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Why would shoppers sign in?

by Tim Leighton-Boyce

image of shopping cart synchronisation
Maybe because they can “Add it now, Buy it later…”

Who “signs in” before they start shopping on an ecommerce site? Very few.

Who keeps their mobile device apps automatically signed-in? Very many.

These contrasting patterns of behaviour may provide the solution to the problems retailers have in attempting to track the 67% of customers who use multiple devices when shopping.

The language of our sites needs to respond to this evolution in behaviour.

Change the wording on your site: get rid of “sign in”. Replace it with “sync my stuff” or “keep my shopping”. And greet customers with “we’ve kept your shopping for you”.

Or maybe the phrase to use turns out to be based on “Add it Now, Buy it Later”


July 2014 – Idea: try using Amazon’s “Add it Now, Buy it Later” catch-phrase
May 2014 – Tip: use abandoned cart email to promote sign-in
November 2013 – Background – Nielsen Norman on cross-device user experience
April 2013 – Data – Google research on cross-device shopping

For years now ecommerce analytics has been trying to deal with a loss of useful data: the more devices people use the harder it is to work out what they’re doing with them. But this change in behaviour may also hold out hope of a solution.

Analytics vendors are introducing technical tools to help with the change. For example, in 2012 Google Analytics announced “Universal Analytics” which allows site owners to identify visitors across multiple devices using a universal ID.

But this function only works if people do sign in.

On an ecommerce site if the visitor is a returning customer and if they are using the checkout during this particular visit and if they have opted to ‘create an account’ as part of a previous purchase… then they may indeed sign in for the last part of the visit.

That’s a lot of ‘ifs’.

In real life, when the visitor is only on the site to do a bit of product research (perhaps they are using a phone and have no intention of trying to buy while out and about) then the chances of them signing in when they land on the site is very low. And all those other ‘ifs’ still apply: they have to be a returning customer and they need to have an account.

As for someone who has not previously bought something: who on earth would waste their time creating an account just to look? Almost nobody.

Just change the words

The solution may lie with the cause of the problem: multiple devices.

What if we re-phrase the question as “who has their phone and tablet apps configured to log in straight away?” or “who expects their read/unread email and social data to be synchronised across all their devices?” The answer becomes ‘almost everybody’.

You could reduce the impact of the multiple device problem with a simple change of wording, not a change in technology.

Stop trying to get people to do something which only suits site-owners and start thinking in terms of benefits to visitors.

  1. Stop thinking in terms of “sign in” and “log in” and “create an account”
  2. Apply the Golden Rule: think in terms of customer benefit
  3. State the benefit: “sync my stuff”

Even the biggest of those ‘if’ challenges now becomes do-able.

Even a visitor who has not yet bought, but has spent enough time researching to know that they’ll probably buy from you, might like the idea of having their ‘recently viewed items’ available across devices. They can pick up their research where they left off. And if they’ve added to cart but don’t want to fiddle around with payments on their phone, the idea will be even more appealing.

Tracking people across multiple devices does nothing for individual visitors and some may find it intrusive. Asking for consent to do this might even have people opting out of the existing tracking.

But offer people the convenience of keeping track of details so they can pick up where they left off and many will like the idea. Some may choose your site over ones that are less convenient to use.

Synchronising information across all devices may become an expected feature of good ecommerce sites. You may lose out if you don’t start heading in this direction. The universal analytics identity key may turn out to be the least important benefit. But it’s a reason to get going on the project now.

You can start by changing just a couple of words. It’s got to be worth a try.

I’m just using “Sync my stuff” as an example. But some other phrase for this process may eventually emerge: see the update below about Amazon’s “Add now, Buy later” slogan.

There’s one big question which will probably have more than one answer:

What do you think would work on your site?

PS: Bonus Tip

I learnt a lesson when working on a site which had a high level of repeat customers. The feedback system comments revealed that people were surprised if they logged in and found items from previous abandoned carts suddenly reappearing.

Customers wondered if something was wrong with the site and some even suspected the site of trying to sneakily increase the value of the order.

There was an easy solution: we inserted an “added on (the date)” detail for each order line and the comments dried up.



July 2014 Amazon’s “Add it Now, Buy it Later” catch-phrase is intended to promote their ‘add from Twitter’ function, but my feeling is that this has the potential to turn into a more generic phrase, in the same way that their “One Click” has. It might be worth trying this phrase as a promotion on your mobile site. You could even experiment with the call to action on your mobile “add to cart” buttons — for example a very wordy “Add to Cart (you can buy later)”.

May 2014 I forget where I saw this (someone remind me and I will link), but it’s a great idea. Your abandoned cart email is a good place to encourage people to sign in on all their devices. You might even find that reminding customers they can get back to their products via their tablet or their desktop or their phone might encourage people to try it just to see…

November 2013 Here’s an interesting article on the Nielsen Norman Group site which is very relevant to the cross-device, cross-channel user experience. The first example is a great example of how Amazon prime do it for streaming video, but you could use this approach for the shopping cart (or even checkout…). Instead of “resume viewing” try a greeting like “we’ve kept your stuff”: [opens in new tab]

April 2013 I’ve just found some useful data on the use of multiple devices or ‘screens’ when shopping. In summer 2012 Google published a study based on usage diaries etc (so not just ‘a survey’) which showed 67% of participants using multiple screens for shopping.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Adam March 7, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Simple idea and to the point. Great way to change the focus of the objective through simple change to copy. It isn’t clear if you’ve tried it and had positive results, but it’s something I’ll take into account in future. Good post.

Tim Leighton-Boyce March 7, 2013 at 3:27 pm

@Adam: no I haven’t been able to test this on a site yet. It takes a long time to fit something like this in the plans.

The point about the “added on” dates back to the days when the problem was with people using different computers to shop, not mobiles. But on that site we learnt a lot about the gains we could make by providing a really good “order from previous order history” function. It was the first thing you saw when you signed in, not a generic “manage your account” dashboard. That worked: people signed in and used it.

I’m keen to try it again.

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