May 1, 2024

Betting on UX — PointsBet COO Jake Williams on the Need for Streamlining Sportsbook Onboarding

Jacob, CEO (Image)
Jacob Fortinsky

The sports betting gold rush is in full swing. With over 30 states now offering legal wagering, operators are tripping over themselves to plant their flag and snag market share. But as any prospector will tell you, it's not just about staking your claim - it's about striking real gold. And in the world of online sportsbooks, that means acquiring and retaining happy, engaged customers.

The problem is that the current state of sportsbook onboarding is turning folks off before they even get started. Users are forced to navigate a gauntlet of signups, deposits, location checks, and identity verifications while bombarded with more betting options than a Bloomberg terminal. It's enough to make even the most die-hard fan throw in the towel before placing a single wager.

It's time for operators to put down the proverbial pickaxe and start panning for UX gold. The sportsbooks that win the next phase of the betting boom will be those that can simplify the onboarding process and get back to basics - creating an intuitive, frictionless experience that keeps users coming back for more.

Remember to check out this week’s full episode with Jake Williams, COO at PointsBet, here:

The Current User Journey: A Long and Arduous Process

Imagine for a moment that you're a new sportsbook customer. You've just downloaded one of the many betting apps available, eager to lay down a few (responsible) wagers on the big game. But before you can even think about spreads and money lines, you're confronted with a dizzying array of signup fields, location prompts, and deposit screens.

The painful reality is that this cumbersome onboarding flow isn't the exception - it's the industry standard. You have to navigate through 100 form fields and seven different pages to even get started. And with each additional hurdle, the risk of user abandonment grows.

Each point of friction is another leak in the customer acquisition funnel. And in an industry where the cost per acquisition can stretch well into the hundreds of dollars, those leaks can add up to a massive drain on an operator's bottom line.

So where exactly does the sportsbook onboarding train tend to jump the tracks? While pain points can vary, there are a few common culprits that rear their ugly heads again and again:

  1. KYC Purgatory: The Know Your Customer (KYC) process is a necessary evil in the regulated betting world. But all too often, it devolves into a frustrating exercise that can bring onboarding to a screeching halt. Fuzzy license scans, address mismatches, and manual review queues can leave would-be bettors in verification limbo.
  2. Deposit Dismay: Once a user's identity is confirmed, the next hurdle is funding their account. But with many banks still wary of gambling transactions, even a well-intentioned deposit can result in a declined card. And while alternative payment methods like PayPal or Play+ offer a workaround, they can add yet another hoop for users to jump through.
  3. Location Limbo: In a mobile-first betting world, pinpointing a user's location is paramount to staying on the right side of state lines (and the law). But flaky geolocation checks can stop onboarding in its tracks, serving up false negatives that block eligible bettors. And heaven help the poor soul located close to a state border.
  4. Odds Overload: The sheer volume and variety of betting options can be paralyzing for new bettors. Moneylines, spreads, props, parlays - it can be too much even for experienced bettors. And without clear onboarding guidance, many users will simply tap out rather than attempt to wade through a sea of obscure odds.

Simplicity as a Competitive Advantage

In an increasingly crowded betting marketplace, how can sportsbooks differentiate themselves? The answer, counter-intuitively, might just be to do less. Or more specifically, to simplify. As Jake Williams astutely notes, "As boring as this may sound, I think the basics should become cool again."

It's a strategy that has paid off handsomely in other digitally native industries. Take Robinhood, the popular stock trading app. In an arena dominated by incumbents with cluttered, complex interfaces, Robinhood won over millennials with a radically simple user experience. Account setup is streamlined, jargon is stripped away, and placing a trade is as easy as ordering an Uber. By nailing the fundamentals of user experience, Robinhood was able to capture a massive chunk of the retail investing market.

There's no reason the same playbook can't work for sportsbooks. In fact, I'd argue it's now table stakes for any operator with aspirations of market leadership. Because in a world where every book is offering similar odds and betting options, user experience has become a key battleground. The sportsbooks that can deliver a frictionless, intuitive onboarding flow will be the ones that win the hearts and wallets of the next generation of bettors.

Strategies for Streamlining Sportsbook Onboarding

So what does a streamlined sportsbook onboarding process actually look like? While there's no one-size-fits-all solution, there are several key strategies operators can employ to grease the skids:

  1. Ditch the Ditchwater UX: First and foremost, sportsbooks need to take a hard look at their existing user flows and ruthlessly eliminate any unnecessary steps or fields. Every bit of friction should be scrutinized and justified. Does a user really need to provide their mother's maiden name to place a bet? Probably not.
  2. Embrace Automation: Manual processes should be automated wherever possible to keep things moving. The right technology can supercharge document verification, address lookups, and even funding approvals. The goal should be to get users from signup to bet slip with as little human intervention as possible.
  3. Guide the Way: A little hand-holding can go a long way for new bettors. Contextual onboarding tooltips, interactive walkthroughs, even a well-timed tutorial can help users navigate the betting process with confidence. Don't just throw users into the deep end - give them a life jacket and some swimming lessons.
  4. Make it Mobile: With the vast majority of bets now being placed via smartphone, a mobile-first mentality is a must. That means designing onboarding flows that are intuitive and efficient on a small screen. From streamlined form fields to biometric authentication, every interaction should be optimized for the mobile user.
  5. Test, Test, Test: Finally, operators need to make user testing a core part of their product development process. And I'm not just talking about a few internal QA sessions. Real users should be recruited to stress-test onboarding flows early and often. Only by seeing where actual users get tripped up can sportsbooks hope to plug the leaks.

The Future of Sportsbook User Experience

Looking beyond the immediate horizon, it's clear that the sportsbook user experience is poised for some major disruption. As mobile betting continues to explode and new technologies come to the fore, the onboarding flows of today will likely look positively archaic in just a few years' time.

One area ripe for innovation is personalization. As sportsbooks collect more data on their users' betting behaviors and preferences, there's a huge opportunity to tailor the onboarding experience to the individual. Just as Netflix serves up personalized video recommendations and Spotify curates custom playlists, sportsbooks could soon be greeting users with bespoke bet suggestions and tailored tutorials. The end result would be an onboarding experience that feels less like a chore and more like a concierge service.

But perhaps the most exciting frontier is the convergence of betting and live sports. With the rise of in-play wagering and the growth of streaming, it's not hard to imagine a future where placing a bet is as simple as talking to your TV. Voice-based interfaces, augmented reality overlays, even brain-computer interfaces could all redefine what it means to onboard a new betting user. In this brave new world, the idea of filling out a lengthy registration form on your phone will seem as antiquated as writing a check.

Of course, all of these innovations will bring their own set of regulatory and technological challenges. But one thing is certain - the sportsbooks that can navigate this shifting landscape and keep their eyes trained on the user experience will be the ones left standing when the dust settles.

Conclusion

I know we've covered a lot of ground here, from the pitfalls of the current onboarding paradigm to the bleeding edge of betting UX. But if there's one thing I hope you take away from this deep dive, it's this: simplicity is the new secret weapon in the sportsbook arms race.

In a market that becomes more crowded and competitive by the day, the operators that win will be those that can deliver a seamless, friction-free user experience. And that all starts with onboarding. By streamlining signups, automating verifications, and making the process as painless as possible, sportsbooks can get new users in the door and betting with confidence.

But this isn't just about moving the needle on KPIs or juicing quarterly revenues. It's about fundamentally reshaping the relationship between bettors and bookies. Because when you strip away all the bells and whistles, sports betting is still a form of entertainment. And the sportsbooks that can make the experience of signing up and placing a bet as enjoyable as watching the big game itself will be the ones that earn lifelong fans.