Queron Jephcott Team : User Experience and Information Architecture Tags : Web Design Usability Information Architecture

Transaction reference numbers increase usability

Queron Jephcott Team : User Experience and Information Architecture Tags : Web Design Usability Information Architecture

I titled this blog so blatantly because it sounds like an oxymoron. A huge alphanumeric jumble of characters and the notion of increasing the usability of a web site doesn’t sound right. At face value, there appears to nothing usable about a reference number, they don’t mean anything on their own and they’re impossible to remember without writing them down somewhere.

So why clutter the pages of your transactional web site with them?

It’s simple, transactional systems have always used reference numbers.

People have become comfortable with the idea of reference numbers being attached to transactional systems. So comfortable, that removing them, while it might be less on the screen, less to worry about and aim to make your user feel like a person not a number, will actually damage the legitimacy of the site.

There is a sense of security achieved by displaying a transactional reference number to the user. It gives them the security of knowing their information, credit card details, etc... are attached to unique identifier. It expresses a sense of seriousness you are showing regarding their personal information, the time they’ve spent on our site and their intended purchase.

Flights, hotels, couriers, eBay all have transactional reference numbers.

The other night, I booked a flight and an unnamed carrier, made the purchase and got the confirmation. The confirmation had my booking number on it as well as a message saying they had emailed my ticket to me. The standard procedure. I closed the window and checked my email, no email... 10 minutes later, no email... I started to wonder whether I actually had a ticket or not. I’m sure the site was experiencing a slight technical fault, but had it not been for the booking number on the confirmation window, I would have certainly joined the mass of people now phoning the customer support number.

No matter how fuzzy, friendly and fun our modern transactional web sites are, let’s not forget the basic principles that build the sense of security customers need to shop there in the first place.

Giving the user a reference number ‘entrusts’ them with a piece of information from your system. They know that sitting on your system somewhere, is their transaction. While they will no doubt have the confirmation email that was automatically sent to them, there’ll be nothing that feels like ‘proof’ that you have successfully processed their transaction.