This article was published in March 2010 on Internet Retailing website
Apple really doesn’t need much of an introduction. Primarily a consumer brand, it makes money selling hardware like the iPod, iPhone, iMac and yet to be released iPad.
Its website’s main aim is to advertise and sell products through an online store. They are innovators in the field of technology and know what their customers want.
Early critics predicted the iPod would fail and we are seeing this reaction again to the iPad. It’s fair to say expectations for the website are high.
Arriving at Apple’s homepage, you are immediately confronted with an oversized alternating image of the iPad. Leaving aside the debate on how useful this new piece of technology is (“It’s just like the iPhone”) it is difficult to ignore.
Advertising on the homepage is solely focused on the iPad, but how can we buy one? It is not until you arrive at the iPad landing page that there is a small, easily missed, ‘notify me’ link at the bottom of the screen, allowing users to register to be notified when the iPad is available.
Lack of content on the homepage is particularly notable. Apple usually advertise with an image of their main product, followed by a small number of others.
If you’re not looking for any of these particular products, the primary navigation provides a clear breakdown of their other offerings.
The option for users to return home at any point is also provided through a fixed link in the primary navigation. There is a nice mouse over effect along the navigation bar, making clear to the user what section they are going to select as well as a darker shade of grey to indicate the current category selected.
The lack of content on the homepage makes the decision easier for users on where to go next. Given the diversity of Apple’s products and services, this approach is effective.
The navigation bar along the top of the site also remains consistent, irrespective of the users’ position within the site architecture.
The structure of Apple’s product pages is sleek, attractive and clearly designed. The Mac section, for example, contains a useful slider menu for users to quickly view images of Mac-related products without drilling down further into the site.
Clear calls to action are provided to promote purchase of products on the right hand side of the page. A ‘learn your way around the Mac in minutes’ tutorial video is also provided. However, the clip took excessively long to load, making this potentially useful feature, disappointing.
Below each of the main products are information sub-sections with the option to ‘learn more’, encouraging the user to continue browsing.
The ‘learn more’ option, while a useful call to action, is ambiguous and presents an accessibility issue for the sight impaired. These identical links are used throughout the site as gateways to varied content. For instance, ‘learn more’ links are used within both ‘Download iTunes’ and ‘iPhone for Business’ sections.
This can cause problems for screen reader users using the ‘links list’ functionality as there would be no way to differentiate them.
Links should be clearly labelled to be much more informative and the spanned text underpinning it should be unique (e.g. ‘Learn more about downloading iTunes’).
The, on occasion, small and ambiguous links displayed throughout the website should be more clearly defined to ensure the Apple website is usable and accessible for all customers.
The Apple Store page is heavy in content and requires scrolling, although the use of white space breaks up content effectively. There are clear menus on both left and right of the pages, presenting offerings and allowing users to view ‘Popular Accessories’ and ‘Top Sellers’ at a glance.
Given the high volume of products within the site, clear sub-headings and images make browsing the store page an enjoyable experience. The ‘Buy now’ links used on this page also present an accessibility issue, as outlined above. The link text on this page is also relatively small and could be missed by some users.
The search function is clearly displayed in the top right of the screen within the main navigation bar, following convention. It is particularly useful, offering search results as the user types in the field, giving options to those who are less familiar with the product they are looking for, as well as providing a brief description of each product.
The Apple site overall is a clear, crisp site and breaks down the heavy content beyond the homepage in a way that makes the user journey a relatively straightforward and enjoyable experience. Its sleek design reflects Apples’ products and the consistent navigation and search function allows users to easily find products and encourages browsing.