Increasing user retention via simulated control

Increasing your user retention by giving them control – Our thoughts & experiences

We were sitting around the conference room yesterday, and our Senior UI/UX designer was presenting our latest build (we make a habit of getting the whole team together to look over builds before sending them off to clients). Like a lot of apps, at some point, it eventually had to ask for the users’ payment information, in order to process transactions through a payment service like Blueswipe or Stripe.

Our design team had looked into how other apps went about doing this, our main inspiration being the eponymous Uber. You can see in this video that Uber, like many apps, allows users to peruse what the app offers, and as soon as the user attempts to actually use the service, it requires them to input payment information. One main question arose during our meeting, however; just when is the optimal time to ask a user to input their credit card information?

From a business and sales standpoint, it makes sense to ask for that information right away – any salesperson dreads taking an extra step that can lead to hesitation and second-guessing during the closing of a sale, and especially loathes the idea of taking customers out of the purchasing experience – but user behavior shows a different trend.

Most mobile users are willing to download almost any app when it’s free – there’s virtually no risk (especially on iOS) on their part. But if that app asks for payment information up front, they will almost invariably delete the app.

We had experienced this first hand in the past – an app we had built was seeing about fifty downloads per day, but user retention was abysmal. We could see exactly when and where users jumped ship – as soon as the app required the user to enter a credit card before continuing to use the service.

When we played around with the app’s flow, and allowed users to look at what the app had to offer before it asked for payment information, user retention skyrocketed. The app continues to grow to this day.

It’s actually a pretty interesting facet of user psychology; even when we know a service won’t automatically charge our account, we’re all still leery of putting in financial information, even in a secure digital environment.

I even have a distinct memory of using an old pre-paid debit card to sign up for a free trial on Netflix; a service I knew I would continually use. I had no problem entering in my actual credit card’s information when the free trial period had ended, however, and to this day still subscribe to their service.

I knew I would use their service. I trusted their brand and website. Yet I still delayed entering in my information as long as possible. Why did I do that?

It’s not laziness – my real credit card was on hand – I had to dig through a desk drawer to find an old pre-paid card. Using a pre-paid card ultimately added a step to the process.

At first, sitting in the build presentation meeting, I thought I had cracked the formula for how to determine the reasoning behind a user’s unwillingness to enter their payment information: The service’s value proposition + the user’s trust in the service. I reasoned that if a user can see what a service offers, they are more likely to take the risk of entering in their credit card. After they actually use the service, they build trust in the brand, and the risk of entering in personal information slowly diminishes, until that risk eventually morphs into a reward.

This is all true, I believe, to some extent; but it still doesn’t explain my Netflix free trial experience. I had already been subscribed to Netflix for years under my family’s account – the whole reason I was making my own account was because, as an adult, it’s important to pay for your own streaming services – because, you know, that’s what adults do.

So it was back to the proverbial drawing board – and then it hit me. This isn’t actually about trust, security, or a need to know what the service will bring to the table.

It’s about control.

Asking for payment information up front doesn’t actually reduce user acquisition – it’s requiring the user to input their credit card that causes users to abandon a service or platform. Case in point, try to make a Netflix account without a credit or debit card. You can’t. But you have the option for a free trial. It’s that illusion of choice that makes the user feel like they’re in control, and consequently creates a more palatable situation.

After a pretty in-depth discussion during the meeting, we decided that asking a new user to input their payment information during the initial set up of their account wasn’t a bad thing – as long as they had the option not to.

In fact, this actually adds an element of control in the users’ eyes. The app still eventually requires the user to enter in their payment information, but it gives them the choice of when to input that data.

This doesn’t just apply to asking a user for payment information, however; it’s applicable to tutorials, user profiles, push notifications… almost any feature really.

Tutorials are an annoyance – unless you can skip it. Push notifications are bothersome – unless you requested them.

There’s a trend in UI/UX design to make everything happen in the smallest number of steps possible – which, in most situations, is overwhelmingly good practice. But perhaps, as an industry, when we consider user acquisition and retention, we should consider the power of giving users’ the ability to skip steps. To control their experience within the app. The tutorial is there for the user that wants to know all the ins-and-outs before actually using the app, and the option to skip is there to give the user more control.

This might actually be better UX than not including the extra step to begin with, because it gives the illusion of more control. What’s more satisfying for a user; no experience at all, or the option to say, “Ha ha, I don’t want to do that, so I won’t.”

It feels good to say “no” sometimes. Give the people what they want.

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