Which of the permutations for accessing secure content do folks prefer? In this instance I'm referring to a saved quote and have usernames, email addresses and quote reference numbers available.


Email/ Password

Username/ Password

Email/ Reference

Usename/ Reference

I guess the real issue is the choice between using a system generated reference number (that would have to be copied and pasted) or a user generated password (which is easier to remember but requires setting up).

3 Answers 3


My personal feeling on this is that it depends on the nature of the user's experience. You mentioned this is to access a quote - is on of the goals to make the user feel that getting a quote is quick and easy? If so, I would say generate a quote number and send them an email with a link drectly to the quote to access it (as well as giving them the ability to copy+paste if their email program eats the link.)

Ultimately, I think it doesn't much matter one way or another from a tech perspecive, but the user will feel more of a sense of obligation and commitment if they are asked to "create an account", which is what they would be doing if you ask them to set up a password.

The perception is different, even though the steps aren't that different themselves.

If I go to your site (say it's a car insurance site, those notoriously ask for a LOT of information before they'll gve you a quote). If I can plug in my general info (age, location, etc) and just click submit, and then be emailed a way to access my quote, that feels less intrusive to me, and less like your company is going to call me and hound me later to follow up the sale. There is les of a sense of permanence and commitment, which may be an important selling point to your customers.

If you DO end up going the reference number route, be sure to be kind to those who actually do decide to go ahead and purchase by making their signup as easy as possible. From their reference number, you can obtain their email address from the database, so pre-populate that for them, and remember the information they've already given you.

  • Thank you, really interesting points. It's actually for a follow up email when a user has abandoned the quote process before saving or buying, but already provided their contact details (don't get me started on the ethics of this, it's an ongoing argument with the client).
    – Ali
    Commented Feb 26, 2010 at 17:42

My feeling on this is that the average person has far too many passwords to remember: our day-to-day activities are inundated with logins. For this reason, I prefer to always cater to user memory. If the user is going to need to log in again, make sure they will remember the login. A frustrating experience trying to remember a system-generated password, taking time to look up a reference number you can't remember, copy/paste errors, or having to reset the password will result in abandoned logins more often than not.

However, in this case I question the necessity of a password at all. Could you not just ask them to confirm information they already have entered instead of a password? Or perhaps you could embed a URL with login information and just have them follow that? Ease of use is imperative, especially if they've already abandoned the quote process. You don't want to make them copy/paste. Give them a link, if you can.


I couldn't tell quite for sure based on what you are saying, but I'm assuming that right now, you have username, but not password; is that correct? If so, I don't see the reasoning for even having a username without having a password associated with it - it's just an extra piece of information you are asking your users without a real reason.

I would say in this situation, just use email and reference number. These are two pieces of information that the user is definitely going to have in this situation, so anything else would require additional thought on the part of the user.

But ideally, since you are collecting username, you should be collecting password, and then I would say that those two items are the ideal combination for accessing secure content.

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