Everybody loves Apple products. They love how they work, and they love how they look.

Apple has been so successful that every business wants to learn more about their secret to success, and this success isn’t limited to product design and development.

Apple is also one of the industry leaders when it comes to online retail. Not only is the Apple website one of the most beautiful sites online, but it’s also home to one of the most successful online retail stores, ranking as the #3 e-commerce site by Internet Retailer.

In order to learn more about Apple’s online marketing success, we conducted an in-depth review of the Apple.com shopping experience. By reading this review, you’ll learn about all of the e-retail best practices Apple employs on every page from the home page to the final checkout page, and you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about Apple’s online shopping experience.

First Impression: The Homepage Review

Apple begins the shopping experience with a large, beautiful picture of their latest hot product on the homepage. At the time this post was written, the Ipod 2 was being featured.

Apple also keeps the homepage uncluttered with a simple menu at the top of the page, the feature picture in the center of the page, four call-outs underneath the featured photo, and a list of links at the bottom of the page. Based on this layout, emphasis is placed on the upper navigation menu, and Apple doesn’t waste any space on unnecessary clutter, noticeably leaving all social sharing icons off of the home page.

As far as the main navigation goes, it’s dedicated mostly to the online store and featured products, with six of the eight menu items leading to the store and products. The remaining two links lead back to home and forward to support with a final space reserved for search.

Overall it’s very easy to navigate to Apple’s products, and the homepage is visually appealing with the simple, uncluttered layout and the big, bold, and beautiful featured-product picture.

In order to continue this review,  let’s click on “Store” to continue shopping.

The Shopping Experience: Entering the Store

As you enter the store, one of the first things that’s visible are pictures of Apple products listed across the center of the page. The pictures are a little smaller than you might expect, but it’s clear that they’re listing the most popular products across the top of the page.

One thing that Apple has going for it is a small number of products. Even though they are one of the largest companies in the world, they have an impressively low number of core products. This makes it easy to list all of their products at the top of the Apple Store page since they don’t need to list hundreds of products in order to give visibility to all of their offerings.

Twelve pictures across the top middle of the page show off their core products, and a slider of their current three most popular products (iPad 2, iPhone 4S, and the Macbook Air) sits below, with a list of accessories below that.

It’s interesting to note that Apple uses the slider in the center of the page when most people place sliders at the top. This positioning is likely due to Apple wanting to show all of their products first so people can easily find the one product they’re looking for, and then they feature the hottest products below.

For the purpose of this review, we’ll click on the first product picture, the new iPad, in order to see how we can order this product.

The Next Step: Product Presentation

The first thing I notice from this next step in the shopping experience is that Apple places a large picture of the product on the right of the page with a headline and short copy to the left. This is good because people read left to right, and it’s better to place pictures to the right of text if you want people to read the text.

The product is also described with an attention-grabbing headline, “The new iPad,” with descriptive copy below and a bright blue “Select an iPad” call-to-action button. Personally, I’m confused by the use of “Select an iPad” instead of a more standard “Learn More” or “Buy Now,” but maybe this makes more sense to someone who is actually shopping for an iPad. I would go with something more like “Choose an iPad” or “Choose your iPad,” but A/B testing is the best way to make a decision like this (and it’s possible that Apple has chosen “Select an iPad” based on the A/B testing they’ve conducted).

Now that I’ve debated with myself about the wording, let’s click on “Select an iPad” to continue.

The Shopping Cart: Adding the Product

At this point, Apple walks the customer through a visual presentation of the different options available for the iPad. Customers can easily choose which color they want along with which size of memory they prefer and whether or not they want 4G included. The visual presentation of these options make decision making really easy. Instead of needing to read and scan and read some more, pictures with no text makes it super easy for customers to choose which iPad is right for them.

I’m selecting a white iPad with 32 GB of memory and no 4G since white looks great, 32 GB is just right, and 4G isn’t something that I think I need right now.

You’ll also notice a “shopping cart” on the top right of the sidebar that includes a picture of the product, the price, financing options, how soon the product will ship, free shipping, and a green button to continue. Overall, I feel like this cart can be improved by finding a way to make it stand out more. As I was viewing the product, the shopping cart wasn’t that easy to find. I think Apple could make it easier to find the green “Continue” button either in the sidebar or below the product selections, but of course, this should always be tested with users.

To keep shopping, let’s click the green “Continue” button.

Upselling: Accessories and Add Ons

After clicking continue, Apple directs customers to accessories for the iPad. I was expecting to be directed to a checkout page, but this accessory page is a great way for Apple to make more money by showing customers what accessories they can buy for their iPad. They also include a visually appealing display of the most commonly-chosen accessory at the top of the page.

Since I know that most people choose the $39.00 polyurethane cover, I’m going to add one to my purchase without thinking much about the price. I’m already paying $599 for the iPad, so why not add an accessory that will protect my investment. This is an easy upsell for Apple, and it doesn’t cause much pain to me, the customer.

Also, now that I know where the green “Continue” button is located in the top of the left-hand sidebar, it’s really easy for me to continue.

Let’s proceed.

Free Add-on: Engraving

The next page, surprisingly to me, is for two lines of free engraving on the back of the iPad. At first I thought it was an add-on, but then I realized that it’s free. More text could be added here to emphasize this “free gift” that Apple is providing to customers. At first I was annoyed at this “add on,” so a larger header that emphasizes the “freeness” of the gift would be helpful.

Since it is free, I’m going to add my name and phone number in case my iPad ever is lost. I’m also cherished by this gift from Apple. Thanks, guys!

After adding the text for engraving, let’s continue.

Checking Out: The Shopping Cart

Now that I’ve selected an iPad, chosen an accessory, and added my free engraving, I’ve finally arrived at the checkout page. It took a little while to get here, but with a high-dollar purchase like an iPad, I think it makes sense to have a comprehensive check-out process.

Now that I’m here, the shopping cart has a lot of the standard features that are expected in the digital marketplace today, including:

  • An option to easily remove products from the cart
  • The opportunity to change product quantities
  • Estimated shipping time
  • Total cart amount
  • Shipping cost (free in this case)
  • A link to continue shopping
  • “Save” and “Print” cart options

As far as extra features that stand out from the standard shopping experience, I found the following:

  • An option for an Apple gift package costing $5 (I have no idea what this is)
  • An opportunity to add a free gift message (this is nice)
  • A way to estimate tax and delivery dates based on zip code (very helpful)
  • 6 to 12 month financing options (great for a high-ticket item like an iPad)
  • A “Just Ask” feature that provides a phone number and live chat options to resolve any questions (great for customer service)

Out of all these extra features, “Just Ask” stands out the most. It’s likely that customers have a question about their order at this point, and this “Just Ask” feature is exactly what people will need in order to answer any lingering questions. It will also get more customers over the fence and increase conversions by answering any questions that come up. I’m not sure how standard a “Just Ask” feature is across e-retail websites, but it definitely seems like a great way to provide better customer service.

Now that all of my questions about the product have been answered, I’m going to click on “Check Out Now.”

Check-out Options: Sign in and Guest

On the next page, Apple gives the option to sign in or check out as a guest. They’ve also removed everything from the page except for the logo, sign-in options, and “Just Ask.” I like that they still provide a phone number and chat in case someone has a question while on this page, and the simple sign in page is good.

Since I’m checking out as a guest, I’ll click “Continue.”

The Personal Info Page

The next page includes standard check-out fields such as name, address, phone, etc. Apple also continues to show the products in the cart underneath the personal-information fields, and they highlight “Free Shipping $0.00” in red and “6 to 12 month special financing options” and “Sales and Refund Policy” as links in blue. Lastly, the “Just Ask” feature is still available.

Another feature I like about this page is that Apple asks for my “primary phone number” instead of “home” or “cell.” Since I haven’t had a landline since living with my parents in high school, I appreciate being asked for my primary number and not wasting input fields for “home” or “cell” numbers.

Another cool feature is that Apple doesn’t ask for city and state. Instead, they just ask for zip and automatically fill in the city and state. At first this was a little confusing to me, but it seems helpful to decrease the number of input errors when someone accidentally enters the right city but the wrong state.

Now that all of the fields have been filled in, once again, let’s click “Continue.”

The Standard Shopping Cart Review Page

The next page provides the standard review process to make sure all of the personal information has been entered correctly. One of the things I notice on this page is that, once again, all of the important text is highlighted in red and all of the clickable links are visible in blue. This makes it easy to find the most important text and links.

Since the info is “correct,” I’ll go ahead and again click “Continue.”

Payment Info

The next page (and final page for me) is the payment information page. One of the things that confuses me about this page is that the payment info is located underneath the shipping information (name, address, etc.) and below the products in the cart. It’s possible that most people don’t have a problem with this since they may have a larger screen (I’m using a Google Chromebook), but I personally think that the payment info should be placed at the top of the screen so customers aren’t confused about where to find the payment fields in case they end up below the fold.

One cool feature about the entire Apple check-out process is that no matter where I scroll, the right sidebar stays in the same position, presenting a mini view of the shopping cart, “Just Ask,” and frequently asked questions. This ensures that critical information stays in front of customers at all times.

It’s also noticeable that Apple offers three payment options on this page–Credit/Debit Card, Apple Gift Card, and Financing. Since some people may still be thinking about the high ticket price, Apple does well to offer a Financing tab in order to convert any customers who may have second thoughts but also may be open to financing. Since I don’t actually have the funds to make this purchase, I’m going to abandon my cart at this point.

Final Impression

The shopping experience at Apple is easy and thorough. It offers a visually appealing, graphic heavy shopping cart experience that effectively presents the Apple products and easily walks customers through the check-out process. It’s also thorough which is something that customers purchasing a high-ticket item like an iPad will expect. Overall, the shopping experience at Apple is impressive, and it’s easy to see why they are ranked as the #3 e-retail store.

About the Author: Joseph Putnam is a freelance writer, blogger, and marketing consultant. He writes blog posts for businesses that use content marketing to increase traffic, leads, and sales. He also writes compelling and persuasive content for landing pages, sales letters, and web pages. You can follow him on Twitter and keep up with him on Google+.