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ACHICA.com has taken the "members only club" concept to a level I've never seen online; you can hardly view anything on the site without registering. This is the first time I've seen barriers to entry deliberately created, which is the exact opposite of what's generally recommended in UX design.

Is this an effective pattern to make a site/experience seem "exclusive"? Are there examples that have made barriers like this a part of a good experience for their (apparently exclusive) user base?

I'm interested as to where/whether this pattern can be employed effectively. It seems certain that this will reduce conversion rates, so what other measures of value are important to consider for this high barrier to entry pattern? Is it a "Dark Pattern"?

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That site looks like (and a quick Google search seems to validate this) a business copying the DirectBuy model--which most folks would consider a scam. And how the scam works is to pretty much keep you in the dark UNTIL they have your money...which at that point, it's too late. –  DA01 Nov 6 '11 at 0:26
    
@DA01 I (like many I'm sure) didn't actually finish the registration process, I just find their approach interesting. I'll look into direct buy's methods/scam soon. I was never considering emulating such absurdity, but it still interested me. –  Ben Brocka Nov 6 '11 at 4:52
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I found a paper entitled Members Only: Elite Clubs and the Process of Exclusion but of course it's behind a paywall. :-P –  Patrick McElhaney Nov 6 '11 at 19:55
    
its a scam; you can obtain the good I tested cheaper elsewhere. really good question IMHO –  colmcq Nov 6 '11 at 22:14
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@colmcq I suspect there's elements of a Dark Pattern here too; once I've spent the effort to sign up and you've TOLD ME your prices are so great it might limit people's desire to price check. Plus their model makes it impossible for Google to index their prices for cross comparison; perfectly evil. –  Ben Brocka Nov 7 '11 at 14:06
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up vote 12 down vote accepted

I say it plays a few psychological tricks quite well.

First, as noted, the feeling of exclusiveness: that not any average Joe will go there, it's not something common like (insert lots of contempt here) IKEA.

Second: it creates curiosity. Just by not being able to see, you get curious about what you are missing. A few nicely placed teasers on the front page, and you just want to take a quick peek around the corner.

Third: this invites you to place a commitment. A well researched technique to get people to do something they don't particularly want is to draw them in with little steps, asking for a tiny commitments, nothing too much, every time. (One description: http://raisedbyturtles.org/commitment-and-consistency/ But more is in The Social Animal, by Elliot Aronson). As soon as you have filled out your personal information, one step has been taken and you will not dismiss something as easily as you would have done in a noncommitted store.

Fourth: it then stresses how the supply is limited and you should act immediately. (When placed in the cart, the item is reserved for 30 minutes, it's only available for 24, 48 or 72 hours, and supply is limited and will not return.) This plays well into the exclusiveness, but also into the feeling that you have missed out on something special if you didn't purchase immediately, another wellknown selling technique. (One the lottery plays into as well, especially location based ones - the fear of being the only one in the area that has NOT won something, and you could have been part of it if only...) And it limits the chances of comparing table prices and coming to the conclusion that other tables just like it are much cheaper.

The point here obviously has nothing to do with the user: it's not meant to help the user in any way, but to trick them into things they don't particularly want. But in that, it is probably effective.

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Fantasic user experience-oriented answer! –  Rahul Nov 6 '11 at 22:53
    
Great analysis and resources! –  Ben Brocka Nov 7 '11 at 14:07
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Different websites have different purposes, and those differences often mean that what would be the death of one would also be a great idea for another.

Barriers to entry aren't always a side effect of wanting people to do something (like sign up). Sometimes they are used as filters. In this case it could be that they are erecting barriers to try and filter out those people who they believe will not spend money in the first place. But then again, it could just be poor design :)

From an economic perspective luxury goods and the perception of luxury work very differently to what most people would expect. Lower sales volumes (exclusivity) and high prices (status) are very often exactly what you have to do to make money in luxury markets. I suspect that achica.com are trying to do just that.

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Jetsetter, One Kings Lane, Fab, Gilt ... asking for registration before content is definitely a trend for the high status sites these days. I am not a marketer, but I am assuming a combination of the illusion of exclusivity plus the ability to capture user info up front is motivating this particular web fad at the moment, and I can't say I am a fan.

That said, fab.com is a dangerous site for a designer.

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I almost got caught by the Fab.com mess myself, but once they lauched I thought "Eh...what IS this anyway" and quickly unsubscribed. I don't care for the model at all either. –  Ben Brocka Nov 6 '11 at 4:53
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Is this an effective pattern to make a site/experience seem "exclusive"? Are there examples that have made barriers like this a part of a good experience for their (apparently exclusive) user base?

I feel like this is more a question of effective marketing rather than a question of being a proper user experience pattern. I think the key is differentiating a barrier that is complexity of UI / poor usability vs. a barrier that is exclusiveness. For example, they shouldn't be struggling to register because they can't find a button. That would be bad. It is definitely common to use an invite-only approach to generate hype or interest. It also makes people value the membership more, regardless of whether it is free or not (perceived value).

I'm interested as to where/whether this pattern can be employed effectively. It seems certain that this will reduce conversion rates, so what other measures of value are important to consider for this high barrier to entry pattern?

In considering conversion, you have to think about what their goal is. They may be aiming for a committed, deep level of engagement. They might not want lightweight conversions. Sometimes it is just as much about quality as quantity.

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