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I believe that signing into a site can be a big barrier to users so prefere e-commerce sites that offer guest access.

The question is should wishlists be a guest feature or do the business advantages enforcing the user to sign up outweigh the potential increases in profits.

Does anyone have any research or views on this?

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From a technical point of view, how would you keep track of the wish list if the person didn't sign up? What happens if the person visits the site from a different device? How will they retrieve the wish list without logging in? –  CJ Franken Jan 22 '13 at 10:51
    
I take it you are talking about Massdrop. It isn't a 'should' question as much as a 'why' question. –  JohnGB Jan 22 '13 at 11:00
    
Not Massdrop but an internal wishlist. Tracking on a single machine can be done using cookies etc. People can buy things without signing in already on many sites. –  Stewart Dean Jan 22 '13 at 11:11
    
Buying is a short-term once-off action, and do not necessarily require an account. Wishing for something is implicitly long-term, and as such require some association with the user for retrieval later (except if you use cookies, as you mentioned, which will only work on a single machine with the same browser). –  CJ Franken Jan 22 '13 at 11:17
    
Is it a wish list just for that person, or is it one they share to other people? (Such as the Amazon wish list). –  JonW Jan 22 '13 at 12:47
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3 Answers

You may not require a user to sign in, but you definitely should identify user somehow. At least until you're absolutely sure he or she will never some again to change a wishlist.

You may prompt for an e-mail, etc, so it will always be the same wishlist. And absence of the some kind of linking between a user and a wishlist may confuse your users.

Moreover, you should be able to link a user with a wishlist (if any) as soon as he or she will decide to sign up (or sign in).

So, give user some identity (like a random key) or ask him or her for an e-mail (preferred, because you will be able to send notifications, etc and link wishlist with an account later):

  1. User walks through the site and adds something to a whishlist (w/o sign in)
  2. User is able to associate himself with wishlist by either entering his email or automatically generated code (which could be stored by the user and entered next time user will visit the site)
  3. User should be able to share (copy a link, etc) a wishlist from the current session only (if there is no association) or the full wishlist.
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That ties in well to how guest purchases work. –  Stewart Dean Jan 22 '13 at 11:21
    
@StewartDean guest purchases are atomic, i.e. user came, choose something and purchase. Then next time he or she repeats that and there is no need to know anything about previous purchase, but a wishlist is a list which I should be able to modify, isn't it? I own my own wishlist at Amazon and change it regularly. –  alexeypegov Jan 22 '13 at 11:24
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No, the user should not be forced to login in order to use a wishlist-feature in an e-commerce website. Instead, take this opportunity to provide the user with a feature. Every time the user adds an item to his wishlist, you are given an opportunity to connect with the user. E.G.:

You have added {n} products to your wishlist. In order to retrieve your wishlist at a later time, please feel free to e-mail this wishlist to yourself, or sign up (it only takes a minute!) to access your wishlist from anywhere.

Reasons why I feel this is a more friendly way of communicating:

  1. You are opening up a feature that is otherwise reserved for people who are registered and logged-in. As a means to save the wishlist (a service) you can ask them to fill out their e-mail address, or to sign up;
  2. You are allowing your user to create a list of items before a purchase, without scaring them away with an action (filling out personal details) that is quite intrusive, after all: they apparently haven't even decided to use your services, yet.

Alternatively, you could choose, much like how the stackexchange network does it, to allow users to sign in with Facebook, Google, et cetera, in order to sign up. If, at any point in the future, you require more information from them, you can simply ask for it.

Arguments against such a feature (wishlist for people who are not signed in) could be that business people tend to want to know their potential customers. The point is that there are a lot of people just shopping and comparing, taking away that feature from them might scare them off, whereas offering that feature might compel them to stick around.

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I think it's safe to say that asking a user to sign in/up is a barrier. Whether the wish list you envision is worth the effort depends on what the feature does for the user.

I assume you want to provide the user with this feature to let him keep track of products he might consider buying. But this could also extend to letting him show this list to others so they can buy thing for him or as a way of recommending products to others.

In the scenarios above it's likely that the user wants to be able to access this wish list at a later time to view it or make changes. If this requires him to actively identify himself, I'd say that makes sense.

The key is to not ask the user for more than what is needed to access this wish list. I would be happy to enter my email address and choose a password, but entering more information about myself would seem pointless and unnecessary in context of using the wish list.

I always appreciate sites and services that don't ask me for more than what is needed for the actions I'm about to take, but unfortunately there are very few that do that.

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