Have you ever waited in line at a cash register and then had the employee at the register ask if you’re already a member of the store’s loyalty or member program? They usually will ask for your membership card, but very few of us actually carry those around in our wallets, so they usually have another way to look up our accounts: name, phone number, etc. In most cases, the membership info isn’t needed to make the purchase anyway, only to secure some sort of discount or “points” toward a reward.
With nearly every offline and online business offering membership, do you really carry all those cards with you, or remember every password you create for every shopping experience you’ve gone through online? Do you even remember all the places you’ve created accounts? I definitely tend to forget when I already have an account at an online store, and I’m often guilty of forgetting my password, if not my entire login!
I recently was shopping at the Victoria Secret web site. Having added a few items to my cart, I then was asked to choose between these two calls to action in order to move forward; “sign in & check out” or “proceed to checkout.” I couldn’t recall whether I had registered previously, much less what password I would have used if I had registered, so I clicked on “proceed to checkout.”
Upon filling out all of my billing info, I was asked to “create an account” at the bottom of the checkout page. I actually didn’t see that it was ‘optional’ at this point. I filled out my email address, created a password, and then clicked “continue.”
Instead of moving me forward in my buying process, I was presented with this error message (see left), telling me that my email address already was registered and that I needed to sign in by clicking a link at the top of the page. I felt myself becoming mildly frustrated, but what occurred next nearly stopped me in my tracks. The next stumbling block I experienced was not being able to find the indicated “sign in” link at the top of the page. My expectation (and a reasonable one at that) is that after asking me to jump through a hoop like that, they will present the requested action to me prominently and clearly, making it as painless as possible for me to get to the step where I give them my money.
If a visitor clicks “proceed to checkout,” they are telling you something about how they want to continue: that they don’t think they have an account with you already, or that they don’t remember the info required to sign in. Keeping this in mind, make it easy for the visitor to checkout without having to sign in at all. If the visitor does attempt to “create an account” with an email address that is already listed in your database, consider…
1) an option to send a temporary password to that email address, or an option to answer a security question, so they can get access to their account info without creating a potential threat to financial or billing info. Or…
2) an alert that an account already exists, and that presents a clear and easy call to action to bypass sign in and go directly to checkout anyway.
Just as an employee at a cash register wouldn’t make you give your account information in order to purchase items, don’t make the visitor have to sign in or try to figure out what password they used three years ago when they created an account with you. After all, isn’t the point of having an account (from the customer’s perspective anyway) one of being able to conveniently populate checkout forms and get the sale done faster? How convenient is it to the customer to have to take twice as much time as if they didn’t have any account just to figure out the login mess?! This is frustrating and it may result in loss of sales.
Lastly, if you do decide to require the visitor to sign in at any point, present the visitor with a sign in box that is easy to locate. Think of the employee at the cash register who asks the client if they have a membership: the option comes at a moment that cannot be avoided, it’s staring them in the face, and it presents itself to them so they don’t have to go looking for it. While they won’t make you use a membership card, they may ask for your name or phone number to locate your file. Similarly, you should make it easy for the visitor to easily sign in.
So, the take-away rules about logins and your shopping cart are:
1) Don’t make login or account creation a requirement for purchase.
2) If you decide to require sign in or account creation, make it painless by giving at least one alternative, secure option for accessing the account in the event that the customer can’t remember their sign in info.
3) If a purchasing customer attempts to create an account that already exists, give them options to go directly to checkout.
4) Make sure any required or indicated actions are visible and clear to your visitors, so they don’t struggle to find them.
Have any other pet-peeves about logins and the shopping cart? Let us know about them in the comments section!