This is a tougher, though nevertheless more annoying subject. If a web-store requires you to ‘register’ (the most horrible word to be chosen for the procedure; do you smell the bureaucracy and finality coming with it ?) or not: A vendor always needs a way to keep track of your particular order to make sure it is processed accurately right until it reaches your door.
The easiest and most secure way to do this, is to assign it a unique identifier — and by definition your e-mail address just is one.
So the question to register (let’s stick with the word, for understandability’s sake…) or not, actually is not about if you are to create an account at all, but if a new account is being created with one and the same shop for every single order you place. May the latter be appreciated by the more privacy aware shopper, the advantages in information protection will likely shrink somewhere close to zero by the time you are to enter the shipping address; at least if you forgot to repeatedly relocate between two orders.
On the other hand registration usually comes with the added benefits of being notified when your order is shipped or if an ordered item probably went out of stock unexpectedly. Concepts for more privacy-saving delivery options are being discussed further down into this article series.
So if registration is basically about identification:
What the heck makes us register freshly with each and every website we use ? Do you carry a different passport with you for every country you go to ? Or a different credit card for every shop you buy from ?
The issue here obviously is less a lack of unique identifiers (remember that e-mail account…), but the absence of standardization and trustability.
Also the increasing number of available password wallets, from the simple ones built into most any webbrowser, enhanced by more advanced add-ons like Sxipper tell us that the customary concept of creating new accounts with secure user-and-password combinations for every single website has quite well exceeded its peak level.
Battling the growing number of phishing attempts, alternates just started to emerge within recent years, as industry giants like Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google announced their support for a new, now becoming even more popular and widespread, browser-based authentication system named OpenID. Its core idea is based on third party credential-verifying and goes pretty much like: “I don’t necessarily trust you to be able to drive a car, but I will trust the local administration if they give you a driver’s license.”
Online for instance, a web-shop owner may not trust the billing address his prospective customer provides. But if the client’s bank confirms, that this is the address they had successfully sent him his new credit card to, the vendor may trust them that they have verified it.
With OpenID you may only own one account with an organisation
you trust, and which in return is willing to provide third parties credentials they trust to confirm your identity as required by their business processes.
This doesn’t come without added benefits: By accepting their customers to log-in using OpenID, vendors get beautiful and trust-sparking co-branding opportunities with household names on the internet. Just take this button as anexample.
So logging in to an e-commerce site is likely to become a push-of-a-button experience quite soon.
The term checkout has been known for decades as the point-of-sale from within a variety of industries; no matter if on- or offline. In e-commerce, however, the checkout is mostly referred to as the process from the point a prospective customer has chosen the products from the virtual shelves (almost inevitably using a virtual ‘basket’ or ‘cart’ as he likely would have done in a traditional retail store), via entering delivery and payment details to the point where the order is completed and the deal is done.
The early e-commerce sites in the mid-nineties have provided as many allusions to the buying process in a conventional store as they could, to create the necessary peace of mind with their customers to make them feel comfortable to buy through a medium they, at the time, often just began to explore. And they were successful pursuing this approach.
However today we are more than ten years older and we interact with online stores in still much the same way as if this was our first dial-in with a 28.8k modem in 1995. And on the vendors’ side there are millions of folks willing to sell their own mass customized or even tailor made creations without being willing to take the hassle of administering their own webshops.
As Harward Business Review, WIRED Magazine, as well as lately BusinessWeek announced 2008 to be the year of the P2P-Economy’s lift-off, it seems quite ridiculous to do business over the web not very different from how we already did an entire decade ago.
So let’s have a rush through the common webshop checkout here, with its typical 5 to 6 webpages, standing between a customer considering to buy and the actual purchase being made. And let’s see where we might be able to use modern days’ infrastructure to improve and smooth the buying experience for the customer while providing the seller with all the necessary information needed to successfully deliver his customers a pleasant puchasing experience.
Step 1 — the Basket (or Cart)
Even though it actually doesn’t make a lot of physical sense to put premium site-memberships, downloadable MP3 music, games or software files into a real shopping basket (as these are likely to remain intangible for their time being), humans obviously continue to love the evolution-proven collecting experience they get when adding their very own choice of items, probably tracked down on some remote website, into an equally non-material basket or cart. But if not even this cart is to stick with physical constraints, why does it still carry around all the disadvantages of its real-life counterpart with it ?
As these are:
- If you leave it alone, it may be gone soon.
- You are not allowed to carry it with you outside the borders of the shop.
- To buy from or simply to compare different vendors, you need to take one separate basket at each of the various shops offering these goods for sale and invest additional time in review and purchase. Just that in the web’s virtual world there is no real benefit from carrying around loads of brand-named shopping bags — not even for women. 😉
- Once you take the cart to the cashier’s desk you are not welcome to postpone of selectively buying only some of the basket contents.
- After the purchase you are left alone with information needs like the "best before"-date or relevance of the purchased items to your own plannings (like ingredients to a certain recipe or availability of a pre-booked restaurant table at your travel destination.
Wishlists like those from Amazon indeed do help here, however they only solve the time issue, but still leave you alone with the two other ones.
So what about turning things around here:
What if YOU as a customer could bring YOUR OWN shopping cart ?
What if you could go on a shopping tour through a multitude of online shops, just adding to YOUR personal cart whatever you like, without the need to care where it comes from ?
You could do your deal comparison in a relaxed manner, similarly to browsing through your e-mail inbox: considering which mail to work on immediately, which to postpone and which one to forward to friends. You could also do re-purchases of products you liked with ease and one-click-order style (hopefully Amazon won’t sue me for that expression).
There is no trouble whatsoever with the technical part of this. Mostly any item sold on the web can be uniquely identified at least by the URL of the page it is presented on. Furthermore telling a vendor what you would like to buy from him, shall be easier than sending a TrackBack ping from your weblog:
Using more elaborate technology like semantic XML descriptions or web services instead, buying with your own virtual basket is going to be much more pleasant than anything you have ever experienced in an online shop by now. This is especially true for the purchase of services, where availability and conditions use to literally change within minutes, rather than days or weeks.
PLUS: You know where it’s going. No strange screens or misunderstandable options to choose from. It is going to be always the very same standardized process — no matter which shop you are actually buying from at the time.
Checkout sucks. Really. Adopted to the web from the world’s retailing industries, "checkout" basically describes the procedures within the purchasing process from the point a customer has added goods to his shopping cart or basket through payment with optional rebate and p&p negotiating until the deal is done.
This post is the first in a series about how we are going to do business online in the years to come and what buying from an online shop could possibly be like within the near future. Not necessarily philosopher’s stone in e-commerce, but an look-out to possible outcomes being created by developments currently underway on the net. Those of you accustomed to catching up with the latest tweaks and geeks will likely have heard of one or the other approach, though what in my eyes has been missing by far, is a combined usage scenario for these new ideas and concepts. That said, the original reason for me to write these articles, has been that
Checkout sucks. As a paradigm.
It’s so last century, you know… 😉
So let’s get back and re-start at the point, where the customer decides, which items – if any – to put into her basket. Here the journey through a wonderful set of freshly conceived concepts and brandnew technological perspectives begins…