User A "Sheri" has email [email protected], and signs up for a forum. She makes a typo and enters [email protected] during sign-up. She never gets the activation email, and realizes the error after clicking sign-up e.g. when the page says "Activation email has been sent to [email protected]"

She then signs up again entering her correct email address, and activates that user account.

This leaves an un-verified account still in the DB for email address [email protected] (we don't purge rows, they remain indefinitely, in an un-verified state).

Then, user B comes along sometime down the road, and her email is [email protected]. She tries to register, and when she types her email in the email field, she receives automatic feedback to the effect that a row exists with her email address, and a verification email is automatically dispatched.

My questions:

  1. What is the best way to message this scenario to user B when she types in the email during a new account sign-up?
  2. What is the best way to proceed (workflow for user B) to activate the account and set her own username (since the one that user A chose would be different from what user B wants)

Also note that this scenario must also "fit" for when it is just one user, e.g. a user creates an account and for whatever reason, doesn't activate it. some time later, comes back and tries to create an account with the same email address.


3 Answers 3


There are a few things here that would need to be optimized and improved IMO.

  1. If verification email has gone out and not confirmed - remove that account or mark it that someone else can claim that account. The worst thing you can do is to lock an email address and don't allow an owner of that email to register. Some websites force the user to reset a password in this scenario and both are an "OK" solution, however I think removing unverified account is a better solution from both UX and data stand point.

  2. If you go the suggested route, then the answer to your main question is: Take User B through the same registration process you took User A. User B may knot know User A and giving them a perception that someone has previously registered on their website with their email address is alarming and/or confusing.

  3. If you go the password reset route, then you need to make sure you offer a soft landing experience to support registration for first time users if the account was NOT verified and a password is being reset. In other words, try to make this experience match you regular registration experience with some subtle changes (instead of provide your info ask the user to verify the info you've collected already if any)


It's a better UX if you DONT ask the user to specify a unique username. Usually those are tough to remember and if the one you want is already taken, you would have to make up a new one which you wont remember.

Use the information your customer is most likely going to remember (eg. email address)

If you are using email address as a login, enforce uniqueness of it in your system or simply rely on the combination of fields that will uniquely identify a user (eg. email address and website they are login into)


Fix the system problem first

When someone submits an address, a date should be attached to that entry. If the address is not validated within a given amount of time, the entry should be set free.

Free like a bird

  • Easiest solution I guess :-) But in this regards let me also tell you that it's always a big challenge (pain point?) for PMs to get the user verify/activate, unless, there is some sort of urgency from the user's end. Most users feel it's a tedious job to complete the activation process.
    – Ramnath
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 13:25
  • Then make activation easy, fun, or rewarding. "Activate your account to unlock ..." I'd work on this problem first, since activation is pivotal. Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 14:57

If an account has already been created using a pre-existing email (either by error or other situation entirely) you would prompt the user like you've outlined. "There is an account with this email already setup."

Then offer a suggestion on next steps to continue the process:

  1. Verify the email address you entered is correct.
  2. If [email] is yours but you have not activated your account, click here.
  3. If you've forgotten your password, click here.

If you want to be honest with the user those are your best options (versus disguising option 2 and suggesting they already signed up themselves and forgot).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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