Accounts & Self-Service UX

How do users track and return orders? How do they manage their account data?


A Research Study on ‘Accounts & Self-Service UX’

Accounts & Self-Service is a unique aspect of the e-commerce user experience. Unlike the 6 other e-commerce themes we’ve researched, ‘Accounts & Self-Service’ is often not part of the “direct purchase funnel” — in most cases, users don’t need to sign in to complete a purchase.

However, this isn’t to indicate that Accounts & Self-Service is less important than other e-commerce themes. Returning users — those most likely to use Self-Service features most often — are critically important to a successful e-commerce business, which means the Accounts & Self-Service UX performance can be just as important as the UX performance of the Product Page, Homepage & Category, or other e-commerce areas when it comes to a site’s overall long-term sales.

Moreover, the Accounts & Self-Service area of e-commerce is arguably the most personal of the e-commerce areas that a user experiences. Users tracking a package, attempting to cancel a wrong order, or attempting to return a product often interact with a site on a deeper level than users, for example, browsing product pages or filtering product lists. They have more “skin in the game” after having invested much time (and potentially money as well) with a site — and therefore are particularly attuned to any friction encountered while trying to manage Accounts & Self-Service features. Frustration mounts quickly if it’s difficult to accomplish Self-Service tasks.

Indeed, when users find it difficult or impossible to manage Accounts & Self-Service features the consequences can be severe, both for users and for sites, as negative experiences in Self-Service Accounts can lead to lasting brand damage. Our quantitative study of 1,103 US adults finds that 4.98% would never purchase from a particular e-commerce site again, while 7.56% would be unlikely to do so — solely due to a negative return experience. Clearly, an investment of resources to improve the user experience of Accounts & Self-Service areas is warranted. This is especially true when factoring in how high-performing Self-Service Accounts will likely lead to reduced customer support requests — making the investment to improve the Self-Service Accounts features likely to eventually pay for itself.

Additionally, Accounts & Self-Service often have bespoke pages and navigation, with many internal departments producing their own content, and many site-specific features — for example, store credit cards, site communities, specialized order tracking features, etc. Because of the diversity of the content, there’s much more of a risk of running into severe UX issues: rather than having to only worry about a few product page templates, sites may instead have dozens of unique features that must all be kept up-to-date and perform well for users.

Furthermore, Accounts & Self-Service is an under-researched area of e-commerce. While there is ample guidance available on crafting homepages, for example, there’s a relative paucity when it comes to Self-Service account features. One main reason is the difficulty in researching aspects of an e-commerce site that are mainly hidden from public view, which makes it vastly more difficult and complex to research Accounts & Self-Service compared to other e-commerce areas (as we at Baymard discovered — for example, having to return countless products from different sites just to see what interfaces would be best to test).

Research into Self-Service Account design patterns has therefore been long overdue, which is why we at Baymard devoted a full year to researching only this area of e-commerce. During testing, test subjects encountered more than 1,400 usability issues as they tried to update their stored account information (like addresses, passwords, or credit cards), track a package, return an item, or cancel a wrong order. We’ve analyzed and distilled these observed issues into the 65 guidelines on how to develop a high-performing Accounts & Self-Service user experience, which address such topics as:

  • How to design and structure the “My Account” drop-down
  • The account dashboard
  • Account sign in
  • Stored addresses and payment methods
  • Newsletter unsubscribe and frequency
  • Online order cancellation
  • Orders & order tracking
  • The order returns flow and UI
  • General account navigation, structure, and information

7 Research Reports on Accounts and Self-Service UX

(paid research content)

All 65 Accounts & Self-Service research findings are available as part of Baymard Premium, and are divided into the following 7 topics:

7 × Accounts & Self-Service Topics

Accounts & Self-Service

Account Drop-Down

Accounts & Self-Service

Account Drop-Down

7 Guidelines, 43 Pages

Placing the “Account” drop-down menu, account features to include, how the “Account” drop-down should be structured and styled, personalization, and what “Account” drop-down implementations should be avoided.

Accounts & Self-Service

Account Dashboard

Accounts & Self-Service

Account Dashboard

6 Guidelines, 33 Pages

Providing paths to all features, highlighting recent orders, limiting ads, and using icons; dashboard designs that use a sidebar or ‘Cards’ for navigation.

Accounts & Self-Service

Account Sign In

Accounts & Self-Service

Account Sign In

6 Guidelines, 30 Pages

Account sign in, including password reset and account lockouts, “Soft” sign in, automatic sign out, sign in when accessing order tracking from an order status email, and where users should be sent after sign in.

Accounts & Self-Service

'Your Account': Addresses, Payments, & Newsletters

Accounts & Self-Service

'Your Account': Addresses, Payments, & Newsletters

13 Guidelines, 64 Pages

Credit card updating, default addresses, editing vs. adding a new address, newsletter frequency and ‘unsubscribe’, confirmations, and ‘Apply’ buttons.

Accounts & Self-Service

Orders & Order Tracking

Accounts & Self-Service

Orders & Order Tracking

14 Guidelines, 65 Pages

Order list item design, order tracking pages, third-party order tracking, how users get to order tracking, guest order tracking, order status emails, order cancellation, order receipts, and order status filters.

Accounts & Self-Service

Order Returns

Accounts & Self-Service

Order Returns

11 Guidelines, 62 Pages

Initiating, moving through, and finalizing a return online; returns costs, shipping methods, in-store returns, shipping labels, and packaging returns.

Accounts & Self-Service

Account-Wide Navigation, Structure, & Information

Accounts & Self-Service

Account-Wide Navigation, Structure, & Information

8 Guidelines, 42 Pages

How to layout and structure information and navigation, describe complex flows or features, and finding and understanding self-service features, and the courtesy navigation.

Baymard Premium also gives you access to an additional 52 reports with 640+ research findings on topics such as Homepage & Category Navigation, Search, Product Listing, Product Details Page, Mobile E-Commerce, and Accounts & Self-Service - the complete set of findings from Baymard’s 32,000 hours of large-scale UX testing & research)


Test Methodology

This research on Accounts & Self-Service UX is part of Baymard Institute’s full 32,000 hours of large scale research catalog, which is based on:

  1. Usability Testing: 7 rounds of qualitative usability testing with 1,000+ test subject/site sessions following the “Think Aloud” protocol (in-person 1:1 moderated lab usability testing).
  2. 10 rounds of manual benchmarking of the world’s 60 top-grossing e-commerce sites across all 640+ UX guidelines across (27,900+ implementation examples and 50,000+ UX performance scores).
  3. In-lab eye-tracking testing.
  4. 7 quantitative studies with a total of 9,221 participants.

Baymard’s research methodology is described in detail here.