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Making people jump through (registration) hoops is a bad idea

Dmitriy Buterin 30 April 2007 0 comments

Here is a short tale of how I was made to jump through many hoops for a very simple transaction - and what it reminded me of regarding some online event registration quirks.

I was at a Chinese restaurant on Saturday - pretty upscale one, called Asian Legend. It has several locations in Toronto and runs its own 'Frequent customer' program. Buy a special card that's good for one year and get 10% discount on every meal - pretty good deal.

After the meal and just as I was about to pay I submitted my discount card only to be informed that it had expired a week ago and that I need to renew it. Well, it's a no-brainer, I eat in this place several times a month and save a bundle with a discount card. Now  this is where they made me jump through some really unnecessary hoops.

First of all, they could not simply add a renewal charge to the bill. Instead, I had to pay for a renewal ($10.60), they had to process this transaction separately - only then they could go on and process my main bill.

It got even funnier. They brought me a whole new application form and even though it had an option to "renew" (vs. a "new application"), I still had to fill out the whole thing. This sucked. Even though it only took me a few minutes, it was a waste of time - and who likes that? If they already have my data, why do I have to fill it out again? If they don't keep it, why do they ask for it in the first place?

This encounter reminded me of the ways many organizations handle event registrations. Quite frequently you have to type in your information from scratch every single time - even if you are a regular attendee of monthly seminars. Why do we make people jump through the hoops even though their information is already stored in our database? Most of the time, it is the case of poorly thought out and designed software.

I do not blame the engineers - I know it is not easy to do well. When we were building Wild Apricot (our own membership management and event registration software) we wanted to make it super easy for people to register for events. One of our initial ideas was that as soon as someone enters their email address, we would instantly check it against the database of past registrants and fill the rest of the form automatically if we found a match.

Then we realized that this approach had its own problems - it does not address privacy and security issues. It means that someone can take (or even guess) somebody else's email - and then use our online registration form to get all the contact details. Not a good idea. So instead we asked people to login with their email and password - then we can be assured of their identity and prefill the registration form. Less convenient than our original idea - but a good compromise between convenience and security.

This is just one tiny example. Being a professional web guy I know that you can take pretty much any website out there - and find dozens if not hundreds of ways and places where it asks visitors to jump through some unnecessary hoops - type information in a specific way, make some extra mouse clicks or make selections which could have been easily skipped. I know that the sites we have built have some of these quirks! (and we are taking them out one by one).

What annoyances have you come across on different websites, especially regarding member management and event registration areas? Please share your stories so that we all can be wiser and work on avoiding these on our own websites!

Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Posted by Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Published Monday, 30 April 2007 at 8:36 AM
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