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I have a customer who wants a form on his site to collect address information but does not want to lose customers who are reluctant to give that information.

Since many people are simply lazy about filling out extra fields that are not required but don't mind giving their address, they came up with the idea of marking the address field as required (using well know conventions like an asterisk) but not actually requiring it in the server side validation.

Is this a bad idea? Would it make the site look broken or maybe lose its integrity because those fields aren't really required, or is a good and valid gimmick to get users to give their address?.

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I agree with all the answers here, but the idea of messing with this is interesting from a psychological point of view. It would be fun to test it with a couple thousand people on a big website (say, StackExchange) and see what the results were. –  Rahul Oct 28 '10 at 14:06
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I see that everyone is against this. That is what I thought but I wanted your opinions before I told the client. Thanks. –  Sruly Oct 28 '10 at 14:11
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@Rahul interesting idea, Let me know if you ever try it. –  Sruly Oct 28 '10 at 14:12
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If you tell me it's required and I don't want to give it, then I'll either bail (if it wasn't that important) or "lie" in a way obvious to humans ("let's try 'xxx'! No? Ok, '1600 Pennsylvania Ave, third floor' -- ah, that worked!"). Would the customer rather have no data or bogus data? –  Monica Cellio Feb 10 '12 at 18:46
    
Tell your client that trust is an important part of software usability and business. And this is bad business. –  MikeNereson Feb 14 '12 at 4:26
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7 Answers

up vote 47 down vote accepted

Lying to your users is a bad practice.

Besides, I’m not clear how this is supposed to work. If users see that the address is “required” but don’t feel like giving their address, they’re simply going to abandon the form, and not submit it anyway. If users figure out that “required” doesn’t necessarily mean Required, then you’re just confusing users when they go to different pages or sites, and a very useful convention becomes meaningless –it no longer matters if you say a field is required or not. I don’t see much upside to this.

Users aren’t lazy. They just don’t like doing work or giving out personal information with no compensation. If there’s information that is not necessary for the service to function but nonetheless your client really wants it, then explain briefly on your form how giving addresses benefits the users. If there is no benefit to the users, then create one –give them a discount or reduced advertisements or something. That’s only fair. You may also want to describe or link to what the addresses will be used for (e.g., your privacy policy) so your users can check on their costs for giving the information too.

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+1 for the whole thing, but especially "Users aren’t lazy. They just don’t like doing work or giving out personal information with no compensation." –  Charles Boyung Oct 28 '10 at 13:56
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+1 for "Lying to your users is a bad practice.". So is asking for any kind of information you don't really need. In extreme cases it may be illegal. For example if you say you "require" a Social Insurance Number on a loan application site you are breaking the law, at least in my jurisdiction (Canada). If you –  DJClayworth Oct 28 '10 at 17:13
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I think the users wouldn't skip the form, but would just put fake placeholder data, unless the address is needed for shipping or billing. My country is Afghanistan and I was born on 1/1/1911 on all irrelevant forms. –  dbkk Oct 29 '10 at 12:38
    
@dbkk, yes if the concern is more privacy than effort. –  Michael Zuschlag Oct 29 '10 at 13:55
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@dbkk +1 for putting stupid answers to irrelevant questions. Back in the days when encryption codes were subject to export restrictions, you were forced to fill in a form to download the 128bit version of Netscape. Even though I registered as "Saddam Hussein, Bagdhad" they still let me download the software. –  DJClayworth Nov 1 '10 at 20:04
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I don't think users who don't want to answer questions will test your page to see if they are really required, they'll likely just abandon the form.

Perhaps you should ask why the user would be reluctant to answer those questions.

Think about it as a conversation: if a stranger came up to you and started by asking unnecessarily personal questions then you'd probably not answer. However if they started out with the normal generic questions then, when you've got to know each other a little, asked the more personal questions you'd be more likely to give an answer.

So I'd look at having the first form that has the minimum in it to complete the transaction, then have a page that says something like "Welcome to our cummunity/thanks for shopping with us. To help us make [the service] better we'd like to know a little bit more about you." with a form for all the desirable but unnecessary questions. Allow the users to skip this form.

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Having a second page asking for the extra details is a great idea. –  Bevan Oct 28 '10 at 18:11
    
+1 for a net result of losing signups –  Roger Pate Oct 29 '10 at 6:55
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It would confuse users. The purpose of marking a field as required is to do exactly that - show it is required. The best example of why this is a bad idea is this:

Let's say you have the following fields required:

  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Username
  • Password

And the following fields not required but marked that way:

  • Address
  • City
  • State
  • Zip

If the user filled in just Username and Password and submitted the form, your form would come back and say that the following fields are required:

  • First Name
  • Last Name

But it would say nothing about the address fields. This is just as confusing to a user as not marking anything as required at all (yet still requiring fields). The thought would be "why is it saying that these two starred fields are required, but not the others? What else is misleading here?"

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It's a bad idea, as several people pointed out. And it won't work as your client intends. A better approach:

  1. Ask the site visitor for the absolute minimum information needed to get them on your mailing list: email address. And perhaps the name. No more.

  2. Once you have that, then prompt them for the address information. Make sure that you state why you want that and how you will handle the privacy of this information.

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I often abandon a form if I feel that too many items are *required.

Every item you require will lose users. You have to weigh the drop-off in users against the added benefit of the information you collect. In the case of something that's not actually required, you pay the penalty without any benefit.

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I think, it is a good thing to ask user as little as possible of personal information. Other side: many sites have no privacy policy or don't follow it, so your personal information can be collected and redistributed to other sellers and so on.

Really, I hate web sites (online shops) that try to collect my personal (private) data when I am buying something. In this case I am calling directly to a shop to avoid using online order (registration). In the last case I answer my first name, my mobile and any delivery address (no last name, no my birthday, no my favorite password(s) ;)...).

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I think if you require it then mark it required. I could care less about "lying" to your users. But what i have realized is that asking for too much information turns people off. Another option is to first ask the basics, Email, password. Create the account. Then on step two ask them, name, address, dob, and then step 3, final information.

This sometimes works because the user has already invested in the first couple steps. It can be done neatly via ajax, or progress bar. And its a good way to get lots of required data, for example on a checkout page, or a credit application.

There used to be a push towards 1 page checkout, but i feel 30 input boxes on a page is very overwhelming. id rather do it 3-5 at a time, organized, and see progress.

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