Death to email address re-entry

I hate it when forms like this Oxfam donation form ask me to re-enter or confirm my email address:

Oxfam donation form - email address re-entry fields

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 better solution

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 joe.bloggs@domain.com” 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.

19 Comments

  1. Glad you linked to Russ’s blog entry on “Solving the ‘Repeat Email Address’ Form Issue. Maybe.” We actually tried out a number of different options, including the one you suggested.

    You can check them out here: http://infinityplusone.com/experiments/email-repeat/version1

    (Version 5 will likely interest you most.)

    ~ yoni

  2. Craig Taylor

    Email reentry has always bugged me because the sneaky web app developers always use a different alias for the text box which renders the ability to save commonly entered fields useless.

  3. Gazza

    On a slight tangent…

    My gripe with the double-entry of any information — not just email addresses — is that most sites that do it allow you to copy and paste from the first field.

    If there’s a compelling reason to ask for confirmation, fine, but prohibit the copy and paste.

  4. True, this is an annoyance for most web savvy people but it does help prevent issues with form submits.

    The main problem is that most people do not really read or just skim through copy on a page, so the chances are that people will not look at their email confirmation display after entry. Additionally, how would you check that they are happy with the email entered on the thank you page? Would they then have to click submit twice? If the server sends an email containing passwords or other sensitive information there it is likely to end up with the wrong person.

    On a recent project the client had numerous complaints about confirmation emails not being sent and a check against the database confirmed they were entering their email incorrectly. Once we added a confirm email field we had no further issues with emails not being received.

  5. great article, I agree!

  6. There can be compelling reasons to confirm the email address prior to submitting the form. In the case of a recent project we had low skilled computer users signing up to the app where the email address was the username and the password and confirmation details were sent to the user and activation could not occur unless this email was received.

    In this case the user profile as well as specific value that email had in the transaction merited the double entry.

    Another solution might be to add a step to the sign up process to ask and confirm the email is correct but I don’t think this is less obtrusive and if it is wrong it is more of a hassle.

    I would consider the risks of not having the email confirmation against the obstacle it might create.

    In our case of this project we had multiple reports of people who erroneously entered their email address and therefore couldn’t access the app.

    Looking at the examples from yoni above Number 3 makes the most sense to me but only user testing would prove it right. I’d certainly try that.

  7. Simone

    The number of people who enter their email address incorrectly in forms is staggering. I receive so many welcome emails / newsletters / responses / spam addressed to other people who have mistakenly (or maliciously, I guess!) entered my gmail address instead of their own it’s not funny.

    There certainly is a need to address this, but I agree that re-entering an email address when you can just cut and paste (or autocomplete) won’t solve the problem. It is a problem I would love to see solved. Perhaps prominently displaying the email address on the confirmation screen may help. It would be interesting to see if it does make any difference.

  8. Yeah, but I’ve seen SO many emails entered as http://www.mywebsite.com or fredbob.mywebsite.com etc.

    Yes, the two examples above are taken care of with field validation, but I also do a lot of work with a particular industry that is new to technology and computers, so their frequency of errors is extremely high.

    Double entry makes them stop, think a bit, turn their brain on, and then proceed.

  9. Great topic. I agree, it seems madness to request re-entry, but unfortunately it is very necessary. We have recently disabled the ability to copy and paste the email address into the 2nd field on our own website http://www.economycarhire.com because far too many people miss-spell their email address and this causes a lot of additional work for our back office. BTW we do actually request the email address when they first start to make a booking, which is similar to the amazon sign-in process as this helps to identify repeat customers (which solves another common problem), then the customer re-enters their email address later in the process, very similar to what you advise in your last paragraph.

  10. I find this option really annoying myself, but I do think it is helpful.

    It has told me on more than several occasions I entered different Email address. To be fair it is usually the second one or because I am so irritated I mess up.

    I have had several users make this mistake before using this. They were mad because they did not receive messages or notifications.

  11. Even worse is the password field being blanked out on a signup form. why can’t i see the password i’m typing in – forms assuming there is someone always peeking over my shoulder while i do this.

  12. If any of you have *specific* alternatives you’d like to see prototyped, I’d be happy to throw ’em up there (http://yoni.me/erp)

    Just sayin’.

    ~ yoni

  13. Hi James – I agree it would be awesome to avoid double-entry, and I’m interested in Russell’s experiments (something to try out on my next project).

    Just wanted to mention that your estimate of “1% reduced to 0.5%” is actually much lower than a lot of real-life cases – my memory of a large NGO was that it was 5%+ bad email addresses that were reduced to <1% after adding the confirmation field. For high traffic sites this is a significant impact.

    I agree that from a user perspective this shouldn't be a big deal, but it does generate a lot of waste in terms of "back office" handling for larger organisations when data is entered incorrectly. So the cost to the business is often the reason for introducing such additional checks.

    Regards, Grant

  14. Al

    I have the added problem on my laptop where I can’t re enter my email address the second time. This is so annoying, especially as then I can’t proceed any further with any bookings etc. I have turned off my internet security program but with no success. I thought the Qantas website might have been the problem but that works ok on another computer with no security program installed.?????

  15. Despite the tiny amount of extra work it creates, double entry is my preferred method of minimising mistypes because it’s simple and instant.

    As for why it tends to be applied to email addresses only: it’s because many users will be far more familiar with their mailing addresses than their email addresses. Not every form user is tech-savvy.

    Asking for a second entry doesn’t implicitly “…assume I’ve gotten it wrong the first time”, it only assumes the *possibility* that I’ve gotten it wrong the first time.

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