Observation: Users Will Go Far to Avoid Repeat Form Errors

Here a test subject enters ‘NA’ in an optional field ‘just in case’ it was required anyways.

When conducting the research for our checkout usability report we saw an interesting tendency among the test subjects when it came to form field errors: people took preventive actions to avoid form field errors if they had already experience a validation error on the site.

A prior validation error made test subject proactively write things like “N/A” in the “company name” field when in doubt if it was optional or not.

In essence, if the test subject had experienced an error message just a few moments before, then the test subject would proactively fill out more fields than necessary in order to avoid new error messages. The downside to this was that in most instances these test subjects felt uneasy providing information they’d prefer to keep private.

As one test subject explained: “Here I would feel like I have to fill out the phone number field because otherwise I might get in trouble in a little while”. She was clearly reluctant to hand over her phone number but ended up doing so because she feared an upcoming error message otherwise. This left her with a poor impression of the site’s brand.

Some users simply don’t want to go by trial and error to guess what input is needed, so instead they disclose “too much” personal information and feel uneasy about it.

These preventive actions are most likely based on the customer’s prior web experience with other sites, and their experience with your site.

Authored by Christian Holst on July 12, 2011

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