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Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008 at 9:51 am

Will 2009 Be the Year eCommerce Gets Lazy?

By Brendan Regan
December 10th, 2008

Whether our clients’ carts are Yahoo! stores, out-of-the-box third party carts, or 100% custom-coded, I can’t help feeling like there’s still a lot of room for improvement.  Despite the advances in technology and usability, no one should be satisfied with the industry’s 2-3% conversion rate, and cart/funnel conversion rates in the low double digits.

I tend to attribute these low metrics, in some part, to the continued insistence on throwing a registration requirement in front of visitors right when they begin to convert.  Even the popular “login, register, or checkout as guest” screens have some dropoff, and that’s money left on the table.

Note: I know we’ve blogged about this topic before, so I assure you I’m hoping to take this in a unique direction.

I’m going to suggest that everyone who manages some sort of “checkout process,” including registering with B2B sites, take some time in 2009 to think about the concept of Lazy Registration.  According to UI-patterns.com, Lazy Registration is a solution to “let the user interact and use your system/application while postponing formal registration to a later time.” In layman’s terms, it’s the concept of building a temporary profile in the background and subtly encouraging visitors to finish/formalize their profile when they’re ready (and when they’re persuaded of the value).  Sites like TripIt.com, Jumpcut.com, and Geni.com all use some form of lazy registration to get visitors using their service without requiring the creation of a formal account.

Now I know what you’re thinking…none of those sites are retail sites selling physical product online, so does Lazy Registration make sense in my case? Well, I argue it’s worth looking into.  Take a look at a few of UI-Patterns’s stated reasons for using the approach:
•    Use when giving away the personal information required for a formal account registration is a big step for your users (Really, I argue that giving away the customary account creation personal information is a big step for 100% of your visitors, especially first time visitors)
•    Use when you want to allow your users to try out your website (and in turn compare it to alternatives) before making the decision to register an account with your website (If we can all acknowledge that our visitors engage in comparison shopping, this becomes a killer argument)
•    Use when registering an account requires an exchange of money, why the user might want to “browse around” your product first in order to make a decision (This one seems to apply to all B2C, and if time is money, then it’s relevant to B2B)
•    Use when you don’t want to force your users to register at first – when you don’t want to put too much pressure on your users (If putting pressure on our visitors, especially first time visitors, causes them to not convert, why would we want to put pressure on them?)

I think most of us, if we could “get outside the bottle,” would admit that we don’t do a good job of presenting WHY our visitors should register with our sites.  Remember the What’s In It For Me concept.  Lazy Registration is an approach that forces us to prove value BEFORE we ask for registration, and I wonder what kind of conversion rate increases it might provide if applied elegantly.

With continuing improvements in how our developers can handle AJAX, cookies, sessions, etc., 2009 seems like a great year to start thinking about this concept and figuring out the implications to your business (e.g. less data in the database to market back to, but more sales).  And if you decide it’s something worth exploring, then definitely test it on a small portion of your traffic, and let us know how it goes.

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Comments (15)

  1. Long time reader, first time commenter. Great post. I’ve never undersood how capturing personal info took priority over closing business.

    I just wanna buy stuff! Why do online retailers have to make it so onerous? I realize that I’ll have to provide a bunch of information anyway (how else will I get my shipment and tracking info). Make it quick and easy and I’ll keep coming back.

  2. Brendan, thanks for an enjoyable article. I really agree with you that collecting registration information too early in the process can be detrimental. We’ve certainly found this to be true for white papers in the technology area.

    Customers have to want to give you their information. According to a survey from KnowledgeStorm and MarketingSherpa, 20% of people in the technology industry will not register for a white paper. If you’re early in the buying cycle, 20% is a very large percentage to exclude from your sales funnel.

    My company, Studio B (www.studiob.com), has created several hundred white papers for large technology companies and I find it amazing how some of the companies focus on obtaining the lead rather than how persuasiveness of the white paper. If you focus on providing a highly persuasive message along with a thoughtful reward for providing the contact info, you’ll have a much higher quality lead and probably more of them.

    I’ve just started a blog called KosherMarketing.com, which focuses on building meaningful relationships with customers. As tempting as it was, I chose not to make people register for the white paper that describes Kosher Marketing. Instead, I rewrote the white paper six times, and offered a free eBook as an incentive for voluntarily registering at the end of the white paper. So far, the results have been pretty astonishing.

  3. David,

    Congrats on the new blog it looks great. I already forwarded it to a few friends.

    Bryan

  4. Hi,

    A colleague and I have conducted usability sessions with a large UK multi-channel retailer, and early indications show that (and the caveat is that usability is qualitative rather than quantative) users prefer to choose up-front whether they are going to register or just checkout. A lot of people, in our sample, felt uncomfortable with the idea of not knowing whether or not they had ‘registered’. What this means, in my view, is that we have trained users to expect some form of registration at the beginning of the process and that if we fail to tell them – at the beginning – what we expect then FUD (Fear, Uncertainity and Doubt) will prevail and our users will not reward us with either a registration or an order.

    Dan Croxen-John

  5. Great article. This is also true for opt-in information marketing. Gone are the days when a sparse paragraph of copy asked for the email address to get more. Now significant content needs to be presented “in the wild” AND significant content needs to be promised to get the opt-in.

    You’ve got to “sell the free” and establish credibility and trust upfront. A bit more work, but it’s worth it.

  6. I sometimes wonder if we aren’t just a little too hung up on the 3% conversion ratio. It’s been a fairly static figure for years now and I wonder if we’re not just seeing what retailers in the real world see every day of the week.

    For example what’s the ratio of people who look in a shop window compared to people who actually walk in the door?

    What’s the ratio of people who walk through the door compared to those that actually make a purchase?

    If we had those figures from the real world then maybe our online 3% might not look so bad after all.

    Stuart

  7. Stuart,

    I could live with that logic if I knew that a retailer’s store was fully optimized. However, there is rarely a chance that when we work with a retailer with a good team to execute that we don’t nudge up that conversion rate. In fact, a recent jewelry retailer went from that 3% mark to the 7% mark in the course of a 3 month engagement.

  8. I decided a long while back to forget requiring or even offering the person to create an account for future purchases. Just seems to be 1 more road block to getting the persons order for my B to C website.

    Besides who can remember all those passwords, nothing worst than going to a site and not remembering your user name and password and then spending more time trying to get it from the site when it was quicker to just submit your order information without having the system try and remember it for you to start with.

  9. Great concept to get users hooked before they have to “work” by filling out forms.

    Giving access to what they’ll have to register for temporarily is a great idea.

    I agree that the level of quality when it comes to checkout is not that great. I think though that security and quality of processing has been done pretty well in general.

    Some points lacking, but not lacking enough to “stop” people from buying. Maybe discouraging.

    Optimize!

  10. I have to agree with ‘Audio Bible’ here, the process of having to log back in to place the next order is onerous. Yes, unless I use the site all the time… like Amazon and me… finding that login info is going to turn me off. Easier to just provide the CC and shipping details again.

    In other words, if I’m a repeat customer: DON’T force me to log in to your site! If you can’t match up my records in email address/name/mailing address, you don’t deserve to have customers.

  11. I’m with Jack and Audio Bible…let me check out with or without an account. If an email subscription is what you’re really after, have the customer check a box somewhere during checkout. Why do we need a permanent record of all that other customer info?

  12. Great info, something I will start to test.

    Kristen, one advantage of having an account is after you sign in, you do not have to enter all your info for the order, it does save time but do understand trying to make you create an account before you even whip out your credit card.

  13. The bigger problem in the near future is State Governments doing Money Grabs as they try to legislate individual Online Consumer Taxes to keep the money home. Imagine how great your conversion are going to be when out of the blue the tax man steps in to grab a piece? And how will that work when the buyer is out of state? Yikes!

  14. I think the economy is driving the low conversion rates more than the version of the shopping cart.

  15. E-Commerce this year I think will be great developments in the sector.

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