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When users go through my signup/checkout process, one of the questions I ask them is 'what industry are you in'?

The reason we ask for 'industry' is to collect some marketing statistics (which I'm not even sure if we necessarily need).

How bad or not bad is it (from a UX perspective) to bother the user by asking them what industry they're in?

Personally, I don't mind when websites ask me for my industry - but what frustrates me is when my industry isn't listed in the drop-down box or I'm not sure which industry I belong to.

For example:

  • Am I in professional services? Or consulting? Or IT? Or Internet? Or Internet publishing?

What are your thoughts on how to do this right? What's the best practice?

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Your question is way to specific. What you want to ask is "How bad is it to bother customers by asking for unnecessary information?" (You probably already know the answer :D ). See also: youtube.com/watch?v=WgfaYKoQxzQ –  DA01 May 29 '13 at 5:37
    
+1 for the Seinfeld reference. Point noted. –  James Spittal May 29 '13 at 7:37

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The big problem with asking someone this, is a list of industries is either short and vague or long and precise.

Shorter and vague lists tend to have very broad industries like "Education" or "Information Technology". Users then have to try and work out which industry most suits them - which very often is challenging. For example, I work on educational apps. Is that the 'education' or 'information technology' industry? I have to take time to think about it, and as there is no clear answer, it's frustrating. So a poor UX.

Long and more precise lists take a long time to read, and even then, it's often not clear which industry a person falls into. Take a look at one of the better lists of industries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. See how long it takes you to read it all and work out which industry you are in. This represents wasted time and frustration. Once again, poor UX.

The only time where I believe requiring an industry is justified is when it is critical that the selection is objective. Situations like applying for a Trademark, or registering a company.

My preferred solution is to simply not ask for it, as the information is rarely necessary, but a good UX is always important.

If however, you have no choice in the matter, I would suggest a simple text field where a user can enter whatever they think their industry is, rather than have to choose from a list. This is much better UX, but it won't give you an objective list where you can say "12.4% of our users are from X industry", without a lot of work. For most marketing situations though, it is probably sufficient.

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@ JohnGB - can't you do a mixture? For example have an industries drop down with a predictive search field at the top of it? searches desperately for an example because I know I've seen this somewhere recently –  UserConversion May 29 '13 at 7:18
    
Agreed. Building upon your idea of a simple text field, I suspect something like Bootstrap's typeahead plugin would make it slightly nicer: twitter.github.io/bootstrap/javascript.html#typeahead –  James Spittal May 29 '13 at 7:40
1  
And after thinking about it, I've decided the simple answer is: (as you suggested) simply not ask for it. –  James Spittal May 29 '13 at 7:42
    
Maybe adding an autocomplete to try and aggregate the answers would be nice. –  Jonathan Allard May 31 '13 at 5:00
    
@jonallard that still assumes there is some coherence in terms. Is it "accommodation, hospitality, or motel?" if you work in a motel? Or maybe you do the cleaning, so it could also be "janitor, or cleaning". –  JohnGB May 31 '13 at 5:04

I understand that this was required by something like marketing department of your company and you cannot refuse.

In my opinion all collecting unnecessary data of the user is bad. There are some reasons, one of them you provided: I actually don't know what my company's industry is. The others are: privacy, building my profile (if you know where I work, how many employees etc. you can increase the price of something I'll want to buy from you in the future). If you're selling -- let's say -- software you really don't need to ask if I am in education or public administration. The same is related to age, salary, sex, and so on.

So I think you should always provide an option "I don't want to answer". You need to explain clearly why you need this data and make user feel they are making you a favor, that this data is really needed. Being kind, helpful and useful is one of the human basic needs which you can fulfil.

To achieve the goal (making the user feel he's just helped you making no effort) you may ask for comments (maybe other questions you don't really need but that will make feeling it's something big), write something like "we're still working on improvement so your help is very welcome and valuable for us" and so on. The less time he spends on poll and the less effort he makes, the more helpful he will feel.

This is of course some manipulation technique. But in this case, in my opinion, it would be good (although maybe not quite ethic), because it leaves good emotions in users.

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