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11 May 2008

A tale of two websites

Having blogged about a more flexible e-commerce model for e-commerce before let me recap with some history.

The pioneers of e-commerce back in 1995 were Amazon and eBay. Both used a model that now forms the default business model replicated on nearly every other website. That is, you must register on the website and hold an account on the website with a login and password for you to buy anything. This is completely unnecessary, an invasion of users' privacy, does not help in any anti-fraud measures and is simply websites forcing users to hand over long term purchasing stats because they can rather than because it is an integral part of the transaction. We wouldn't tolerate this intrusiveness on the high street and we freely shop there without having to register with shops first, so why put up with this nonsense online?

This forced registration is excess data gathering and contravenes the third principle of the data protection act, namely that the information being handed over - the customer's buying history - is excessive for the purposes of the individual transaction. Sure it's convenient to have an account already set up if I don't want to enter my data repeatedly, but on the other hand it's really inconvenient having my every purchase tracked, and trying to log in when I'm required to have an account have forgotten the password and hate having yet another website where I have to remember yet another username and password.

Argos, a top 5 retail site in the UK is now bucking this 13 year old trend. You can register if you want to, but you don't have to. Well done Argos. Same goes for

Let me tell now the tale of two websites. When trying to buy a Chiminea Barbeque tonight, I found two very similar models at the same price.

One was on which insisted I had an account or registered first, then when I went to register it said I couldn't because I already had even though when I went through the 10 minute forgotten password dance and logged in there was no account info there. The other was which didn't require me to register and as an added triple bonus didn't have the other usual website irritations such as a mandatory courtesy title, needlessly separate first and last name fields (i.e. one field for the whole customer name) and finally allowed Scotland as a valid country. Naturally the latter site got my business, it was far simpler and easier to use.

Well done, castironchimineas, someone taking a leaf out of my book not only on flexible e-commerce, but also how to capture a customer name but also website usability guru Jakob Nielsen who said way back in 1995 that customer name fields should be combined into one.

Maybe 13 years after the e-commerce revolution started, we can start to get back to the basics of usability?


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