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Running an e-commerce store isn’t easy. As well as making sales, you need to think about order fulfilment, accounting, marketing, supplier management, compliance, and countless other tasks. With so much going on, store owners don’t always have time to step back and look at their offering from the customer’s perspective.

Did you know that it only takes 0.05 seconds for a visitor to form an opinion about your website? That’s less than one second to decide whether they stay on the page or continue browsing elsewhere. Even if your business has a well-oiled supply chain, competitive pricing, exceptional service, and top-notch accounting, it will make a minimal impact if you don’t engage audiences.

According to British researchers, first impressions are driven by design 94% of the time. Factors like layout, navigation, use of colour, pop-ups, size of the print, and search capability are more important to visitors than site content.


A great website design is about having the perfect mix of aesthetics and usability. Users need to have a memorable first impression and a fully-optimized experience to help them on their buying journey.

This post looks at the key considerations for ensuring your e-commerce site looks the part.

Visual Appeal

77% of web design companies say their client’s biggest weakness is poor web design. The layout, imagery, colours, typography, and context of your website must fit the target audience. For example, WeTransfer is a site featuring artists, designers, and illustrators. They use bright and creative artwork that represents the audience, immediately grabbing attention where the site’s function is quite dull (uploading files). If you visit the site, you will notice they regularly change the background.


 There are three core elements of a visually appealing e-commerce site.

  • Colour scheme – the colours you use should be logical, matching your brand where applicable and giving a sense of style. Too many bright colours could be off-putting.
  • Typography – Any text content must be legible, in clear fonts and accessible sizing. Always consider both desktop and mobile designs.
  • Layout – different parts of the website should be laid out in logical order so users can easily follow the right path. A site like below, (ironically from the University of Advancing Technology) makes it almost impossible for a visitor to know where to click.


If you compare this to a well-designed site like H.Bloom, the difference between a good and poor layout is immediately apparent.

Other important design factors include the contrast of colours, symmetry, size of images, use of video, white space, and many other things.

User Experience (UX)

Have you ever walked into a store that looks a bit of a mess, has a funny smell, or unfriendly staff and walked straight back out?  Most of us have probably had that experience. On the other hand, if you take an Apple Store, which is clean, spacious, and inviting, the experience is entirely different. E-commerce user experiences should be treated in precisely the same way.

According to website usability guru Steve Krug, the first law of usability is “don’t make users think.” The path they follow from landing page through to purchase should be clear and frictionless. 46% of online shoppers report leaving a website because they cannot understand what the company does, while 42% state they leave due to poor navigation. 

Testing is key to optimizing user experience. As little as five users can detect 85% of problems making the time to test highly valuable. A typical developer will spend 50% of their time fixing issues that would be avoided with sufficient user testing. Having a technically functional website is excellent, but developers need to step into the customer’s shoes. 

The best user experiences come from sites that use familiar e-commerce layouts and navigation while being minimalistic in their approach. For example, Zara maintains a straightforward, simple design for its audience. The limited approach gives the user obvious but restricted options to help them find precisely what they are looking for. The site follows the concept of Hick’s Law by reducing the number of stimuli to speed up the decision-making process. 



As many as 69% of local consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Reviews, testimonials, and feedback indicate social proof, showing you are a trustworthy and credible brand. If Amazon didn’t show product reviews for each product, would you be as likely to buy them?  According to Qualtrics, 93% of customers read online reviews before purchasing a product.

A credible e-commerce site will mitigate the top e-commerce fears of consumers.


There are several things you can do to mitigate these fears. First, trust badges and seals show that your e-commerce website is secure. These are icons or logos (Verisign, McAfee, PayPal) that prove the legitimacy and show there is a secure connection between the browser and the web server. Express Watches increased conversions by 58% when introducing a trust badge to their site.

Social proof like reviews and testimonials is perhaps the biggest factor of credibility. In the vast world of social media, if audiences are sharing positive information about your products and services, it provides a massive boost to credibility. Does that mean you should hide negative feedback? 68% of consumers say they trust a company more if there is a mix of good and bad reviews. The reason for the statistic is that no negative reviews might be a sign of inauthenticity. As long as you are seen to handle negative feedback, it can work out in your favour. 89% of consumers read how businesses respond to reviews.

Credible sites will clearly display contact details on all pages to show they want customers to get in touch. That should also include social sharing icons that make it easy for them to recommend products and services. Customers want to know how they can talk to you if they do have questions or problems with an order.

The 5-second test

Once you have taken the time to get your design ready, nailed the layout and navigation, and made it super responsive, you need to be 100% certain that users perceive the site in the same way you do. The 5-second usability test is a popular method for finding out how visitors will understand your e-commerce site’s purpose.

Without scrolling, users will look at your homepage for 5 seconds and then answer a series of questions. The responses will help you determine whether the message of the site is clear or more work is required.


As we know, users generate a first impression of a website in under one second, so giving five seconds is plenty of time for useful feedback.

A successful five-second test will involve users who are not familiar with your website and brand, have a clear purpose for doing it with well thought out questions and answers that can be quantified. For example, consider how you order the questions to prompt the right respondents. People have short memories (even in only 5 seconds), so factors like question order are more important than you might realise.

When it comes to quantifying the responses, sentiment analysis can look at the individual words participants use in responses.


Following a five-second test, adapt your site based on the feedback and compile a further analysis with different participants. You can never do enough testing.


The key takeaways from this post are:

  • It only takes 0.05 seconds for a visitor to form an opinion of your website
  • Website design needs to have a mix of aesthetics and usability
  • Clean, minimalistic layouts are better than busy, bright coloured designs
  • Don’t re-invent the wheel and stick to standard e-commerce templates
  • User testing is imperative for success
  • As few as 5 users can find 85% of problems
  • 5-second tests provide invaluable insight on first impressions