I'm working with a site with member accounts. Those accounts can have credits attached (say from a referral incentive, a voucher, or a prize). The credits can then be spent in the site's shop - they're a dollar value in the same currency the site uses.

I am wondering how to handle a user closing their account while it is still in credit - what will users expect to happen?

I can think of two possible solutions:

  1. Warn the user that closing their account will forfeit their credit (throw their credit away) Obviously the simplest, but I wonder if it's too unfriendly.
  2. Don't allow the user to close their account while it has a credit balance (make them spend it). I think this is a non-starter because the balance may be too low to actually buy anything outright, which would mean that they'd need to spend their own money to close their account.

Am I missing anything? What would you expect to happen in this situation?

There are a lot of great responses to this question below. I've accepted one that suits my situation, but others would be very viable on different sites/services.

  • 4
    Question: does member registration state that credit is non-transferable? Because if not users will be really pissed with both solutions. When they join or put money into the platform you should have some warning or text somewhere that clarifies that... – Bakuriu Jun 28 at 20:46
  • Is it possible to transfer to another account? John wants to leave, but give his remaining credits to his friend, Jane? Just a thought. – David Conrad Jun 29 at 7:16
  • 2
    This is a business decision, not a user experience decision. Is making decisions about business rules part of your job? If not, then you need to ask someone else to make this decision. – Tanner Swett Jun 29 at 21:09
  • @TannerSwett - I agree that the business decision could potentially dictate what the user experience ends up being. It is part of my role to advise the business owners on the possible options - they will also be consulting legal advisors, etc. In any case, the question is "Are there any conventions around" (the user experience) - and I think that's still more than valid. – Beejamin Jun 30 at 1:00
  • Which jurisdiction are you in? It matters. – Harper Jul 1 at 15:53
up vote 23 down vote accepted

I would go with the first Option "Warn the user that closing their account will forfeit their credit" but as you mentioned this might create frustration when it comes to real money, even its only cents.

You can reduce this frustration by donating the money to a charity, therefore you can reinforce your brand image also users don't feel like they are throwing away their money, so you convert a negative action to a positive one.

  • 6
    This is really interesting. The business in question is actually affiliated with a very worthy charity (the owner founded it) - that would make sense, and be easy to implement in practice. – Beejamin Jun 28 at 13:26

I like to take informed decisions myself, so I recommend (1). If you keep me from deleting my account (to stop those annoying newsletters, for example), even if I am willing to lose money, I'd be really angry.

The really user-friendly offer (just to mention this :-) would be to offer to transfer my credit (to another store, to my bank). That's what I would really wish for in that situation... But I understand that, as designers, that decision is out of our reach.

  • Good points both. The mail subscriptions are independently controlled to the account itself, but you're right - I think that's a non-starter. The idea of crediting to an account is great, but not viable from the business perspective - most credits come from incentives, which don't work if you can just take them as cash. – Beejamin Jun 27 at 14:23
  • 35
    If cancelling mail subscriptions is a possible motivation to get to the "Close account" option, it may be useful to add a "Just stop sending me mail" button to that page. – Diogo Kollross Jun 27 at 15:24
  • @DiogoKollross Good one. The cancel page in this case includes that option already. – Beejamin Jun 28 at 13:27
  • I think this approach is valid in all cases where someone is deleting something. It always seems like a good idea to present the user with a confirmation box which explains exactly what they are about to delete. – Cronax Jun 29 at 11:34

While the existing thoughts here are well, there are legal dimensions that may redefine everything you're thinking about — and complicating #1

Credits, in some states, are like gift cards. The value cannot expire and you cannot just drop it without giving the person a way to transfer it into a 'movable' form - like a physical card, voucher, etc.

If you are operating with exposure to states that have this legislation, then you will need to solve that (as a business) and work it into the information in your account-close UX. You may be able to tell the user it will be (e)mailed to them, if your business can secure a relationship with a gift card and coupon provider that includes this physical card / e-card service.

(obviously that service cost may make the value of the credit to be cancelled insofar as your profit margins, but that is the cost of doing business, in states with such laws, and given you grant the user these small forms of credit)

  • 1
    What would the legality be, I wonder, of specifying as part of terms of service that unclaimed or undeliverable account balances will by default, after a period of time, be donated without service charge to one of several charities selected from a list, with records of donations over a certain amount being maintained for the benefit of account holders for up to three years (thus allowing them to claim them as a charitable deduction if so inclined)? That would avoid the need for companies to keep account balances on the books perpetually. – supercat Jun 27 at 15:22
  • 12
    @supercat People could be given an option to donate any credits to one of a list of charities as a "purchase" on the site. If someone wanted to close an account, they could be told that they can only close an account with a zero balance, and by the way here's a handy way to zero out a small balance. – Monty Harder Jun 27 at 19:51
  • You're right. I didn't want to mix in the legal side of things for fear of making the question too geographically specific. FWIW, I'm in Australia, and credits and 'non-cash-payment' systems can have expiries and T's & C's attached. There's not an obligation to make them transferrable. – Beejamin Jun 28 at 13:21

Why not throw in a third choice:

#3 - Close the account and generate a one-time use coupon code with the credit balance value (and e-mail it to the user).

If the user decides to come back he/she can top his/her account up with the coupon code.

  • 2
    This is a great idea! It does open up an exploit in my case, however. One of the main ways a user can gain credit is via referrals (both making them and accepting one on sign up). If I 'refer' myself under a different email and accept the referral, I get a credit of (eg) $5 on the new account. I cancel the account, receiving a $5 voucher. I use the voucher code to add $5 credit to the original account, rinse and repeat for unlimited credit. – Beejamin Jun 28 at 13:24
  • 1
    @Beejamin What about combining with the answer suggesting only disabling the account. That way, if someone tries this, when they sign up again you catch it and just say, "Welcome back," but don't give them any additional credit. – David Conrad Jun 29 at 7:16
  • 1
    @DavidConrad - the exploit I'm thinking involves farming and accepting lots of referrals to individual email accounts, then closing those accounts to convert the credit into a transferrable voucher, then consolidating those vouchers on the original account. I've thought more about this, and sadly I think this makes it a non-starter for my situation. It could be good for others though, depending on how credit can be generated. – Beejamin Jun 30 at 1:06
  • @Beejamin: When the account is closed, credits should be returned to whoever paid for them. This means that courtesy incentives revert to the store; you don't owe the customer anything. The only problem is if customer-purchased credits and courtesy incentives have been intermingled. – Ben Voigt Jul 1 at 2:14
  • @Beejamin: One solution would be to not give the referral credit (to both parties) until the new account pays for its first order. Again, it might be difficult to select this rule retroactively. – Ben Voigt Jul 1 at 2:16

I'll offer another option that hasn't been suggested.

If a user wishes to close their account, just disable it rather than deleting it. The account and all of its credits remain intact, but it is locked away somewhere where it is not used or accessed. If the user chooses to come back to the site, they can reactivate the account and regain all of their credits.

If someone really wishes to have all of their information deleted, that's when you go with Option #1, and make them confirm that that's what they really want to do.

As for retaining the information in the disabled user accounts, you may have to consider data privacy and GDPR (which I honestly don't understand well enough to know if they would even apply). One option is to tell users that a disabled account will be deleted after X amount of time.

  • This already happens - though their account data is then 'tombstoned' and unrecoverable after a certain grace period (a couple of weeks). I think this is really a variation on option 1. – Beejamin Jun 30 at 1:02

First, you have State laws. In some cases you are not allowed to extinguish (read: pocket) stored value, nor are you allowed to have the same effect by "nibbling it down" with monthly, storage or inactivity fees. For instance that applies to pretty much every retail gift card (McDonalds, Target, AMC theaters, etc. Because they have presence in at least one State with those laws. Your customer could move to such a State, and now you are up the creek. For instance his IP is now coming from Poland, and now he's under EU laws. You must comply with the most restrictive laws of any State in which you hope to draw customers.

After that, listen to Customer Service

They've dealt with customers in the past, and they know which method is going to cause the minimum friction, user rage, and social media blowback. Those things are important.

But still, have "delete" functionally be a "suspend"

I certainly recommend that when someone "deletes" their account, that you simply flag it deleted. This is normal; even MS-DOS didn't eradicate a deleted file, they simply marked it deleted and otherwise left the file there. This protects YOU from the consequences of a prank or malicious account deletion. It also protects the user from an emotional "ragequit" that he later regrets. For instance, in Blizzard games, you can delete your account all day, but the hewn-over-years progression of your characters is not deleted, and you can "undelete" your account almost as easily as logging in again. To truly obliterate the account, you need to delete, wait out a 30-day cooling-off period, then send CS a bunch of documentation to prove who you are. It's too much trouble; if they get 10 of those a month, I would be shocked. And even then I bet if someone made a good case to CS that their PvP enemy had forged all that, there's a backup tape somewhere they could fish the data back out of.

Mind you, retaining your account's in-game data is not the same as retaining the customer's PII. Here's what is not PII: the fact that you have 6 of 8 pieces of the Legionkiller armor, 40 stacks of Mithril ore in your bags, or 1.2 million gold in your bank. (In at least some Blizzard games, it's difficult and extremely circuitous to convert cash to game gold.)

Even if you needed their PII to reinstate their account, nothing says you can't take the PII you already have, normalise it, take salted MD5s of it (in several slice directions) and store that. Now to reclaim their account they need to be able to repeat back the PII they gave you before and one of the sliced MD5s has to match up.

Suspension is incentive to return

Why does Blizzard and other MMO platforms go to all the trouble of disabling, not deleting? Because they know your progression is an incentive to return -- just knowing that you can pick up where you left off, rather than starting from scratch in another game.

If a user wants to close their account, assign the credit to the e-mail address.

Whenever they decide to sign up again (same e-mail address), assign this credit back to their account.

Notify them before closing their account.

Your Answer

 
discard

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.