason that a supermarket wants you to have a loyalty card. You're more likely to come back if you feel you have some connection to a site.
posted by tkolar at 9:53 PM on December 27, 2008

Nah, supermarkets want market data, and an out for product recall. We did everything we could to notify everybody who bought that bad ham.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:09 PM on December 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Re spamming: but some record of purchase is required should you need a refund or have any issues with the transaction, right? Presumably your email is where your record of purchase is going to get sent to; at that point they have your email address already and can spam you to hell and back if they choose to. Having you set up an account, then, is a different matter entirely, nothing to do with wanting to spam you. Any of the other reasons given sound to me like good ones; nth them all...
posted by springbound at 10:21 PM on December 27, 2008

I find it useful for lots of sites. For example, having an amazon account means I can add stuff to the basket / wishlist to buy in future. I can also view past purchases which may be essential if I've lost the original confirmation email. Some sites allow you to log in and view order and delivery status.
posted by JonB at 1:51 AM on December 28, 2008

The interesting (and annoying) thing to me is that this trend seems to be increasing, i.e. more and more sites require that I give them a password to set up an "account" before they will let me purchase. In the past I did not run into this as much.

I understand the value of this for a place like Amazon, where I will be a return shopper. But most of the sites where I'm running into this are little places where I may return once every six months if they're lucky.

It's annoying that the situation is getting worse, rather than better. Maybe it's the tech world doing it's part to forget everything that happened over the last eight years. Blegh.
posted by alms at 7:23 AM on December 28, 2008

Perhaps I digress, perhaps not. What is the likelihood of the merchant failing in the event the potential customer loses their username/pass? I've returned (infrequently) to many of the sites you've mentioned only to find I've forgotten, and did't note, the username/pass --which, btw is probably some throwaway I used in a rush OR an extension of my standard insecure combo because their requirements were silly. The result is I cannot login, I cannot create a new account because it recognizes some previous info, and I go elsewhere or do without. Remember when yahoo required a birthdate to retrieve user/pass info? As if I give out the correct birthdate to random sites.

So why do they do this? I like your question, btw and the other issues it raises. I think businesses have a *data fetish, it validates them. But also the spam and responsibility dodge that others mentioned above. With alot of data we can process better BI (biz intelligence). We can do our own marketing studies, etc.

* data fetish: I just made that up. Seriously.
posted by ezekieldas at 7:58 AM on December 28, 2008


Several years ago I redesigned a client's shopping system to make logging in or creating an account optional; the default was a streamlined, not-quite-one-click system. Sales immediately dropped substantially, and the number of cancelled or return orders increased by a small amount. They had me switch it back to make logging in the default (account-less orders were still possible, but less obviously so.) Sales went back up to a bit higher than before the redesign, and returns dropped to a normal level. (I'm unfortunately not sure what percentage of shoppers use the accountless system now that it's not the default.)

This was a niche retailer, which depends more on search engine traffic than repeat shoppers, so most customers weren't ever going to use that account again -- but clearly they felt better about shopping that way even though it was strictly speaking less convenient to do so.

A substantial percentage of the online shopping public wants to log in to websites when they're buying something. It's reassuring. It feels safer to give your credit card number to someone you already have a relationship with, even if that relationship consists of filling in a form and choosing a name and password two minutes ago. Also, the big retailers all require you to log in, so small retailers risk looking unprofessional or fly-by-night if they don't as well. That, plus the business's desire for customer data, plus the real utility of being able to check delivery status etc later, have contact info if something goes wrong, all that stuff -- means yeah, this is the way to do it. No question.

Another related factoid: you know how when you enter a credit card number they always ask you what type of card it is (mastercard, visa, etc)? This is totally unnecessary; it's trivial for the retailer to determine which card it is just by looking at the digits. But, as I've learned the hard way, if you don't include that extra pulldown menu for card type, shoppers get confused and sales drop. People want to see what they're used to seeing, even if it's less convenient.
posted by ook at 9:57 AM on December 28, 2008 [6 favorites]

Seconding ook's observations. Tech savvy shoppers are annoyed by it, but tech shoppers are a minority.
posted by dejah420 at 11:35 AM on December 28, 2008

Part of it is that so many people really don't 'get' the Web. Final decisions are made by somebody who thinks web shopping is like catalog shopping, where the buyer sits down with the catalog, makes choices, writes a check, fills out a form and mails it off. They listen to the Today show saying "Log In to stupid.nbc.com" without wincing. So, some marketing manager reads an article that says you should make buyers register, so you can spam them, and develop a relationship, etc.

I often allow sites to email me because I want to know when something I want is on sale, or I want coupons. I always end up unsubscribing because I don't want daily email, where I might read at least the subject line of weekly email.

Register UseridAdCrap@gmail, and check weekly.
posted by theora55 at 11:45 AM on December 28, 2008

Or use mailinator for that first-time email.
posted by Rash at 3:28 PM on December 28, 2008

As an e-commerce consultant, everything relates to profitability.

The most profitable e-commerce customers are the loyal ones that come back again and again. What the store wants to do is ease the experience for these customers by removing hurdles on repeat purchases. Instead of typing all the shipping and billing details, it is as easy as logging in once. There are also added revenue benefits such as wishlists, etc.

Of course this functionality comes at the expense of ease of use. It is a continual catch-22 that comes up in many areas.

Since all e-commerce systems capture the email for receipts, requiring registration for purchase isn't so nefariously related to spam, but for order communication.

It really is a personal choice. Ease of use vs. added functionality.

I personally prefer ease of use and removing all hurdles.
posted by avex at 7:31 PM on December 28, 2008

I personally prefer ease of use and removing all hurdles.

Avex, I'm genuinely curious: what does that even mean?

As an e-commerce consultant have you observed the effect I described above, which seems to contradict ease-of-use as the best priority here, even from the customer's point of view? Or would you call that an outlier?
posted by ook at 8:11 AM on December 29, 2008

I think ook nailed it. I'll just have remember grandma every time I'm forced to create a useless registration.
posted by alms at 8:17 AM on December 29, 2008

Avex, I'm genuinely curious: what does that even mean?

A hurdle is anything that adds any time or complexity to the process. Some carts have several pages, and text box after text box that burdens the user with questions.

The most successful carts are those which offer the path of least resistance. In other words, it is a cart with the least number of forms possible.

That is only one side of the puzzle, as you have to design simple and functional forms that offer the best usability. But generally speaking, less is more!

Anyone is serious about this will do extensive A/B testing and come up with the best solution for the site, product, and customer. It is different for every site.

For your factoid, Paypal (and possible others) explicitly require you to select and pass the card type, even though it is trivial to decipher the card type from the number.
posted by avex at 4:36 PM on January 4, 2009

I think you missed my point, avex.
posted by ook at 10:15 PM on January 4, 2009

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