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Color Psychology in Ecommerce and Branding

By Reading Time: 9 minutes

When it comes to color and ecommerce, nothing’s ever black and white.

For most people visuals matter the most, and your customers are no different. They might not consciously notice the color scheme of your store or catch the exact red hue of the call-to-action button you’ve spent weeks choosing, but their subconscious is hard at work all the time. And there, color takes the cake.

Customers need no more than 90 seconds to make a snap judgment about you and your product. This is true for online shopping in particular, because customers can’t use their other senses to make a decision. What’s more, up to 90% of this judgment is based on color alone.

The human eye can see about 10 million different colors, so choosing a color scheme for your business can seem like mission impossible. It doesn’t help that colors are basically just a pigment of our imagination – each person sees colors a little differently. No wonder that the white/gold vs blue/black dressgate got 4.4 million tweets in just 24 hours.

But don’t worry – there’s a science behind it all that just might help! And that’s why we’re gonna look at color theory, color psychology, and how they can help you get the best out of your ecommerce business.

Color theory

Let’s start with the basics, which in this case means color theory. Essentially, it’s the science and art of colors that looks at how we perceive, mix, and apply them. Color theory strives to create a logical structure for using color, and it all begins with the oh-so-familiar color wheel.

Color wheel

The color wheel is a visually easy way to understand the relationships between colors. The traditional color wheel, most often seen on the walls of high school art classes all over the world, offers 12 colors.

Source: Canva

The primary colors in the wheel are red, yellow and blue, and these can be used to create secondary colors (orange, green, violet). By mixing primary and secondary colors we get tertiary colors – red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet.

So far, so good, and it might have stayed that way if these were the only colors we had to deal with.

Hues, tints, shades, and tones

The traditional color wheel only shows pure colors (also known as hues). But as the title “50 Shades of Grey” suggests, the world of color has so much more to offer. This is where tints, shades, and tones come into play.

Pure color = hue
Pure color + white = tint
Pure color + black = shade
Pure color + gray = tone

There aren’t a lot of pure colors in our everyday life, so the human eye finds tints, shades, and tones much more pleasing. Whenever you create a tint, a shade or a tone, the actual hue remains the same, it just gets lighter, darker, or less vibrant. So, this process doesn’t affect the position of the color on the color wheel, but each variation can evoke an entirely different feeling or convey a different message.

For example, tints, which we sometimes call pastels, are linked with tranquility and peace. So it’s no wonder that travel agencies that focus on finding your inner self find pastel-colored schemes well-suited for them.

Source: Combadi

Shades, on the other hand, are associated with sophistication, experience, and confidence, so they are often seen on sites that deal with high-end products and want to attract high-end clientele.

Source: Tommy Hilfiger

Of course, it’s not just the matter of picking one color and sticking to it. You need to create a scheme, and this is where color harmony theory can help.

Color harmony

Color harmony deals with the combination of colors in a way that’s attractive to the eye. Lucky for us, the techniques for a more effective color harmony are based on the color wheel, so let’s roll it out again.

Source: Canva

There are many ways to mix colors, but some techniques are used more often than others:

  • Monochromatic – various tints, shades and tones of one color, e.g., yellow-green
  • Analogous – hues that are right next to each other on the color wheel, e.g., violet, blue-violet, blue, and blue-green
  • Complementary – opposites on the color wheel, e.g., blue and orange
  • Split-complementary – any color on the color wheel + two that flank its complementary color, e.g., yellow-green, red, and violet
  • Triadic – any three colors that are evenly spaced on the wheel, e.g., green, orange, violet

When you’ve picked your color scheme, the colors have to be balanced in a way that reflects what you want your customers to see and how you want them to react. Shifts in text-size and color notifies that something’s different and requires attention. Lighter and darker sections with textual information in a contrasting color automatically attract customers’ attention to what’s important. Research shows that customers are more likely to remember the things that stand out.

For example, the web designers at Moving Waldo, a tool to keep your service providers updated with your address changes, have clearly caught up on their color theory and latest trends in web design. Their site is minimalistic, and eyes are immediately drawn to the most important information – who they are, what they can help you with and where to start using their services.

Source: Moving Waldo

Tip: Moderation is the key – when everything’s in high contrast, nothing stands out.

Fortunately, there are a lot of tools that make it easier to choose from the millions of possible color combinations. However, when it comes to ecommerce, picking the right colors is not just an artistic choice, but also a business decision.

Color in ecommerce and branding

Now that we’ve got all the technical jargon out of the way, it’s time to turn to color in ecommerce. According to Kissmetrics, color increases brand recognition by 80%, and this links directly to consumer confidence. Just think of Coca-Cola or Starbucks, and their colors immediately pop into mind. Kissmetrics also concluded that 52% of shoppers didn’t return to a website because of the overall aesthetic.

Color matters. But how to use it to your advantage?

Color psychology

Color psychology is the study of how colors influence us, so it’s easy to see why it’s such a hot topic in the world of ecommerce, especially when it comes to website color schemes. It’s also a controversial topic because of issues like cultural differences, color preference by gender, and many others. The problem is that there’s not a lot of precise research to go on, or a list of the best colors for ecommerce websites, but there’s still lots to learn and consider.

When HubSpot did A/B tests with two different call-to-action buttons, they found out that the red button outperformed the green one by whopping 21%. One of the possible explanations for this is that red excites people, while green relaxes. Each color has certain characteristics that are linked to them, and the psychology of color in marketing attempts to learn how to use them effectively. Here are some of the most popular associations:

  • Blue – peace, tranquility, security
  • Purple – royalty, wisdom, respect
  • Orange – excitement, friendliness, cheapness
  • Yellow – sun, openness, activity
  • Black – power, stability, intelligence

See for yourself how this works in action – check out the Lipton Ice Tea website.

Source: Lipton Ice Tea

They have chosen to go all yellow with some accents in blue and red (a triadic color scheme, by the way). The yellow color is associated with sun, openness and activity. And can’t you just imagine sipping some deliciously cold ice tea with lemon in a park on a hot summer day?

But how do you decide which colors would fit your store best.

Know your audience

Just like in any other marketing strategy, first you have to look at your product and to whom you’re selling, and color is an important dimension of your brand personality.

It’s been proven that customers take into account whether your product fits the branding – the colors you pick have to represent what you’re selling. If your main focus group is organic foodies, then green or brown is probably the way to go, while highlighter pink wouldn’t make much sense and would feel a little off. Similarly, if you plan on selling cute racerback tanks in a store called “Honeydew”, you probably shouldn’t go all navy.

Culture perception of color should also be accounted for. For example, Germany is one of the biggest ecommerce markets in Europe, so it’s a good place to target. But while most of the Western world associates yellow with fun in the sun, Germans connect yellow with envy.

Check out the competition

It’s never wrong to keep an eye on what the competition does. When starting from scratch, it’s an opportunity to either connect with the whole industry or set your store apart. For example, if your competitors all use orange logos, then it might be beneficial to go purple just to stand out. At the same time, choosing a color that’s typical for your field easily associates your business with the whole industry. It’s your decision which way you want to go.

Source: The Logo Company

Remember that everyone can tap into the internet’s big box of ideas. Granted, not all of the ideas are successful or even remotely good, but there’s always something to take away. Examples help if you’re starting something new, looking to rebrand or just trying to find some useful tips. There are tons of places that neatly showcase the best and worst of website designs, but you probably come across many examples of the good, the bad and the ugly every day. Here’s some that we’ve noticed recently.

The best

The History of Climate Change
Interactive, informative and simply a joy to look at.
Source: The History of Climate Change

Versace
Versace aces the web design game with a sleek, understated look.

Source: Versace

KIND snacks
The contrasting colors bring out the info, and the info itself is clever and fun.

Source: Kind Snacks

The worst

Paradise with a view
Lots of incompatible colors, no hierarchy and a complete mess in general.

Source: Paradise with a View

Yale School of Art
The irony’s not lost on us here. And it gets worse the further you scroll.

Source: Yale School of Art

Suzanne Collins
We hope that this is not the dystopian future of website design.

Source: Suzanne Collins Books

So in the end it’s just a matter of applying your new-found wisdom about colors in branding to your own business. In the words of the immortal Sherlock Holmes: “Data! Data! Data!” And if I dare to add – testing, testing, testing! Do your research, conduct some A/B tests, and work those results into your ecommerce business.

Final thoughts

So, now that you have all this new knowledge, don’t forget the main thing – never generalize (the joke’s on me here, I guess). Knowing that blue calms people, but red excites can come in handy, but there’s nothing like practice and context to base your color choices on. Color psychology, unfortunately, is not magic that immediately attracts clients and sells your product for you.

Evaluate your brand image, play around with color wheels, and see what works for you. After all, sometimes the choice is purely subjective. For example, Facebook is blue because Mark Zuckerberg, being red-green colorblind, “can see all of blue”. Of course, it also helps that blue is generally associated with trustworthiness, security, and peace.

So, color in ecommerce isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. When building a store or creating a unique design, colors can be a powerful tool in knowledgeable hands. But the follow-up (i.e. your amazing product) matters the most in the end. After all, success comes in every color.

Feeling ready for the holiday season? Check out our Holiday Marketing Guide to make sure you’re all set!

Holiday Marketing Guide 

Ilze is on the lookout for the little things that make all the difference, be it a new ecommerce trend to help your store, or the right book to read on a Saturday morning.

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  1. S.D Bola

    Many people have told me that colors don’t mean much and that they don’t affect customers purchase decisions in any way. I am glad to tell you that this post is now my reference point any time I meet such people. This post turns them into believers. Thank you

  2. Gerty Gift

    I thought that it was interesting that color can have such a big difference on branding. I didn’t know that colors are linked to certain feelings. Is this used in personal development programs? It would be interesting to see how it would all work.

    1. Ilze Folkmane Post author

      Hi Gerty! Glad to hear you found the topic interesting. I think some personal development programs also look into color psychology, but only as a small part of the whole program. Still, it’s a fascinating idea!

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