The $12 Million Optional Form Field

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

Expedia learned a valuable lesson about optional form fields. And it only took them $12 million to do it. However, you can learn it right here for free. The lesson is twofold. When you put too many fields on your forms, users can make more mistakes. And if your labels aren’t clear and specific about the information you’re asking for, users can enter the wrong information that can lead to form submission failure. When you’re dealing with money, this can cost you.

The $12 Million Optional Form Field

What happened with Expedia’s form is that 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. They removed the optional field and started seeing $12 million of profit a year.

When it comes to form design, clarity is important. If you have optional form fields you don’t need, get rid of them. More fields can lead to more confusion. If you have certain fields that users can easily misinterpret, put clear and specific labels on them. In this case, “Home Address” instead of “Address” and “Your Company” instead of “Company” would’ve been clearer. Expedia learned the hard way that lack of clarity on forms can cost you. Don’t make the same mistake they did.


The $12 Million Optional Form Field The $12 Million Optional Form Field

Author and editor-in-chief of UX Movement. Loves great web experiences and fights for the user.

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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