In case you didn’t know, Apple’s retail stores are extremely successful. Apple set a retail record by hitting annual sales of one billion dollars in only three years. In 2007, CNN Money published an article profiling how Apple’s sales per square foot a year stack up against other top retailers:
Best Buy: $930
Tiffany & Co: $2,666
So, how did Apple master the extremely competitive world of retail? If you think it was by accident and with a little luck, think again! Not only did Steve Jobs hire one of the most successful people in retail (Ron Johnson), but after months are non-stop work on the first Apple store prototype, the original concept was completely scrapped and work began on what we now know as the Apple store from the ground up.
Because the internet is cluttered with awfully designed websites that cause problems for both search engines and users, here are four things you can learn from Apple’s retail success and apply to the design of your website:
1) Looks Matter: Why do so many people who have never previously owned an Apple computer walk into an Apple store when they see it in a mall? Because of the way it looks. Apple put a lot of time and work into making their stores a place that people would naturally gravitate towards. At one point, a design team spent half a day choosing which of three types of lighting would make the products look the best!
When people visit your website, how it looks matters. Does your site have a logo that looks professional? If not, many people will automatically trust your site less. When you are designing your website, you need to think about the message you are trying to convey to your visitors and then implementing it into your design. The way your site looks when a visitor lands on it can determinewhether they hit the back button or become a customer.
2) Less is More: Although many retailers try to cram as much merchandise into their store is possible, Apple took a different approach from the very beginning. While they do offer a wide variety of products in their stores, they are arranged in a way that gives the stores an open and spacious feeling.
I actually made this point in a previous post, but I feel it’s worth discussing again because I find more sites everyday that exhibit this problem. From advertising to widgets, people are cramming every inch of every page with clutter. In addition to the obvious issue of creating a confusing and overall bad experience for your users, cramming the pages of your website with clutter causes additional problems. If someone is trying to visit your website with a slower internet connection (yes, people are still browsing the web with dialup) or mobile device, all of the clutter is going to make the load time of your website very long, and the person will most likely hit the back button and move on to one of your competitors’ websites.
3) Don’t Pressure Your Visitors: When you visit most retail stores (especially electronics), you are immediately swarmed by salespeople that are trying to sell you things you don’t want. However, when you visit an Apple store, there’s no pressure to buy anything. An employee will provide help if you need it, but otherwise you are free to hangout and play around with the products.
Recently, I’ve noticed an increasing amount of websites that are trying to pressure their visitors into buying what they are selling. For example, I was browsing through a competitor’s website the other day, and as I was leaving, multiple boxes popped up and asked if I wanted to chat live with a customer support representative. I could not leave the site until I clicked yes or no. As a customer, I would have never answered yes, but since I like keeping tabs on my competitors, I agreed. Things got worse when I quickly realized that instead of a representative answering my questions, every response I got (regardless of what I typed) was a canned response that was trying to get me to buy their product at a special discounted price. The bottom line: not only do these type of design components put visitors in an uncomfortable position by forcing them to take an action, but then they fail to even provide what they claim to offer!
4) Provide as Much Help as Possible: Because of their Genius Bar, Apple has made the confusing world of electronics manageable to even the most inexperienced user. As mentioned in the book Inside Steve’s Brain, people have used the Genius Bar to learn about things as basic as how to plug an iPod into a computer and transfer music.
When you are looking at the design of your website, you need to make sure to include as much help and support as possible. For example, you should have a search feature included prominently in the same location on each page, along with a link to the help section of your website. Other features to consider include support for the visually impaired and direct links with explanations next to confusing terms.