Some online merchants consider a nice, professional store design just a gimmick, an unnecessary expense. They say, "if I have a great product people want and I provide good customer service, shoppers will come." This may be true for stores that cater to a narrow niche market with not much competition. But in general, when you have to compete with many other stores in your business, a good design is a must.
Recently, a client of mine showed me this actual customer review:
"Fast, fast shipping, and product delivered as described, I had never heard of this company, but would do business with again. I originally had doubts as the website was not that flashy, but happily I was proven wrong.
I would give this company an A+!"
This sale closed, but how many other visitors to this web site may have turned away, because the web site wasn't "flashy?" And by flashy, he really meant "professional-looking".
Today, online shoppers have millions of options, so you as an online merchant have a very narrow window of opportunity to capture a visitor and keep him or her on your store - and hopefully turn them into a customer. If you have what they are looking for at a price they like, it will all come down to trust: does your store make them feel at ease that they can trust you with their business? A professionally designed store answers that question with a resounding "Yes".
When starting up an online store, don't consider design secondary. It should be part of your start-up costs, and I would say a fairly large part of it. It is definitely an investment that will eventually have good returns. Start your ecommerce business with a amateurish store thinking you would "upgrade it" once you started making money and getting to the point of making money may take a lot longer than what you may think.