The $12 Million Optional Form Field

by on 11/03/10 at 12:03 am

[Note: This post is a response to Expedia on how one extra data field can cost $12m]

Expedia learned a valuable lesson about optional form fields. And it only took them $12 million to do it. You, however, can learn it right here for free. The lesson is this. When you put more and more fields and elements on your forms, you increase the chances of your users making mistakes. When you’re dealing with money, this can cost you.

This is what happened with Expedia’s form. Their users mistakenly interpreted an optional form field labeled “Company” as the place to put the name of their bank. After putting in their bank name, they went on to enter the address of their bank in the address field, rather than their home address. When it came time to verify their address to process their credit card, it failed because it was not the right address. When they removed the optional field, they started seeing $12 million of profit a year.

When it comes to design, less is always more. By excluding unnecessary information and elements in your designs, you not only make important elements shine , but you cut the chances of confusing your users and having users make mistakes. Simplicity and clarity always wins. To make things clear, you have to make things simple. To make things simple, you have to clear things you don’t need.

4 Responses to “The $12 Million Optional Form Field”

  1. Andrew

    Nov 3rd, 2010

    Good tip – who said, “To make things clear, you have to make things sim­ple. To make things sim­ple, you have to clear things you don’t need.”? It would be nice to use that as a quote.

    Thanks.

  2. Nicolas Bouliane

    Nov 3rd, 2010

    When it comes to forms, I try to put in as little extra fields as possible. If the information is not critical to the goal, I take it off.

    A simple jQuery tooltip wouldn’t have hurt, neither. It takes a few minutes to set up and clears any confusion there might be.

  3. Arun Agrawal - Webile

    Nov 9th, 2010

    Sorry but I do not agree with the conclusion.

    While it is OK to suggest that they should have provided a tooltip to help the users, I am surprised that a large number of customers confused the company field with bank name.

    There must have been other issues with the form. If people can confuse things this badly, they might have made some other mistake.

    Removing too many fields can add the burden of unqualified leads. Again in Expedia’s case, little harm done as the deal is only complete when payment has been made but on lead generation forms, too few fields always result in more unqualified leads. The website owners have to balance number of fields with lead quality.

    Arun

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