Category: UX advice / Ecommerce guides
It’s amazing how often we do stuff without any great thought but ‘just because’ it’s how it we’ve always done it.
For example, we (in the UK anyway) still tend to put stamps in the top right corner of envelopes, even though postage labels can go anywhere. More on postage traditions later.
A part of UX design is knowing when to use these conventions and knowing when to challenge them. When do they help users (providing a handy mental shortcut) and when do they hold users back?
I’ve come across an example of a convention that’s been holding users back a few times recently. It’s a tiny field that I hadn’t given much thought to before but I’ve seen it cause little issues in user testing on a few different sites.
It’s the little dropdown or select field for the user’s ‘Title’. It tends to go just before the first name field and is meant for the user to state whether they go by ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’, ‘Dr’ or whatever.
Here’s a few times I’ve seen it cause problems in an ecommerce setting, when it comes up in the checkout flow.
The first is a user on a women’s fashion store site, getting annoyed and asking “why do you need to know this? It seems old fashioned”. She had missed the field first time and caused an error, making her wonder why it was being asked for in the first place.
She’s right: why is it needed? The only time the store would use it is when addressing the package and the title adds nothing when they have the customer’s first and last name. Feels a bit traditional for a modern women’s brand.
The second time is the repeated frustrations this field causes my wife. As a man I don’t really have to think when filling out this field: the title ‘Mr’ is the only real option and works for all (as is so often the case with the world being more designed for and by men).
My wife however has a PhD and likes to use one of the few benefits that this confers when possible: getting to use the title ‘Dr’. It’s also a solution to streamline all of the (often assumed) titles that had been attached to her by different companies in the past.
Unfortunately most times this title field just contains the following: Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms. Thus she’s left with a choice of three titles that are related to her marital status—something that is entirely irrelevant when it comes to doing a spot of shopping.
Some sites get round this by filling up the dropdown list with every imaginable title (Corporal, Reverend, etc) and still end up with one for ‘Other’ because it’s impossible to get them all.
The third time I saw this field cause an issue to a few users was something I hadn’t expected at all. None of them had English as a first language and they were confused by what the word ‘Title’ meant altogether.
The website in question had tried to solve the ‘unlimited titles’ problem by having an empty field where the user could write whatever they wanted. All this meant was that these users didn’t know what to put, and just generated errors when they skipped it, as it was a required field. One user ended up writing the word ‘Entrepreneur’ in there, as he thought it was a job title that the site was after. Something that is an entirely fair assumption, as at least that piece of information might actually be useful.
Outside of ecommerce (insurance?) perhaps knowing the title and thus marital status of your users is necessary data—in which case you could just ask it. Mostly it feels like an anachronism in a world where men are no longer referred to as gentlemen or esquire (unless you’re a certain MP trying to take the world backwards a few centuries) and women aren’t defined by their husband, or lack thereof.
In my book I advocate for shortening your checkout flow and ditching unnecessary fields wherever possible. The ‘title’ may be a small one but it fits the bill as something that can be dropped without anyone missing it.
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