I am working on a post-sale customer support project for a US high street retailer (for the rest of this post I will refer to them as 'Jon's Cellphones'). The program will enable customers who purchase products in-store to get after sales help and support via a phone number, a website and a chat service. The website will be the portal by which the customer can access these other services, this is by design in order to encourage customers to self-help before they pick up the phone. The vast majority of the website content will be open and available to anyone, regardless of where they purchased the product. The phone number and the chat service will be restricted to only customers who purchased from Jon's Cellphones. There will be no authentication in front of the website as it will damage adoption and also harm SEO.

So the situation we find ourselves in is that some content on the site will be open, and some will require authentication. What patterns are successful in engaging users with open content, but requiring them to login for other services? It is also worth noting that we get valuable analytics when a customer authenticates, so we would prefer all customers authenticate regardless of the services they consume. The image below explains where my thinking is at right now (conceptual wireframe - not in any detail).

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Some other notes:

  • I had taken some inspiration from 'paywall' type models, but in this case the problem is not one of conversion - the customers is already enrolled, all they need to do is authenticate
  • authentication in this case is by means of the customer's last name and a store-issued PIN.
  • Having a user log in just to "Get Help via Phone"?
    – user371
    Commented Aug 6, 2011 at 15:15

2 Answers 2


It's pretty much the same as encouraging people to do anything. Why should they care? So you start looking at psychological motivation and you discover incentives. That's really what it boils down to, and you've already referenced some good ones in your own answer.

Here are some situations when I'll care about authenticating (or doing anything you want me to do, like giving you my email address):

  • Authenticating is so easy I don't need to think about it. By reducing barriers to entry, you approach the "don't make me think" ideal of UI design. Since I only have so much time to invest in making decisions in your app/on your site, you want me to spend time deciding on something relevant, like whether to spend $50 or $100, not whether to authenticate or not. Make the process as invisible as you can and you're incentivising me to engage with you.
  • I have something to lose by not authenticating. Like you say, once I've put things in my shopping cart and committed to a purchase, most of my "brain cycles" have been spent and I'm already invested. That's when you strike and tell me that I need to leave some info with you in order to complete the process. It's kind of a dark pattern, but it's borderline and most users are used to being treated this way, so you can get away with it. If I've committed to the point that I feel my time would be wasted by going back rather than authenticating, then I'm incentivised to complete the transaction.
  • I stand to gain something by authenticating. Facebook really nailed this by giving app developers and users similar benefits from authenticating with Facebook: instant access to all your friends. Most social networks are much less useful if you can't connect with your friends, so both the network and you stand to gain a lot by connecting you with those people. If you have something of value to offer me after authenticating and you communicate up front about what that is, I'm incentivised to go through the process.

StackExchange is a notorious example of playing with your mind in order to encourage you to join and start interacting with the site. If you want to ask a question, you stand to gain answers. But first you need to sign up. If I want to ask badly enough, then authenticating isn't a big deal. Same thing goes for gaining reputation in order to acquire more privileges - I'm incentivised to come back and accept answers, fill out my profile and do other stuff because in return I get more control over how the site works.


There are 2 problems here.

How do I get customers to authenticate to access 'closed' sections of the site?

A widely used pattern for this is to display the content as if it were available and ask for authentication at the last possible point in the workflow that you need to. Most shopping carts do this, you can shop to your heart's content, you only get asked for details when you 'check out'. An example related to the mockup above - the 'Get Help via Phone' link could display the phone number. Only when you call should you be asked for your authentication token. The same with 'Get Help via Chat' - only authenticate when they are connected to a chat session. This is a common pattern in customer support and one users should be familiar with.

How can I persuade customers to authenticate when using the 'free' portions to improve analytics?

This is trickier and most customers won't because they don't need to. Put simply, I will authenticate if I get something in return. So if 'My History' is valuable to me, and I need to authenticate to use it then I will. My hunch is most customers won't bother. A suggestion would be to add an authentication panel on all pages (with the value authenticating provides) so customers know it is there and can authenticate if they want.

  • PS - I know I just answered my own question. I am not insane :) We have spent some time in the office debating this and this answer reflects where we got to. I wanted to get it up here for feedback alongside other answers.
    – Jon White
    Commented Aug 3, 2011 at 0:22

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