When is it Acceptable for Your Site to Ask for Credit Card Information?

In an online study conducted for a popular online yellow page provider, it was quickly revealed that visitors were uncomfortable with providing credit card information when they were just signing up for a free listing. In this study, 38 percent of participants reported an unsuccessful site visit and 20 percent of these claimed their lack of success was due to credit card requirements. Additionally, 21 percent claimed they would not likely to return to the site and 31% stated they were not likely to recommend the site to a friend or colleague.

Some comments elicited by some of these failed site visits:

  • “I am uncomfortable with giving my credit card. If you are not going to charge it, why do you need it?”
  • “I don’t like being asked my personal credit details online, when I’m not buying anything.”
  • “I will not give out my charge card info and it seems you will not set up an account without it.”

Credit card information is commonly required to set up accounts or complete transactions, even if the transactions are free, on a variety of sites. Sites that offer “try before you buy” or “free trial” programs will often want credit card information in place so people who (hopefully) choose to become paying customers will have already submitted their payment information. Another reason is that credit card information provides a reasonable way to ensure visitors are supplying accurate information.

Also, often times it is mandatory to certify age—visitors must be 18 years or older to access content, services or products on many sites. Credit cards, such as MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover are used to verify age quickly and easily. All in all, when credit card information is provided, companies can confirm the information with a visitor’s bank and if the information matches, the registration or transaction can be completed. The real issue becomes the way a site communicates with visitors. If credit card information is needed for something other than a purchase, visitors will want to know why. And, they would want to be assured their card will not be charged for anything, without their authorization.

Below is an example of an online trial period sign-up form with strong points and improvement considerations identified:

If the credit card information is required before the visitor can continue with a free transaction, be sure to offer a well-worded explanation of why the information is needed, and assurance that the card will not be charged without the owners’ permission. And, if your site is offering a free pre-registration or a free trial period, consider delaying the request for credit card information until the visitor is actually ready to purchase. This action may even result in increased success rates and brand affinity for the site visitor.

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