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According to "The Riddle of the Abandoned Shopping Cart." The Industry Standard (December 2000-January 2001), Vividence rates overly invasive registration as the fifth worse "e-tail crime."

"People get intimidated by a zillion questions. And they feel like it's intrusive if someone wants their address right off the bat." -- Vicky Valandra, Vividence

OnlineRegistration violates one of the fundamental properties of the RealWorld: anonymity. While your face may be public, your identity generally isn't. When purchasing toilet paper, my grocer doesn't need to know who I am, just that my money is good.

However, the Internet provides the opportunity to track customers' every movements. While this may seem attractive to you as a proprietor, it isn't to your patrons. Sure, it's technically possible to track your patrons, but you won't have any to track if you do.

OnlineRegistration is not very effective either. 10-20% of registrations are bogus. The cost of determining which are and which aren't may be more than any gain you might achieve by tracking the rest. Further, the loss in business by turning customers away with this PricklyHedge is unmeasurable but real.

See also LimitedKnowledgePurchasing, LoginsAreEvil.

See also http://www.bugmenot.com, an online database of usernames and passwords to common sites.

Radio Shack, at least in Canada, requires about five minutes in order to punch in a sale. They request every piece of identifying information you can get. Really, you can just say no and still purchase items for them, but that rarely happens. People are too timid.

On the other hand, I've worked for a start up DotCom before, run by less than scrupulous individuals. For some, the possibility of extracting valuable customer information is like hitting the jackpot. But five minutes of consideration would show that all that does is reduce your revenue stream to one hundredth of what it could be. People don't want to tell you who they are. I don't care what could happen. What will happen is that the company will deservedly eat dirt and die.

I've come to the practice of using the email address webmaster@<domain.com> and then asking for every piece of spam possible. Hopefully the webmaster will eat a little of her own poison. The irony is at least amusing. -- SunirShah

Once I was shopping at Radio Shack for some stuff I couldn't find elsewhere (Cat-5, RJ-45 faceplates) and I started giving them wildly incorrect demographic information. Somewhere along the line, I realized that I had more stuff than I had cash to cover, and I didn't want to write a check for an identity separate from the one I just gave them, so I think I put back a crimper or something. --anon.

I do find it interesting that very often they require to enter your phone number. I never mind and must have typed in in at least a hundred times over the last few years. But it was *never* used and - knowing how they work - I can't imagine that it will be *ever* used.

So why do they ask for it? The only reason I can imagine is that the programmers at work feel that the phone number is an essential part of customer information, whether you need it or not. (Pretty silly - or perhaps not?)

-- HelmutLeitner

I've actually had my phone number used a few times. Sometimes for credit-card purchases the phone number will be used for verification of the card. (I found this out once when I changed my phone number, but didn't change my phone number in my bank's records.) One time I even tried to purchase something, and a customer representative called me to let me know they were out of stock temporarily. I thought it was strange since I had entered an email addresss also, and they never sent email. Also, phone numbers are pretty good for demographics. Reverse directories can give addresses from phone numbers, which may be useful extra information (if people have their packages shipped elsewhere). --CliffordAdams

Maybe they don't call to Europe because of expected language problems or higher costs. Also never heard about verification of MASTERCARD or VISA (what we use for buying) by phone. The phone number I give (office) is definitely different from the one my bank account is bound to (private).

Phone numbers are necessary for courier shipments. Acquiring this information if normal shipment is used is invasive, however.

I can only tell about the situation here in Austria. Most of my US orders during the last 10 years went by courier (DHL, Star Air, TNT, ...). No courier ever called. They try to deliver as fast as possible and leave a note to prove this. If they weren't able to deliver it's up to you to contact them and arrage a second try. My office is closed between 12:30 and 14:00 so I often asked them to phone me. They never do. --hl

For me in Austria they always do when they cannot reach me or expect money. --ReiniUrban

I found it surprising that two grocery stores in my area (Festival and Giant Foods in Harrisburg, PA) have started using Bonus/Smart Cards which give customers extra discounts on certain products in their store. They simply require your address, but I still find this a bit intrusive just to get better prices on my food.

As far as credit card validation goes, the only way I've heard is by zip code. For some reason, I can't order train tickets through the Amtrak website because my zip code won't validate. I'm just glad it's not that much harder to simply purchase them at the station. -- ChuckSmith

My feeling is roughly the opposite to the above. Information about consumer habits is valuable and would be wasted if not collected. It can be turned into better/cheaper services. I doubt anyone wants to stalk me. If I must get junk mail I'd rather it was targetted accurately. Given a few basic safeguards I'm in favour of collecting the info. -- DaveHarris

You only need enough information to meet your legal obligations, say mailing addresses to ship material to, phone numbers in case of trouble, and e-mail addresses to confirm orders. Many sites ask for my gendre, occupation, income bracket, etc. None of that information is appropriate. Moreover, if I'm not sending money, they don't need to know anything about me except the IP address to send the content to.

The schism is between what the retailer wants and what the customer wants. Many DotComs that are in weak market position--i.e. they can't force the customer onto the retailers' terms--can't afford to scare away customers by increasing the friction between intent to purchase and acquisition. The industry average conversion rate between visitors and purchasers is a pathetic 3% compared to a RealWorld average of around 30%.

You make an excellent point, though. Lessig as well points out in CodeAndOtherLawsOfCyberspace that we are happy to give up information if it has value to us to do so. I contend that most sites fail to provide commensurate value for handing over our personal information. -- SunirShah

I'm suggesting that what customers want is wrong. Allowing information to be collected and collated doesn't (or shouldn't) cost anything. It benefits the vendor. That in itself should be sufficient justification if we're altruistic (and personally if something does no harm but some good, then I'm in favour even if I don't profit myself). If we're selfish, it's surely likely that anything which benefits the vendor will eventually lead to cheaper or better services? -- DaveHarris

The BigBox? grocery stores around here (e.g. Shaw's and Price Chopper) require their courtesy card to get some of their special prices too. But unless you're cashing a check with them there,'s nothing that says you have to give them accurate information. I have their cards for the discounts, but gave them bogus information. I did the same for my wife as well. No reason they need to know who I am. They may build a profile on my ID, but there no reason they should be able to find out other info.


A friend of a friend had a good idea in this direction. Whenever you see a friend who has some grocery cards for the same stores as you, swap them. -- BayleShanks

What I can't figure out is why consumers aren't mining data on the retail sector. -- LorraineLee
I found an article in the NYT about tracking people through online shopping - [1]. They even talk of capturing email addresses keystroke by keystroke as they are entered, without the consumer ever pressing Submit! If that isn't invasion of privacy, I don't know what is. - NatalieBrown
CategoryIdentity CategoryWebTechnology


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