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I am developing an e-commerce web site which will sell tourism services (airport transfer, accommodation, excursions, etc.). I am on a path here that I need to decide if I will provide a membership system or not.

From the user's perspective, the following two approach is possible:

  • Registration: A user should register for an account and then she can purchase online. Then, for the next time she can come to the web site, log in and purchase w/o entering the personal details again. Also, the user will be provided with a portal in order for her to keep her personal information up to date. Also, this approach makes it easy to provide a management portal for making changes on current reservations. One downside of this approach is registration is annoying and can scare the user away. If I choose this road, I will provide a way to use OAuth but it still can be overwhelming.

  • W/O Registration: A user can come to the web site and purchase a service or product without needing to register or log in. If the user needs to purchase another time, she needs to enter her details from scratch. These two purchases are completely separate from each other. They won't have a relationship and one cannot affect another.

I've considered mixing the two options and provide a way to choose but I do not have time for this. I need to choose one and go from there.

Do you support either of the above approaches or have a different idea?

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It depends on the products on offer (and I can't comment here specifically since I have no experience in your example industry). If your product is something someone is likely going to purchase more than once, it would be in their best interest to sign up. If it's something that they will buy just the once, then there is no point creating an account. Ideally, you'd be able to integrate with a system like Facebook's authentication facilities, except with payment information so you're not making people remember yet another set of details. –  Anonymous Jan 24 '12 at 14:32
    
You may want to read this article uie.com/articles/three_hund_million_button I don't know how the concepts will apply to your particular situation but its points are definitely worth considering. –  Matt Lavoie Jan 24 '12 at 15:30
    
@tugberk: If we've answered your question, you can select the best solution so that if anyone comes across the same problem in the future, they know the course of action. –  dnbrv Feb 7 '12 at 18:43
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5 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Smashing Magazine published an article about a year ago called Fundamental Guidelines Of E-Commerce Checkout Design. One of the points there (No. 10) was that registration should be optional because:

  • "customers already have a myriad of user names and passwords to remember and don’t want to create an entirely new account just to buy one or two products from an online store";
  • customers "expect to be spammed with marketing material, even if they explicitly declined to sign up for a newsletter during the checkout process", i.e. "Account = Newsletter";
  • "customers likely realize that you’re storing their information indefinitely";
  • "signing up for an account also takes time";
  • "customers just don’t understand why they need an account to buy a product".

If you still want to have accounts for tracking purposes or whatnot, this is the advice they give:

You can set their email address as their user name and fill in the account information with their order details. This way, the customer isn’t forced to create an account but has an easy way to do so after completing their purchase. (Remember to explain the benefits of having an account.)

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Nice answer and the reference is useful. –  tugberk Jan 24 '12 at 14:50
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I had a great experience recently ordering Pizza online.

On the home page of the site, I had the option to "Sign In". Since I didn't have a site membership, I just selected "Order Now" instead.

The site allowed me to go through the entire process of selecting pizza and side dishes, entering delivery details and making payment.

After payment was accepted, the site offered me the chance to create a site membership and save my details so that my next order would be faster.

Why was this good?

  • The site didn't get in the way of me achieving my goal when I went to the site. I didn't go to the site to create a membership, I went there to order dinner. Getting in the way of that would just have deterred me from completing my order.
  • The site offerred me the option of creating a membership at just the right point - just after payment was confirmed, but before I navigated away from the site. Better yet, almost all of the necessary information had already been entered into the system.

This seems to me to be a good hybrid of the approaches described in the original question - let casual users do what they need quickly and easily, with a low-barrier up-sell path to turn a casual user into a full member.

For a tourism services site, you could offer to email the person a summary of their bookings and other details - a courtesy service so they have all the information in one easy to read reference. This email could include an offer to create a site membershp, along with a unique link to start the process, allowing the "up-sell" to occur later on.

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Very nice experience and thanks for sharing that. –  tugberk Jan 24 '12 at 20:41
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We have found the decision on how to present registration during checkout is dependent on:

  • How often a typical user visits the site
  • The type of purchases they make

For example some of our clients prefer not to have registration at all, as a lot of their heavier traffic is seasonal and putting up barriers, or a yet another decision point during the checkout process is something they totally wanted to avoid. For them I agreed with this decision. Other clients who have customers who buy more often will tend to put a heavier emphasis on creating an account. So it really depends on what you are selling, and how often they user may return. Plus, it's also how much you draw attention to creating the account as well.

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Most of our clients make purchases per season basis and I agree with you on this. –  tugberk Jan 25 '12 at 9:57
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If I were you I made it optional.

Smashing Magazine's quote sounds me the best way.

You can set their email address as their user name and fill in the account information with their order details. This way, the customer isn’t forced to create an account but has an easy way to do so after completing their purchase. (Remember to explain the benefits of having an account.)

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This approach sounds awkward at first glance. Let's assume I go for this approach, user purchased a product/service and come back the site later to purchase again. But their contact info has changed. How should user inform the system? S/he needs to be authenticated, see his/er profile and make changes there. This sounds no different than registration to me or I didn't get the idea? –  tugberk Jan 24 '12 at 19:04
    
For example from flypgs.com I bought tickets but I do not register... It is my choice to fill my info every time I bought a ticket... –  Serdar Buyuktemiz Jan 26 '12 at 19:45
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I agree with dnbrv, but would like to add a few pointers...

You don't need to create a user for a transaction, just verify the details are correct and send a link with a GUID to enable the user to track his/her order. You could event use this method to let the user access saved wishlists/shopping baskets without signing in.

Don't email the users with anything that isn't related to their orders. Let the users know this by using a short message next to the email address box.

Make user ALL the info the user fills in is in a secure page (https).

If the user provides you an email address, you should send one email to validate the email address is correct - I hate getting mail from account mistakenly created with my email address.

If you really must have the user sign-in (doesn't seem like a must for e-commerce), use OPENID - that way the user doesn't need to create another username + password.

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