How and Why to Differentiate Your Ecommerce Website Visually

Ecommerce Website Visually
••• Stacey Newman / E+ / Getty Images

Around the year 2000, whenever I would consult for online businesses, one of my standard pieces of advice used to be: use few images, and use small images. But that was primarily driven by the fact that people had slow Internet. Data transmission capabilities were limited, and many people were still dialing up using their telephone connection. But that has changed, and so must we.

Today I recommend a highly visual layout, especially for B2C ecommerce businesses. Frankly, the idea is not novel. Offline retailers have known that the visual impact of stores makes all the difference – right from attracting customers to converting sales. Customers who buy online have forever been customers of offline retail too. As a result, their basic purchase motivators remain unchanged. And it is not only about "looking pretty," but about conveying a sense of trustworthiness and professionalism.

A Pleasing Layout Generates Trust

You know the feeling – you land on an ecommerce website for the first time and you immediately know that this website is created by serious professionals. What causes that feeling? Since it is more like love at first sight, there is no doubt that you are influenced by the visual appeal of the website. Instinctively, you also know that if a business has spent all that time and money in creating a great looking website, they are likely to be a bonafide business, and one that you can trust.

Large, Well-Shot, Images Better Represent Products

One of the problems people have with buying products online is that they are not able to evaluate physical products from their pictures. Though this remains a valid complaint for many categories of products, the fact is that large images, which are shot well, can give a better idea of what the actual product will be like.

The Right Images Can Do Away With the Need for Extensive Product Descriptions

There is no escaping the need for great product descriptions, but there is also reason to believe that when you provide a lot of textual information to a prospect, you run the risk of driving them away – at least until they are able to assimilate all the information you provided them. And by that time they may be on another ecommerce website. If you have multiple images of a product, and they capture its essential features, then customers might be driven to purchase merely by inspecting the images. This may not be entirely true for a highly technical product, such as a broadband router, but prospects for a handbag can quite likely be converted by showing them great pictures.

But Can We Go So Far As to Say That Images and Layout Can Be a Differentiator for an Ecommerce Business?

An ecommerce business is forever looking for a differentiator. It's been some time since I called ecommerce businesses cookie-cutter, but we cannot escape that reality. The fundamental idea of a differentiator is that one should stand out on at least one dimension that the customer considers important. I have already established that the visual appeal of an ecommerce website is important to customers, so in light of that, a clean design and great images can certainly be a differentiator for your ecommerce business.

Final Words

Considering the amount of money that ecommerce businesses spend to acquire customers, I think expenditure on improving the user interface is well worth it. At the same time, you should keep in mind that creating a great visual experience is a moving target. At one time, what is referred to as web 3.0 design was a rarity. Today, that genre of visual layout is common. So, if you seemed pretty cool by being an early adopter of the 3.0 layout, today you will have to seek your advantage elsewhere.