I was excited last month to see a blog post on ReadWriteWeb about Sears and Kmart adopting OpenID. In that post, Frederic Lardinois writes:
Users on Kmart’s and Sears’ web properties can now use their OpenID credentials to sign up and log in to these sites. MyKmart.com and MySears.com, which are both owned by the Sears Holding Company, implemented technology from Viewpoint and JanRain to allow users to use their login credentials from Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Google, Yahoo, AOL, and Windows Live, as well as from any other OpenID provider. This marks one of the first times that such a large, mainstream online retailer has adopted OpenID.
As Sears points out in its press release, it simply makes good business sense for the company to allow its users to use their social IDs to log in to its properties. After all, not having to sign up for yet another new account on yet another site greatly reduces the likelihood that a potential customer would just abandon the process and head to a competitor’s site.
I’m a huge supporter of OpenID – and identity portability generally – and would absolutely agree that it makes good business sense to lower the barrier of entry for new registrations, in order to encourage more reviews, comments, questions, and ultimately purchases from end users.
But what exactly is Sears letting you sign in to?
It seems that the use of OpenID here is restricted to the community sites – MySears.com and MyKmart.com – as opposed to the commerce sites – Sears.com and Kmart.com. (Speaking of which, since these are community sites, shouldn’t it be OurSears and OurKmart?)
The sign in / register process for those sites does nicely now handle portable identity (this will look familiar if you’ve seen other JanRainRPX powered sites):
Where the whole system breaks down is when you get to the point of actually making a purchase.
If you use your Facebook identity, for example, to register on MySears.com, the experience is relatively smooth. You pick a screenname (which they suggest based on your name as Facebook knows it), provide an email address, and accept the terms of service, and you’re in.
Say you read some reviews and decide to make a purchase, say of this Crafstman(tm) Mower:
Clicking on “Buy it on sears.com” takes you out of the community, MySears.com, and over to the commerce site, Sears.com. (It doesn’t actually add the item to your cart, but puts you on the product detail page).
Unfortunately, Sears.com doesn’t seem to know I was signed in over at MySears.com. It asks for my zip code, to show in store pricing and availability, and has the ability to show me reviews, including the option for me to write a review:
So what’s the difference between the reviews here on Sears.com and the reviews over on MySears.com, other than two letters in the domain name? Why are some reviews part of the community experience and other reviews part of the commerce experience?
If you add to cart, and proceed to checkout, you’re once again asked for your email address (from my point of view, one of the benefits of using OpenID or other portable identity systems is that you don’t have to keep re-providing the same info multiple times) and whether or not your have a Sears.com password:
Similarly, throughout Sears.com there is a “My Profile” link in the upper right corner, but apparently “My Profile” on Sears.com is different than my profile on MySears.com (which is actually labeled “My Home” in the nav). Thus clicking the MyProfile link results in this modal dialogue:
Perhaps I’ve belabored the point – the community experience and the commerce experience clearly aren’t sharing registration here. Letting users leverage existing identities is a great leap forward, but why does it only apply to the community? I can bring my identity to MySears.com but not to Sears’ Sears.com?
But why are there two experiences in first place? Presumably because one is hosted by Viewpoints, the reviews/community vendor, and the other is powered by Sears’ ecommerce platform. The problem is that the end user should neither know nor care which parts of the experience are provided by what vendor, or managed in what technical platform.
Perhaps there’s concern about associating an OpenID or other portable identity to an account with actual credit card information in it?
If you’re an ecommerce site working to leverage the power of community, are you providing two separate-but-equal experiences?
If you went to the mall, chatted with the sales clerk and maybe other shoppers about some item you were considering buying, wouldn’t it be odd if they asked you to go next door to the store to purchase it after you’ve made up your mind? Why do so online?