The Invisible Colors of Retail

by Pamela Webber on Feb 1, 2016 12:00:00 AM DRTV, e-Commerce, Consumer Behavior, Retail

The_Invisible_Colors_of_Retail-131083-edited.jpgDid you know the world has a favorite color? It is blue. Blue tops the list across cultures and in business, too. Fifty-three percent of businesses that design their logos on 99designs request blue—that’s almost twice as often as the next most popular color. In retail, three of the top four industry leaders (Walmart, Costco, and Kroger) use blue, too.

But what’s even more interesting is the colors businesses aren’t using—but maybe should. These “invisible colors” can provide an excellent way for retailers to stand out from the competition.

Let’s back up for just a minute. Business of Color, a new study we just completed here at 99designs, combines compiled data from almost 14,000 logos, expert input, and color psychology to determine exactly how color influences brand identity. The research shows that while some colors are popular stars, there’s symbolic meaning in the whole rainbow.

Color psychology is complex and influenced both by programmed and learned, cultural associations. Red is a universal sign of heightened, passionate emotion; it’s also a wedding color in China and a mourning color in South Africa. Different colors can also share some associations and diverge on others. People associate both purple and orange with youthfulness, but say purple feels sophisticated while orange is economical.

If you are a business owner designing a logo, don’t just pick a color you like. First, understand your brand values and your target audience. Marketing to a rugged, no-nonsense crowd? Earthy browns and vigorous reds may be the ticket. A luxury brand might lean toward royal purple and glossy black. By considering the multiple traits each color represents, you can find the perfect shade to illustrate your brand.

So back to those underused colors in retail: Youthfulness is the one trait retailers across the board seek to associate with their brand. Color psychology links orange, purple, and pink to youthfulness. It’s surprising, then, that in our Retail report (here) these colors barely appear in retail logos. In fact, we found each in less than 16 percent of industry logo palettes.

This finding can help retailers break away from the pack in their logo design. We know that red, blue, white, and black are safe choices. They’re popular, and there’s plenty of evidence to show their tried and true effect. They’re also everywhere. Adding another red logo to the market won’t necessarily help a business stand out from the crowd.

A different choice can make customers stop for a second look. I mentioned that three of the top four retailers nationwide use blue in their logos. The fourth is Home Depot, featuring a bright orange—one of the youthful colors. Don’t think the CEO flipped a coin to decide which shade to pick, though. Orange feels invigorating and economical, so it fits well with a company advertising affordable, DIY home improvement. A delicate shade of pink, although also youthful, just wouldn’t be the same.

Retail is a particularly diverse industry, with less agreement on desired traits than any other industry we researched. Because of this, retailers should take special care to choose logo colors that reflect their business identity. If you’re wondering what your business’s true color is, learn more by visiting 99design’s Business of Color.

Photo by Stuart Miles/

Pamela Webber is Chief Marketing Officer of 99designs.

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