When convenience turns creepy

06Oct11

If you’ve used any travel websites lately, you may have noticed that most of these sites automatically remember your past searches — even if you leave the site and come back later. The same is true for an increasing number of online retailers and even entertainment sites. While this functionality can certainly be convenient, it has the potential to be a little bit creepy, too.

In particular, I’m talking about websites that remember a running history of your searches and other actions even when you’ve never registered or signed in to the site. Customers expect these sessions to be relatively anonymous, and any automated behavior to the contrary has the potential to make people uncomfortable.

How can you address this problem? Start by providing an option right on the website to turn off the activity history. Both Amazon and Southwest do a nice job with this. In addition, it’s helpful to show a welcome message to people who are returning to the site after a previous session. The message should summarize which activity has been pulled up from last time, and tell the customer how to disable the activity history if they want to.

By helping people better understand which data is being remembered from visit to visit and how they can turn it off, customers will be more likely to react favorably to this type of personalization. Instead of feeling creepy and intrusive, the functionality will be perceived as a value-added feature that helps people interact with the website using the method that suits them best.



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