PERSONALIZATION: Registering for success

Tips to help you get more from the site registration process

Many Websites gather user information such as name, e-mail, and shipping address during the ordering process. But how do you get online visitors to provide more information so that you can better target your offer and personalize the shopping experience? The following tips and techniques can help you collect information up front during registration without annoying customers or distracting them from shopping.

– Make it simple. Each company has to determine how much information it needs to effectively target its audience. For some, a name, an e-mail address, and a password are enough; others need geographic, psychographic, and buying preferences information. For instance, an apparel Website does not need to ask a shopper about her medical history, yet a site selling health products may need to ask a customer about allergies.

Because most consumers are time-poor, most catalogers, analysts, and consultants agree that online merchants should ask no more than 10 questions during registration. To speed up the process, consider providing the registrant easy choices via a “click here” box, or use a pull/drop down option to fill out the form, rather than having users type in all the information.

The point is, “don’t interfere with a visitor’s shopping experience by asking for too much information,” says Ken Seiff, CEO of New York-based online discount designer apparel catalog Bluefly. “Decide the minimum amount of information needed to conduct your business online; it will make the transaction process go faster.” During the registration process, Bluefly requires shoppers only to enteran e-mail address, a password, and shipping and payment information; it also asks users if the order is a gift.

– Don’t make registration a requirement to shop. Restricting access to products will only taint the browser’s experience. “You want to encourage visitors to browse and allow them to go almost anywhere on the site, even if they don’t buy the first time,” says Joe Popolo, president/CEO of Reno, NV-based online computer products catalog

– Reward visitors who register with special services. Offer special products or services, such as e-mail newsletters, address books, wish lists, gift registries, date reminder services, and personalized catalogs that visitors cannot access without releasing additional information. According to Cambridge, MA-based research firm Forrester Research, 21% of Web users will offer personal information to enter an exclusive portion of a Website.

Bluefly, for example, offers a “My Catalog” feature in which visitors type in their favorite apparel brands and sizes in exchange for a dynamically generated personalized catalog., an online gardening products cataloger and community Website, offers its 718,000 registered members a “Design a Garden” feature for which customers must submit geographical data. “This information can help us determine the best plants to offer the customer,” says vice president of marketing Dionn Schaffner. “The more information we have on customers, the better the information and products we can offer to help them succeed as gardeners.”

Catalogers that offer some type of members-only registration also find a high percentage of repeat visitors. Nearly 50% of’s orders are from repeat buyers, and 80% of repeat buyers are members, Schaffner says. “Visitors who take the time to register as members with a cataloger will come back to that site,” says Bridget Fahrland, associate director of strategy and planning at Ann Arbor, MI-based Website developer Fry Multimedia. The majority of Fry’s catalog clients offer some kind of membership registration or VIP section, as well as address books and gift reminders.

– Offer incentives for registration. Forrester found that 30% of Web users will trade personal information for a chance to win something on a Website, while 25% want coupons or special offers. Other incentives could include air miles or product discounts.

But’s Schaffner cautions that people who register in exchange for an incentive do not behave the same way as those who register without one. Visitors who require an incentive to fill out a registration form “tend to be bargain shoppers who need something to push them into offering information or to buy a product,” she says. “You have to determine whether this is the kind of customer you want.”

– Be honest about what you’re doing with the information supplied. Nearly 90% of online customers want the right to control how their personal information is used after it is collected, according to Forrester. While many catalogers post privacy policies on their Websites, too often the policies are ambiguous and hidden behind small links. As a result, Forrester found that two-thirds of Web users will lie about themselves because they worry about what happens to personal information.

Therefore, catalogers should “link the privacy policy to every page from the main menu and write their policies in plain English, burying the lawyer’s version deep in their sites,” suggests Christopher Kelley, research associate at Forrester. And if you trade customer information with other marketers, make it easy for your customers to opt out of this practice.

– Make it easy to update or “unregister.” Consumers may need to update their address information or delete their gift reminders, so it’s important to make registration easy to edit or delete. If customers know they can easily get their names out of the registry, they may be more inclined to register in the first place.

Web designers who create Websites for the lowest pixel resolution may want to take note: Web users are steadily shifting from lower- to higher-resolution equipment. According to, a division of San Diego-based tracking and traffic analysis company WebSideStory, the percentage of surfers with monitors set at 640 x 480 pixels fell from 18% in January to 14% in October. During the same period, users of 1024 x 768 resolution jumped from 20% to 26%. Users with monitors set at the common 800 x 600 pixels remained roughly the same at 54%, and users with 1280 x 1024 resolution remained at 2%.

Most experts agree that any more than 10 questions on a registration form or survey will turn visitors away. “Asking for too much information is like saying to the customer, `Don’t open this print catalog until you fill out the questionnaire,'” says Joe Popolo, president/CEO of Reno, NV-based online computer products catalog

To keep it short and sweet, you’ve got to “ask the right questions the first time around,” says Dionn Schaffner, vice president of marketing at Austin, TX-based For instance, many online catalogers tend to ask the basic demographic questions – age, gender, household income, education, and marital status – all of which are relevant to any consumer marketer; business-to-business marketers may want to ask about company needs, size, and annual revenue. Asking which search engines are used can help in design and navigation, while asking what other Websites customers visit can help in determining competition or possible partnership opportunities.

Then again, you can find the answers to some questions simply by analyzing traffic logs, according to Bridget Fahrland, associate director of strategy and planning at Ann Arbor, MI-based Website developer Fry Multimedia. “Don’t waste your questions. There’s more information in the session logs than most marketers realize,” she says. For instance, she suggests checking the logs to see what browsers visitors use rather than wasting a question on the registration form.

To help fine-tune product selection, design techniques, or marketing avenues, use the registration process to ask more detailed questions, such as: How often do you buy for yourself vs. others? Do you surf from home or work? If you could change one thing about this Website what would it be?