I hate it when forms like this Oxfam donation form ask me to re-enter or confirm my email address:
I suspected I wasn’t alone so I tweeted to find out what others do when presented with this situation and I have to say I was overwhelmed with the number of responses I received. It seems most people (well I should say most of my online web savvy friends) hate it as well and that they usually copy and paste the email address from the first field into the second. Ctrl A, Ctrl C, Tab, Ctrl V is less keyboard presses than typing an email address and therefore tends to be the preferred approach.
To me the whole idea of re-entering your email address feels like a heavy handed, ill thought out trend that creates more work for the user, doesn’t solve the problem it attempts to, goes against the websites business goals and causes untold pain and wasted time for many *slight exaggeration there perhaps*.
Where do you draw the re-entry line?
The point of re-entering your email address is to make sure you get it right – error prevention, a usability fundamental. So where does one draw the line on something like re-entering information? If I’m ordering something online that is to be delivered to me at home, should I re-enter my home address to make sure that’s correct? Surely having my expensive online purchase delivered to the right address is more important than getting my email address correct?
It’s rude, it’s assuming the worst of the user
Asking me to enter anything again is to assume I’ve gotten it wrong the first time. I’m comfortable suggesting the majority of people prefer to be treated like they got things right. In the unlikely event they got it wrong it may be difficult and/or embarrassing to rectify the problem but that’s life and I suggest most people prefer it that way.
It doesn’t actually solve the problem
Double entry doesn’t actually solve the problem of mistyping your email address, users can still get it wrong. There’s no doubting it will reduce the number of errors from say 1% to 0.5% but big deal! Why penalise the 99% of users who get it right first time for such a minimal gain? Two fields means two chances of typing it incorrectly and the new possible error that the 2 fields don’t match.
Is my email address really that important?
Using the Oxfam form mentioned, my goal was to sponsor a work colleague. Why is getting my email address correct so important to this process? I can print out a receipt at the end of the process if I need it. I have the charge on my credit card if I need it as well. So if my email address is not critical to the process then there is certainly no reason to ask for it twice. In this case I wonder if it needs even be a required field. My cynical view is that Oxfam want my email address so they can market to me – I don’t appreciate that.
It reduces the chance of conversion
In our time starved, attention deficient society one extra field can make a difference to a user completing their task. This one field, when taken in context of how it makes a user feel and how it can create new errors, may just be enough to push the whole process into the user’s too hard basket.
Disabling copy and paste is just criminal
It’s bad enough asking me to confirm it but not letting me copy and paste the email address from the first field into the second confirmation field, as the Oxfam form in question does, is criminal. Why would you do it? In the unlikely event I’ve entered my email address incorrectly in the first, the fact I’m copying and pasting it means I’m looking at it again so that in itself should be more than enough of a check. Please people stop with this madness!
Autocomplete is reason enough to abandon it
The vast majority of browsers now autocomplete email addresses as you type. This is a wonderful feature and interaction that to me renders the whole double entry idea dead in the water. This reduces the likelihood of errors greatly and I think is the single most compelling reason to abandon email re-entry.
A better solution
As well as the tweets of frustration I got from friends I also got some nice suggestions on better solutions and links to interesting articles on this very issue. My preferred approach to this problem has been to show the email address the user has entered on the confirmation page in large text, with a link that makes it easy for them to change the email address if they did get it wrong. Here is an implementation I recently designed (albeit slightly verbose in hindsight):
A respected colleague and mentor of mine Brett Collinson of Modal Dialog also suggested this as his preferred solution. Another idea that Dan Naumman sent me was this one that suggests repeating the email address at the end of the form before the final submit button. I like the approach and think it, especially in combination with the confirmation page approach, is a much better solution than the double entry. The main reason is because it’s treating the user as though they got it right the first time and not adding any extra work to the process if they did.
I wonder if putting their email address on the button itself, e.g. “Create account for firstname.lastname@example.org” would be even more effective. Maybe it would create a big an ugly button but then big buttons are very usable.
Thoughts and especially other suggestions welcomed.