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As part of our checkout process, if you don't exist as a user in the system, you're prompted to create a username and password as one of the steps of the process.

Let's say this happens at the beginning of the process: you enter some credentials for your new account, click "Next", and continue with the checkout flow.

Now, let's say, for some reason, the checkout fails. (Abandoned cart, declined credit card, etc.) Should that user still have an account? Or is it confusing for someone to have an account despite their not completing the checkout process - the very process that prompted an account in the first place?

Should "user creation + order creation" be atomic? Is that more confusing or less confusing for the user's experience?

edit: in my particular case, I believe user accounts are necessary. We sell prescription eyeglasses - so as people upload prescriptions, it is necessary to store them "somewhere". Plus, in this case, customers will want to be able to check on the status of their order or shipment.

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For starters, I strongly recommend not requiring users to not create an account before completing an eCommerce purchase as that just puts another step in their way to doing the cart checkout and can lead to cart abandonment. To quote this article

Customers dislike having to register for yet another account. This quickly became evident during our testing as every single subject showed great frustration when forced to do it. 30% of them ended up abandoning one of their purchases as a result.

Also to quote another smashing Magazine article

  1. Signing up for an account means more steps and form fields to complete during checkout — essentially taking longer to complete.
  2. Most customers already have a myriad of logins and passwords to remember and don’t want more of them.
  3. When creating an account, customers are more likely to realize that you’re storing their information indefinitely.
  4. Many customers just don’t understand why they need an account to buy a product. As one test subject clearly expressed during testing: “I don’t need to sign up for anything when I’m buying a perfume in a regular [brick and mortar] store.”

That said, if you must require the user to create an account, give it as an option to do it at the last and prefill his information.To quote this article

Offer them the option at the end of their ordering process. Give them the option to save their account information to make placing future orders easier or to track the status of their current order. Many customers will opt to save their information, and you won’t be driving away customers before they’ve completed their order.

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Now coming to your question about creating an account if the user has still not completed his checkout, I would say YES .This is because

  1. By creating an account (provided it was not the first step in the process), the user has shown a willingness to retain his information and by having an existing account you can always allow them to come back later and complete the transaction or fix a transaction which went wrong.
  2. It also gives you a chance to email or reach out to them about why their transaction didn't go through or remind them about the items sitting in their cart.
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+1 for guest checkout, I agree strongly with this –  ColinSharpe Feb 2 at 21:22
    
In my particular case, I believe user accounts are necessary. We sell prescription eyeglasses - so as people upload prescriptions, it is necessary to store them "somewhere". Plus, in this case, customers will want to be able to check on the status of their order or shipment. However, I am open to the idea that I am thinking about this incorrectly! –  poundifdef Feb 2 at 22:44
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The fact that you want to save their prescription is beside the point. If I want to order glasses without creating an account (and without you saving that prescription) then that "should" be possible. You could give your argument for anything: saving pants size, preferable color nail-polish, type of graphics card, etc. They're all just characteristics. Nothing is "necessary to store", anywhere. –  Dirk v B Feb 3 at 3:16
    
Aren't prescriptions a bit more than just "preferences"? –  thursdaysgeek Feb 3 at 19:05
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Pretend you came to a doctor, registered on reception, but suddenly doctor gone away. Next week you repeated the visit. What is the better experience: re-register again, or skip form-filling procedure, as all the data was collected previously?

Think of the interaction as a dialog. To make a system more human-like, it's good to "remember" the user to make next visit more easy.

Other arguments for account creating are:

  • system's rules are hidden, all the user knows is he entered his account data. This is conventional procedure which leads to account creation. So no reason to break user's expectance
  • users don't like to fill the forms, so don't make them do it twice (or more!)
  • you could communicate later with registered user, so this is good chance to reach your business goals
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In my opinion it is OK to separate these 2 processes.

Communicate clearly that you have created an account. To underline that account creation is atomic, you can send an email during the checkout, directly after the account creation screen.

Such an email could contain:

  • Login data (no password)
  • Advantages of having an account (i.e. your data is already there if you buy/try again)
  • affirm that you will not do any nonsense with the users data (privacy, e.g. not sell data etc)
  • How to delete the account (link) (Since you haven't done business with the client yet, it should not be necessary to keep any data. If this changes later, you should communicate which data you have to keep to comply with law etc).

Regarding state and process you should double-check:

  • Does the existing account conflicts with specials offers / discounts for new customers (=> discount should always be given for 1st order instead of account creation)?
  • Can the user (and your customer support) verify in the new account that the last order was not successful and - more important - no money was taken from the users credit card, no outstanding account etc ?
  • If necessary, you should have a new state or customer group for these accounts without an order in your system (=> don't count & treat these accounts as clients).
  • If it is your policy to send newsletter / emails to every account, think about it again for this special customer group (e.g. only one single mailing for activating the user?)

The other way round: How can you tell the user that no account has been created - although she has given data and chosen password - if she just leaves the checkout process?

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