Select menus are terrible, but hard to replace

June 2, 2017 4:31 pm Published by

I read an article today discussing how select menus affect user abandonment of forms. I completely agree with their hypothesis, but its not always easy to replace select menus.

In a past experience, we had a sign up flow that had two steps. The first step captured the user’s email address and password. The second step captured their profile information. We required the user to fill out the second step to use the application. This consisted of first name, last name, phone number, company name, and industry. Each of the fields was a text input, except industry, which was a select menu.

Industry was a necessity for our business development team. They needed accurate data to project the average lifetime value of the user. Industry was also used to determine what order to follow up with users once they had completed accounts. It was imperative that this data be accurate and within our preset terminology.

This resulted in two major issues though.

  1. Most people selected the first option out of pure laziness.
  2. Most people didn’t know how to define themselves.

Both of these issues would arise in the solutions provided in the article. If we had made all the options (there were about 15) radio buttons users would not read them all. This would have the same result. If we had given the user a text box with autocomplete it is very likely they would not know what to type. We could give suggestions, but there would be no way to know if these were valuable to the individual user. Also, a text input with autocomplete does not solve for misspellings.

My conclusion is there is little we could have done. Giving our user too much freedom would have lead to more abandonment. But giving them less freedom led to poor selection.

One interesting note, one of our options was “Other”. These users were the most profitable and stayed with our application the longest.