Web Site Accounts and Logins Should Never Be Purged

By Mike Maddaloni on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 04:00 AM with 5 comments

The management of accounts and logins for Web sites can be a task, for both the Web visitor and the Web site owner. For the visitor, they not only need to remember the username and password for many sites, but also secret questions and other identifying information. Then there is the list itself which needs to be protected, as hopefully each login is unique and all passwords are not only different but not easy to remember.

For Web site owners, ideally the Web site has build-in management tools to administering login accounts. These accounts themselves may have additional associated data, like customer detail, order history and frequent customer numbers. Technically, this data can take up space, and many times database administrators will want to archive “inactive” accounts to optimize the database. From a business standpoint, it is often said to also archive or purge similar accounts to not clutter reporting data.

Allow me to 1,000% disagree with both of these stands and say that a Web site accounts and logins should never, ever be purged. Why? Behind these accounts and logins are people or businesses run by people, and where you may not remember them, they remember you! If you remove them, they will remember and it may impact if they do business with you in the future. Or even write about it in a public blog post.

What follows are 3 examples of Web site accounts belonging to me personally and how they were handled. I call them the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good – Hyatt Gold Passport

Recently my family decided to get away for the weekend and sought out a good hotel rate locally, or what some call a “staycation.” We found an excellent deal at a Hyatt hotel, and I went to their Web site to book it. When I got to the Hyatt Web site, I had to think for a minute if I had an account with their frequent stay program, Hyatt Gold Passport. I checked my list and I did, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember the last time I stayed at a Hyatt.

When I entered the username and password on my list, I was in, and was welcomed by name along with my last stay at a Hyatt, which was a stay at a Hawthorn Suites over 4 years ago. All of my information was correct, as well as the points I earned during that stay. Over 4 years ago! I was extremely pleased, and the online registration was a smooth process as well. After my stay I got this nice email from them – a form email, but still welcome as shown below.

email from Hyatt Gold Passport

Kudos to Hyatt for not forgetting about me, almost 4 years later.

The Bad – Staples

I have been a customer of Staples since store #6 opened in West Springfield, MA in the late 80’s. As Staples is from Massachusetts, they were the only real choice for discount office supplies, which was not a bad choice by any means. When I moved to Chicago and Staples later opened here, as I was a Staples Rewards member, I got an invite to the grand opening party at their flagship store in the Loop. That store is right around the corner from my office, and I shop there frequently, as well get weekly emails from them and participate in consumer surveys they extend to me. And to keep the FTC at bay, I also own stock in the company.

All of this considered, I was surprised recently when I tried logging into Staples.com to place an online order and my login failed. I was not able to receive a new password either saying my account no longer existed. So I sent a tweet to @staplestweets on Twitter to ask if they purge accounts. I don’t recall the exact time period (nor do I have the links to the tweets) but they said they do purge accounts after a year of inactivity.

The kicker here is that I am not an inactive customer! I shop in the store regularly using my black Staples Rewards Premier card, but hadn’t placed an order on their Web site in over a year. This is a failure on the part of Staples to recognize the true customer experience. If you go beyond purchases alone, I have 5 separate accounts with Staples, one each for Staples.com, Staples Easy Rebates, Staples Feedback Forum, Staples Rewards, and Staples SpeakEasy. When I pointed this out to the people on the Staples twitter account and said they weren’t making it, um, easy for me, they said fair enough. I am sure some of these are run by 3rd-party companies, but still – has anyone ever heard of single sign-on?

I went ahead and recreated my Staples.com account and made the purchase. I hope in the future I never have to do this again, and Staples makes it easier to do business with them.

The Ugly – Hilton HHonors

screen from HHonors Web siteThe other day my family was looking into hotels and saw one which was a Hilton property. I knew I had a Hilton HHonors account and went to login. I got the strangest error message, as shown, which says in bold red letters, “The account you are accessing is no longer active. Please try again.” What does that mean? If my account is inactive, why would I try it again?

After staring at the screen for a few seconds, I called Hilton. When the line was answered, I explained the error and gave the rep my account number. She then said matter-of-factly that my account was inactive, period. I asked what that meant, and she said that after a year of not staying at a Hilton or earning any points, my account is marked as inactive and my points are deleted. What? Now sure, there is some brochure I may have received that stated this, but this is the most brutal way to deal with points, even worse than an airline! She then asked if I wanted to reactivate my account, to which I said no – I told her that though it’s their policy I was never reminded of this, and don’t ever want to stay at a Hilton hotel ever again. She didn’t seem to care.

Opportunity Lost

In short, Hyatt gets it, Staples sort of does and Hilton does not.

Staples and Hilton could have easily reached out to me and reminded me that I had not done business with them in a while and given me a special promotion to do so. I get these emails all the time from other vendors, from airlines to restaurants. Staples systems are all separate and thus they do not have an ability to view a dashboard on a customer. Hilton… well, I have no idea what they were thinking, if they were at all.

The cost of acquiring a new customer is much, much greater than keeping a current one. In the retail business, which all 3 of these customers are in, they all have that number – the cost of a new customer. Hyatt made a wise decision to keep a customer’s account active, and thus making a happy customer out of me. I will still shop with Staples and hope they get their act together – literally – and that’s not just because I want my stock value to increase. As for Hilton, I don’t care, as they have lost me as a customer.

Not to mention the cost of acquiring a customer is much greater than any disk storage required to keep that customer’s account on file.

What do you think about Web site accounts being purged? Has this ever happened to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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