eCommerce display design improvements The psychology of online store layouts


Giving a customer as much choice as possible is a good thing, right?

The simple answer, it seems, is “Yes…….and No”.

There are countless studies on the effect of choice on consumers and sales and they all tend to result in one of two answers:

  • More choice is good because customers like it
  • More choice is bad because it overwhelms them

Online stores are all about the visual content – the product photographs that you display to entice customers to your store and help them with their purchasing decisions.

After reading this article, as an online retailer, it might just change the way you think about your eCommerce layout and your store display design.

We’ll look briefly at each of these options in turn and then see how it can help us (in the real world) to boost our eCommerce sales.

Woman with shopping bags - eCommerce display design

The argument for and against limitless choice

Your eCommerce store display should offer more choice

Look at Amazon – the largest online retail business in the world and they offer more choice than anyone else.

You shop at Amazon precisely because there is choice; whatever you want, Amazon has 50 different brands of it and all price levels. It’s a customer’s paradise.

Or consider Netflix – one of the most popular streaming services which provides thousands of films and TV series to choose from.

The more choice, the better!

Your eCommerce store display should limit choice

Way back in 2005, Professor Barry Schwartz wrote a book called “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less”.

His main argument was that, by offering too much choice to a customer, you can do more harm to your business than good.

Excessive choice (or ‘choice overload’) can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, which leads to choice paralysis, which can even stop you making any purchase at all.

Even if you do buy, knowing how many options there were can create a feeling of doubt in yourself that you may not have chosen the best product, and this results in dissatisfaction with the purchase you did make.

This is not a situation you want to set up in your eCommerce store.

Italian T-shirts - eCommerce display design

So who is right?

It can be confusing, yes? Fortunately, help is at hand, which is good, because it turns out that both these arguments are correct, each in their own way.

Stanford University conducted a study which seems to have finally resolved the issue.

We won’t dig deep into the study here – you can follow the link for the detail – but to summarise their findings, it appears that consumers need both choice AND limitations – but at different stages in the buying process.

If a customer is deciding whether to make a purchase or not, then a large selection is a good thing; choice makes the decision to purchase more attractive to them.

However, if they first find and choose a favourite item from the selection and only then start to decide whether to purchase, a larger selection makes their decision more difficult and lowers the chance of them buying.

So the trick is to arrange your store layout to balance between both these possibilities.

How to improve your eCommerce display design

So what does this tell us about the design of your eCommerce store?

Well, first we need to make one more quick detour.

In an interview about choice and consumption, Barbara E Kern answers the question “How can we get consumers to pay attention to the variety so that it’s not overwhelming?

Again, it’s too detailed to go into in this article, but after studying shoppers’ eye movements (physical and online stores) her findings on this point come down to this:

When customers are looking at a store, they scan horizontally, and they do this fast without paying too much attention. Having similar items in a row gives the perception of variety at this point, since horizontal items appear to be closer together.

Once they have decided to then make some kind of purchase, they slow down, focus and look more closely – having similar items grouped on a single row makes them appear more equal in preference (this actually now creates an illusion of less choice, which is what you want at this stage).

Since items vertically above and below appear to be further away, they look separated from the current focal point and do not overwhelm.

T-shirts - eCommerce display design

Let’s use clothing as an example. Imagine you have T-Shirts, sweatshirts and sweaters, five styles of each.

Ideally, you would have 3 rows of 5 on your eCommerce layout, grouping the items by type. The different items are separated vertically and because the similar clothes are each grouped in a row, the first impression is one of large choice.

You do not need to display all your colour options for each style on this page – that will overwhelm, and therefore eCommerce stores have their ‘options’ or ‘collections’ feature.

Instead, if you have different colour options for each product, use text or a symbol to indicate that other colours are available and can be seen if the customer clicks through on an item.

So if all our clothes came in 5 colours each, we’d have 75 items – but we are only displaying 15 on the page. Variety and wide choice is initially perceived as your similar items are grouped in rows and not scattered about the page.

Incidentally, this is the same thought process behind Netflix displaying rows of films horizontally and separating by genres vertically. And if you start to look for it, you will see it everywhere.

A further note: As the human eye needs stimulus, don’t display all these 15 items in the same colour – mix it up a bit to create interest. Vary the colours across the rows.

Woman shopping online - eCommerce display design

To summarise what this all means to you

What this does mean, in product photography terms, is that you need a photograph of each of your items in all of their options (in the example above – you need all 75 of your clothing items photographed) – just don’t display them all on one page!

Consider your eCommerce display design carefully and aim to show your products without overwhelming your customers.

Don’t overcrowd a page – don’t squeeze too many products onto each one – display similar items in rows and separate different ones vertically.

If you have multiple choices of size, colour or other categories, then display them on separate product pages, not on the main page.

Take time to look at your competition and see how they compare.

We hope that you have found this useful for your own eCommerce store.


If you need any further assistance and feel we can help, please feel free to get in touch.

At Splento, we have professional photographers, who specialise in product photography, all around the world.

We can handle any size and scale of catalogue, large or small, and can produce the final, retouched images within 24 hours (guaranteed).

And for a fixed rate from just £99 an hour, we can guarantee our services will fit your budget too.

We are continuing to work remotely, observing all current social distancing measures. Call for details.

If you need product photography – contact us today, we’ll be happy to help answer any questions you have.

Have a browse now through the Splento’s portfolio pages for some amazing examples and check here to discover for yourself how simple it is to make a booking.

If you already have your product photos taken and they just need digital editing to bring them to picture perfection, then take a look at the Splento retouch service, which will give you quality photographs that make all the difference, with editing from just 49p per photo.

We wish you every success with your eCommerce display design improvements.

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