the role of design principles within your eCommerce store.

by Amba Wilkes

It can take just 17 to 50 milliseconds for people to form a first impression. In eCommerce design, this can create quite the challenge so it’s important we get it right. We discuss the role of eCommerce design principles and how designers can use these foundations to make the customer experience the best it can be.

First impressions are important for eCommerce businesses. We’ve all seen the statistics before: it can take just 17 to 50 milliseconds for people to form a first impression. In eCommerce design, this can be quite the challenge so it’s important we get it right.

In this blog we discuss the role of design principles as part of the eCommerce experience and how designers can use these foundations to make the customerexperience enjoyableand hassle-free.

first impressions count.

eCommerce designrevolves around encouraging the user to make a purchase. A straightforward, simple user journey on an eCommerce website often follows this order:

  • website discovery
  • browse categories and products
  • product page
  • add to cart
  • checkout
  • confirmation

The initial impression is made during the first stage, known as website discovery. During this short space of time, the user needs to be able to understand if your business is relevant to their needs. While this first impression is an uncontrollable, emotional reaction, the focus then switches to a cognitive process where the user decides if they want to continue their shopping journey with you. This next phase is all about fulfilment such as:

  • do you stock what they need?
  • can they navigate your website with ease?
  • do they trust your online store?
  • do the delivery options suit their timescales?

Each of these factors can be impacted by the quality of design on your eCommerce store. This is where design principles come into play.

the low down on ecommerce design principles.

When we talk about eCommerce design principles, we’re essentially referring to best practice guidelines. These are the commonly accepted principles that designers can trust in and that shoppers expect from an eCommerce experience.

While expected design features will get you so far in creating an enjoyable shopping experience for your users, they won’t create the best result for your brand. That’s why we suggest using them to lay the design foundations of your store, before layering with research tailored to your brand. Only by doing this will you be able to truly understand what your business and audience needs to generate the optimum user experience.

layering design efforts with research.

Don’t underestimate just how valuable research can be. You may believe you already know what your eCommerce store needs from a design point of view. But research combined with design best practices gives you an even better chance of driving conversions with your users.

By researching and layering these three core areas, unique solutions can be formed that are tailormade for your business and your audiences’ needs:

  • eCommerce design principles
  • shopping personas
  • the competitive landscape

eCommerce design principles.

Examples of features that shoppers expect from an eCommerce store include but aren’t limited to:

  • clear product images and descriptions
  • access to key information such as about the brand, refunds and deliverables
  • product categories
  • a clear navigation
  • social proof 
  • a homepage that succinctly summarises what the business sells
  • clear CTAs
  • reputable payment gateways
  • a shopping cart 
  • a search bar 

These are a good starting point when considering what features your audience will have become accustomed to using while engaging with eCommerce stores. However, the real research into your users is what will uncover invaluable design insight that can be translated on your website. 

shopping personas and your audience.

Every eCommerce shopper is unique. Some users visit a store with a specific product in mind and swiftly make a purchase. Others use the store as part of their discovery process when deciding exactly what they want to buy, and some may simply browse to kill time.

While every element of an eCommerce store is important, different types of shoppers rely on different areas. So, how can you create a shopping experience with these various shopper personas in mind?

In some cases, such as when you’re a new business or don’t have the budget to conduct extensive audience research, using the Nielsen Norman Group’s 5 Types of eCommerce Shoppers is often an effective option. This research concluded that there are five main types of eCommerce shoppers:

product focused.

These shoppers know exactly what they want and it’s all about speed. They aren’t looking to browse the site; they just want to find the product they need and checkout with ease. When designing for this persona, consider:

  • clear product images, descriptions and names
  • effective and fast site search functionality
  • a streamlined checkout


Browsers are leisurely shoppers who are using your eCommerce store as a form of entertainment or inspiration. This is a good thing as it means there are plenty of opportunities to convert these browsers into shoppers. To help do this, consider elements such as:

  • listing new items, popular items or on sale products
  • providing access to new inventory or recommended products
  • the ability to save the products the user likes 


These shoppers plan to purchase but it might not happen today. They could simply be collecting product information and prices during their researching journey. Researchers may visit multiple sites but if your site is part of their research, you’re in with a chance of converting the user. Trust is significant to this persona so consider:

  • social proof such as UGC and genuine user reviews
  • clear product descriptions
  • easy product comparisons
  • a seamless checkout process

bargain hunters.

Bargain hunters are quite simply looking for the best deal. The goal is to convert these people into repeat buyers by offering incentives to encourage a purchase such as discounts, coupons or free shipping. When designing for this persona, consider:

  • displaying sale items at different touchpoints
  • listing product prices and clearly labelling discounts or savings
  • allowing easy to redeem discounts at the checkout

one-time shoppers

These shoppers could be any of the above and they may come with a goal in mind of what they want from your website. However, this persona has no intention to visit the site again after the purchase has been made as they’re only looking to satisfy a one-time need. One-time shoppers usually aren’t familiar with the site they’re visiting. As such, it’s important to consider:

  • clear site navigation and product categories
  • trust signals such as recognised payment gateways and social proof
  • the ability to checkout without registration

By understanding the different motivations and habits each persona has when they visit a site can help you make decisions that improve performance and support user needs.

If you want to take a deeper dive into your specific users to create your own shopper personas, this can be done too. Using a range of industry tools and research methods, we conduct a number of tests to gain further insight. These include:

  • remote usability reviews
  • user interviews and surveys
  • onsite feedback surveys
  • remote user testing
  • tree testing of navigation

To really get under the skin of your audience and how they use your website, a UX workshop could be beneficial. During this process, website accessibility is also reviewed and considered.

the competitive landscape.

Understanding exactly who your competition is can be hugely beneficial to your brand. A competitor analysis is a great way of getting to know the wider landscape your business sits within as well as how user expectations are being met on similar eCommerce stores.

Combining this competitor research with customer data and insight from Google Analytics generates a clear idea of your market position, how you compete and what makes you stand out.This knowledge allows you to understand which elements of your website design need strengthening to push you ahead of competitors.

The research stage is also an ideal time to complete a UX audit to see what’s working and what isn’t so we can get to work making improvements. This process can also answer important questions such as:

  • when do users most commonly leave your site?
  • where are users getting stuck on your website?
  • why are users abandoning their carts?

always make time for testing.

Even when you’re following best practice design principles on your eCommerce store, it’s crucial to test the impact.

This is something we take seriously. With insight from the extensive research completed, our process involves testing the impact of our recommendations through visual designs before rolling them out across development.

During this time, it’s important to strike the balance of standing out among the competition versus your site still being usable. Jakob’s Law – which is renowned in the design world - says that users spend most of their time on other sites meaning they want your site to work the same way as the other sites they know. Users will naturally transfer expectations from one familiar product to another they see as similar. This needs to be taken into account when designing to ensure the user can focus on their tasks rather than on learning new ways of using the site.

Testing can help with this, supporting you inavoiding wasting time, money and effort on design elements that don’t have the effect you wanted them to. Testing of visual design changes can be done with:

  • first impression testing​
  • first click testing​
  • design surveys​
  • preference testing​
  • prototype testing​

forming your design strategy.

While our design methods are always underpinned by best practice and well-known eCommerce design principles, we tailor our solutions to the individual businesses we work with. Whether we carry out the design or work alongside your design agency, we can cater to your needs.

Working with brands such as NEOM, Cloud Nine and Prestige, we’re experienced at full redesigns, design refreshes and complete overhauls of the user experience to create the shopping journey your customers want. Get in touch to find out more about the way we work.

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