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Our company has a website that sells wine. Our idea is that we will the ask user to sign up using their email address before we present them with any products.

The reasoning behind this is that if a user comes to see products on our website but is not interested in anything that they find they may leave for good. However, if we add new products to our website that might be of interest to the user then if we have their email address we can advertise directly to the customers email, in the hope that they might be interested and come back to our website.

Is this a good strategy?

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I, for one, will certainly not commit to give my email before I see what you are offering, and at what price. It feels like having to let a shopowner make a photocopy of my ID before I enter his store. In both cases, I'll just move on to the competition. –  André Sep 24 '12 at 8:17
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If you force them to give AN email address - then it probably won't be THEIR email address... –  PhillipW Sep 24 '12 at 8:55
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And what incentive do I have to give you my e-mail address if I can't see what you are offering? –  Marjan Venema Sep 24 '12 at 9:04
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I don't think I've ever bought a product online from a company that doesn't make pricing/etc information readily available. I operate under the assumption that "If you don't want me to see it, you're assuming that I probably won't like what I see"; I see no reason not to assume the vendor is wrong in their assumption so I close the tab, and take my business to another site. –  Dan Neely Sep 24 '12 at 12:58
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And also... how are search bots supposed to index your site, if they can't access your offerings? –  Erik Burigo Sep 24 '12 at 13:14
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13 Answers

up vote 215 down vote accepted

No, it's not a good idea.

You want to make purchasing from your website as easy as possible. Forcing a user to give out an email address before they're even able to see what you're selling is not a good approach. This will most probably push a big part of your customers away from the site rather than forming a commitment to it.

You should read the $300 million dollar button, an article about a case brought to public attention by Luke Wroblewski. The article covers a case where an e-commerce site grew their revenue by 45% by making purchases easier for visitors by Removing forced commitment between the user and the site.

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+1 For the great link. –  Matt Sep 24 '12 at 8:19
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@Matt, thanks. It's a very interesting case indeed. I've used this article professionally to argue my stance on certain issues. Its figures catches the attention of most stakeholders. –  AndroidHustle Sep 24 '12 at 8:25
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Brilliant link, worth a read for any UX person who works with web –  TJH Sep 24 '12 at 12:59
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In the $300 Million Dollar Button story they are forcing people who have already clicked the "Take my money!" button to jump through needless hoops. Bad idea. But random visitors to the site are an entirely different story. 99% of them aren't going to buy a thing. Buying is based on trust. And one of the best ways to build trust (and remind people that your site exists) is through regular lifecycle emails to people who have given you their email address. –  pkamb Sep 27 '12 at 5:29
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@pkamb Ok, so forcing a user to commit to the site before they can make a purchase instead of just offering it as an option would build trust in the user...? Gosh, what are you thinking.... –  AndroidHustle Sep 27 '12 at 7:25
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Usability aside, there are also some technical points against your strategy:

  • Basically, you are sending spam to your users.
  • The content of your site is hidden behind a login page - that makes it unsearchable. In many sites, the absolute majority of traffic comes from search results and price comparison sites (like Google Shopping).
  • Similarly, the content of your site is not linkable. A user cannot consult with their friends, or even recommend your product, once buying it.
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Spam is unsolicited email. Assuming he is not deceptive about what the emails will be used for, the users are soliciting future correspondence by registering. –  Superbest Sep 25 '12 at 7:57
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@Superbest - True. There are ways around being pure spam. But still, "advertise directly to the customers email" does not sound good - most people regard that as spam. You are right though - if you are honest about it, you can get around legal issues. –  Kobi Sep 25 '12 at 9:02
    
It's not even legality. I imagine if the user ticks a checkbox saying, "yes, please send me periodic special offers" then they probably want to get the "spam". Unless you left the checkbox ticked by default, and hid it out of the way and used small type. –  Superbest Sep 25 '12 at 9:10
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@Superbest - I partially disagree. In 90% of the cases where signup is required to gain access the user is NOT consenting to get emails, they just want access to the site and they were forced to add their email. This is why sites like Mailinator.com are in business. ;-) –  scunliffe Sep 25 '12 at 12:44
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I guess without clarification from the OP it might be a bit hard to judge... but my take on it was that the user didn't know they were signing up for a "service" to be notified of future releases... just that they had to provide it to gain access to existing product listings. If this were the case, I'd prefer a button/link "we don't have product XYZ, but enter your email and we'll notify you as soon as we do" would work better. Especially if I don't want XYZ, emailing me about its arrival "becomes" spam. –  scunliffe Sep 25 '12 at 19:02
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(See the comments for a lively debate about this idea!)

I disagree with the other answers here. (There are 5 at the moment.)

Like all good design answers: it depends. In 99% of cases, you'll want to put off on gathering information for as long as possible. But there are a few very good reasons you would want to collect information first. It all depends on your strategy.

If you're selling cheap, mass-market wines and you just want to sell to as many people as possible, then taking the information last approach is probably the way to go. Think amazon.com. You can do basically everything without logging in. This kind of structure works for a very general type of audience, since most people don't want to give out information right away.

However, if you're selling boutique wines to high-end clients, and you want to create a sense of elite membership, then asking for information first is pretty much required. This is how the mighty Facebook got it's start, and it's the model that sample sale sites like Ruelala and Gilt rely on. (They also rely on invitations, but if that works for your customers, it can be very effective.) If your site relies on word-of-mouth to get around, you don't even need to show them anything to get them to sign up. Look into private torrent trackers like waffles.fm. They even try to keep things secret.

But, from the sound of your question, it seems like you should go the more public route. I just figured I'd throw this out there.

** EDIT: **

Some references:

Here's an article on why invite only works. Here's an interview with the founders of Gilt. (Read the questions from mid-page, by the book image.) Here's a view of these sites from a user perspective.

The important points in my eyes are:

  • Users value their membership more.
  • If they have a good experience, they will want to share with others.
  • You have better control over your inventory.

To me, this really boils down to the kind of customer you're after. If you want repeat customers who are looking for unique items, special discounts, high-end items, etc... then a "membership" is the route I would take. But, if you're looking for mass-market, one-off customers who are just there to get things done, then put off info gathering as long as possible.

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+1 for going against the grain in a convincing way –  André Sep 24 '12 at 14:23
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selling boutique wines to high-end clients that would only work if you already had a credibility to do it, or you are confident you can build that credibility. –  Lie Ryan Sep 24 '12 at 15:02
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Absolutely. In this particular case, I'd guess that they're not going to have such a high credibility. So I'd probably suggest going the Amazon route. But who knows! –  Loren Rogers Sep 24 '12 at 17:49
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Considering throw away email addresses's are easy to come by, the "for the elite" does not work. If you want to push that, then you need to do some kind of vetting process before letting them on. For example recommended by another customer. –  Simon O'Doherty Sep 25 '12 at 7:35
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I like this answer, it's a good contrast to the other answers here. However I'm not totally convinced. Yes, Ruelala and Gilt may require emails before you can access the site, but how do we know that this is better for them than just having open access? It would be great if they'd published some findings stating something like "when we switched from open-access to subscription we saw an increase of 20% in sales" but I've not seen such data. For all we know they could be losing £1000's in potential sales by imposing such restrictions. –  JonW Sep 25 '12 at 8:56
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No. Forcing the user to enter an email address before they can view your products will more than likely drive them away, for the following reasons:

  1. Increased barrier to entry to your site - resulting in a dramatic reduction of "eyes on the prize".
  2. It's suspicious. The user will wonder why you're asking for their email address to just see your website.

You need to make the experience for the user as straightforward, simple and trustworthy as possible. Emails can be used for various forms of malicious behaviour, requesting them before you've earned even a smidgen of trust is not recommended.

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Essentially forcing the customer to input their email address before viewing the product can be viewed as an aggressive marketing strategy by the user. It is common that the customer, or potential customer will not like this method of marketing, and in fact have a negative vibe about the approach within itself.

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It is and is not a good practice. It depends on what you are practising and what you want to achieve.

there are two approaches/goals possible:

Approach 1.

Your primary focus is to let customers see your website It is not to ask for any e-mail until it is really required (or user asks for it). You want your website to be seen as user friendly and your focus is on letting customers in and see.

FYI : for some users (including me) if I am browsing on a website and it is not required for me to login( I just want to browse, for that why we need login, Huh!) and the website is asking me to enter email/login/number etc. I close that website. (unless I have a very strong urge to enter or I don't have anything else to do)

You wrote that you sell wine: suppose a user is looking for a particular brand of wine. which at that moment is out of stock. So there you can have an option to ask for e-mail so you could notify the user when that wine is available.

Approach 2.

Your primary focus is not to have users see your products (this is secondary), your primary focus is to fish e-mail addresses.

You could send e-mail promotions etc, in that case its good to give a required login/enter email screen

if its case 1, then its not a good practice to give a required email dialog. if its case 2, then its a good practice.

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You are basically re-iterating many of the answers already left here, however one of your points: "Suppose a user is looking for a particular brand of wine which at that moment is out of stock." is a very good on, so I upvote you for that point alone. –  JonW Sep 25 '12 at 8:19
    
@JonW: thanks Mate, will try & make sure i don't reiterate in future –  Mukul Goel Sep 25 '12 at 8:26
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I would ask yourself the following:

  1. Approximately how many times have you bought something online in your life?
  2. On how many of those occasions did you give your email address before seeing the product/price the website was offering? (In the figure, feel free to include websites to which you gave your email address, didn't buy anything, but returned later to buy something when they sent you promotional email.)
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It's not so much about what experiences you personally have come across, but more general competitive analysis to see what your competitors are doing that is more important. It's easy to forget that you may not actually be the target audience of the product, so competitive analysis would be more appropriate. But yes, as a thought exercise then you should start with your own experiences (just don't present your experiences as the hard evidence) –  JonW Sep 24 '12 at 15:05
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@JonW You are entirely correct. However the other answers already explain this so I thought I'd throw a different perspective into the mix :-). It's entirely possible that the OP agrees with the answers but is asking this in a neutral fashion so as to gain ammunition for a discussion with superiors. In which case my thought excercise might be of use as something non-technical people can quickly relate to without needing to read anything. In any case: what are your answers to the two questions? –  Fletch Sep 24 '12 at 15:11
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@JonW The simplest possible competitive analysis is googling for "boutique wine" and finding out whether anybody else does that. At a glance, none. –  full.stack.ex Sep 26 '12 at 8:32
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"Is something that the majority of users hate a good UX?"

Gee, I don't know.

Look at Stackexchange. You can start using Stackexchange sites without creating an account. Yet, you can later create an account and the content you previously created is linked to that account. If you don't like the site, you don't have to. You have limited powers, but are able to do basic things like answer questions.

That is a good user design, which allows the system to meet its need to have registered users without throwing a bad experience at the users (requiring an up-front registration to do anything at all).

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I think you could encourage registration if you showed a few products w/o having to enter email, and then asked them after say 5 product views to enter their email for free access. It would have to be snappy, and I would not bother validating email.

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Would that encourage registration though? There would be a development overhead to consider if you are going to keep track of the number of products viewed and display a registration page after 5 (or however many) views, and if its purely speculation that this would be result in significantly more registrations you may have just wasted time developing something unnecessary and / or even harmful to the sites performance. I would want to see supporting evidence that this approach works before implementing it. –  JonW Sep 25 '12 at 6:16
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I don't have any evidence. But I think it could be done. You could just interrupt after 5 views and give them the option to say "No" and continue browsing. –  chovy Sep 25 '12 at 6:18
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Totally bad idea. 90% of the users will close the browser window for your website and move on to the next tab if they don't find anything useful or if the prices don't show up by default.

You must not force your users to give you their email id. In my case, I will always use https://www.guerrillamail.com/

Other than that, sending product promotion emails to users without their consent is illegal. Instead , you should focus on the users who just close the browser window when they do not find enough information ( price ) on your page.

Any new user will always hesitate to give his email address, because he does not not know how much you will be frustrating him with spam emails afterwards. He will prefer not to register. What do you think ?

If you are not sure, try experimenting with both the strategies.

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"90% of the users will close the browser window for your website and move on to the next tab if they don't find anything useful or if the prices don't show up by default." That is quite a sweeping generalisation. Are you able to support that statement with anything? –  JonW Sep 25 '12 at 15:24
    
I agree its a generalisation. The figure are not actually statistically and scientifically calculated. But transparency on the Web is the hottest and the biggest thing as far as getting people to purchase or relate to your services. If you hide something from a person who has money in his wallet, he will assume you have a gun .. –  bill berlington Sep 25 '12 at 15:34
    
If you read this article uie.com/articles/three_hund_million_button , it says that - 75% of these people never tried to complete the purchase once requested. Also the point to note is that - " They took away the Register button. In its place, they put a Continue button with a simple message: "You do not need to create an account to make purchases on our site. Simply click Continue to proceed to checkout. To make your future purchases even faster, you can create an account during checkout.".. This is of course statistically calculated and proved –  bill berlington Sep 25 '12 at 15:36
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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

Although it is tempting to use this opportunity to collect email addresses in order to access the Website, especially with a site that sells alcohol and requires some sort of age verification (...what's one more piece of data?), it is not a good idea.

Essentially, it boils down to trust. Three things come to mind:

1) All good business practices revolve around establishing trust. If your customers trust you, they will come back. And repeat business is crucial to success in any retail environment. Trust is a two way street. By requiring an email address right off the bat, you are asking your customers to give you something pretty substantial without the common courtesy of giving them something first. There are alternatives out there for your customers... the onus is on you to initiate the relationship and establish trust.

2) With a product as diverse and capricious as wine, customers will depend on you to help them make decisions. In fact, you should want them to rely on you to help them, which would greatly increase your retention rates. The more you can understand what they are looking for and the more you can deliver information that meets and exceeds expectations, the better off you are. Instead of asking them for an email address... ask them what they are looking for. Red? White? Sparkling? Help them and then they will help you.

3) "That which grows well, grows slow." Some shortcuts end up dropping off the edge of a cliff. Take the time to develop relationships and you'll get their email address pretty quickly... as soon as they make a purchase or sign up for something else that you are offering that looks good to them (newsletter, coupons, etc.). More importantly, by gaining their trust you may soon start to collect their friends' email addresses, and then the email addresses of their friends' friends too.

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If you have a really persuasive value proposition for your site (say, really great member perks or coupons) and can communicate that value effectively to the user, then you might be able to get away with requesting an email before the user accesses the site.

Why not consider an often used alternative to obtain emails of your most engaged users? After the user is on the site for a set period of time (or visited a certain number of pages) have a pop up that requests his or her email in exchange for additional content (could be a newsletter or extra content). That way, you will only be targeting (presumably) engaged users who are the ones that are most likely to buy your services! PopUp Domination is an example of a plugin that allows for this (I have never used it, just giving as an example).

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That is a technique that gets used, but do users respond well to it? I'd like to see some data from sites that have used this to see whether or not it's a suitable option, or if it just annoys users so much they just up and leave. Is it worth risking turning off an already engaged user just to try to get their email address? –  JonW Sep 27 '12 at 21:43
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You Should Probably Send More Email Than You Do

Please don't listen to anyone here regarding their personal email marketing preferences. They are not your customers. Geeks categorically hate email. Real people don't.

Look at the responses here. "If I hit a site like that, I'll close the tab and move on to your competition." Again, we are not your customers. An email splash page would probably be terrible for a specifically geek-targeted wine website. But it worked ok for Groupon.

So yes, you should absolutely make getting email addresses one of your top business priorities. Though not necessarily from an immediate splash screen. I really suggest reading the link I posted above for ideas. Some good quotes below:

For example, if you’re not just publishing anonymous “content” but rather trying to reactivate users of an application (lifecycle emails) or educate-them-to-the-point-where-they-want-to-buy-something (drip marketing), a little nudge in behavior could result in adding thousands of dollars of customer LTV.

and

Almost every first-class e-commerce company treats their house email campaigns like they are the goose that lays the golden eggs, chiefly because they are. For companies which have repeat-purchase models, direct response to emails can represent half or more of customer lifetime value.

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The crux of that article appears to be that "if you send an email then the recipient will probably read it". OK, that is as may be, but how does that link in with requiring email addresses to access a website? They're already at the website trying to read it and you're denying them the ability to do so by requesting an email that they will probably read. Well if you didn't request the email address then they would definitely read the website content because they are already on the site trying to do just that. –  JonW Sep 26 '12 at 8:18
    
@JonW The increased read rate is important, but it's the later half of the article you should read. Keeping prospects warm, building trust in the brand, educating them on wine, and selling directly to their inbox week after week rather than whenever the customer happens to land on their site. I assume this wine site is "groupon-like", because that's what everyone is building these days. Daily or weekly deals on wine. In that case especially, email lists will drive their revenue. –  pkamb Sep 26 '12 at 17:25
    
@JonW They're already at the website trying to read it and you're denying them the ability to do so by requesting an email that they will probably read. Statistically, a single person landing on your website is very unimportant. Only 1% of them (or whatever your conversion rate is) will actually result in a sale. That's why sites require email addresses to see content; getting an email address is far more valuable than one clickthrough with potential to buy. This is completely different than requiring a signup at the point of checkout, by the way. You shouldn't do that. –  pkamb Sep 26 '12 at 17:29
    
You're still working on the assumption that by presenting the user with an email entry field as the first thing they see before allowing them into the site that they will actually enter their details in there, and not that they may just leave altogether because they don't want to give their details at that point. Then your 1% of site visitors equates to an even fewer number of people because you're getting less people into the site. –  JonW Sep 27 '12 at 7:43
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@pkamb I'm gonna be honest, I believe you're totally wrong. I understand how you think, but I don't think your assumptions are correct. I'm convinced that trading a visitors email address in exchange for them to even be able to see the site will make the absolute majority of visitors go: "pfft... I don't think so" and leave the site. In the $300 million button they had at least made a visitor keen enough to make them want to place an order, and still it scared them off! Here you have nothing, absolutely nothing up front that would appeal to the visitor. Why would they ever go along with it? –  AndroidHustle Sep 27 '12 at 17:01
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