The Science Of Shopping

Apple Store

These days, shopping habits are carefully monitored by retailers trying to make a profit. Shoppers are analyzed from the products they buy, where they go inside the store, and even how they enter the store. The Apple Store is no exception. Apple, through careful planning, succeeds in following many of Gladwell’s principles in their retail stores.

Apple has carefully picked where they are in many locations across the world. In some cities, they are in malls and in other cities they are right on the street. In Chandler, Arizona, Apple is inside of the Chandler Mall. Apple is right in the middle of the various storefronts, preventing consumers from missing it. The entire front of the Store is made of glass, allowing potential customers to look inside. There is no barrier to entry, as customers can walk right in between the panes of glass to get inside. And to the sides of the door, Apple proudly displays their newest product to consumers. In the book, it is stated that, “Ever wonder why the season’s hottest new styles at stores like the Gap are usually displayed on the right at least fifteen paces in from the front entrance? It’s because that’s where shoppers are most likely to see them as they enter the store.” (97)

Apple follows this strategy by putting their best-selling product, the iPhone, both just behind the door and to the right of the entrance. Apple also follows the strategy of making sure that customers with an “impeded view of the store window—can see the display from at least twenty-five feet away.” (97) Once inside the Store, Apple also has other ways to make sure consumers buy their products.

Apple sells many products, including the iPhone, iPad, Macs, iPods, the Apple TV, and the Apple Watch. To help sell their products, Apple has special tables dedicated to each product, spread throughout the entirety of the store. All the products are completely functional and ready for customers to try out. Some stores have products that are fake and do not power on, but Apple has live demos.

When a potential customer approaches a product table and begins playing with said product, an Apple Store employee approaches the customer and asks if they need help with anything. If a customer declines, the Store employee leaves and lets the customer continue to use the product uninterrupted. However, if a customer does need help, the employee then proceeds to ask what the customer is looking for and why. If a customer says they need an iPad, for example, the employee will tell the customer about features the iPad has, and the different colors and sizes it comes in. A customer will then reply with a question about why the product is better than the competitor’s product, to which the Store employee appropriately responds. Apple Store employees do not make commission, so they are not pressured into selling products as much as someone at Fry’s is.

While none of their products are focused specifically on men or women, Apple follows Gladwell’s advice in that products that require “extensive examination should never be placed in a narrow aisle.” (99) All spaces that are used by customers for moving around are accessible to everyone and provide the least opportunities for customers to bump into each other, making sure that they are never distracted from using the product they may potentially buy. If a customer is actively using a product and something distracts them, that takes the customer out of the moment and they may not buy that product, resulting in a lost sale.

If a customer does indeed decide to purchase something that Apple sells, there are a number of unique ways that this can be done. There are no cash registers in the Apple Store. All purchases can be done almost anywhere in the store, as they are done on iPhones or iPads with special software that are carried by store employees at all times. When a customer decides to purchase a product such as an iPad, the employee tells the customer to wait where they are, unless that area is busy. If it is busy with other potential customers, they are moved somewhere to spur more sales with other potential buyers.

The employee then goes to an area where only employees are allowed to go and gets the box for the product, whether it be a MacBook or an iPhone. Once that is acquired, Apple proceeds through a normal experience, as the iPhones the employees have are capable of credit card purchases and using payments through new technology such as Apple Pay. There is no paper involved in the entire process, as the customer signs on the iPhone screen with their finger and can have their receipt emailed with them.

Once the product is purchased, Apple has optional special tables in the store to help users set up their newly purchased devices with employees who are trained for that process. That employee helps the customer set up an Apple ID, Location Services settings, and anything else that the device may be capable of. Once that is completed, the employee asks if the customer then wants to purchase another product, such as a spare charging cable or a case. Many times they are successful.

Apple has a special process for customers only interested in accessories such as spare charging cables, cases, Apple’s own brand of routers, headphones, or other products. If a customer has the Apple Store app installed on their iPhone, it uses Location Services to determine when a customer is at an Apple Store and offers special features. When a customer is ready to purchase something such as the charging cables, the Apple Store app has a feature called “EasyPay.” The customer scans the barcode on the bottom of the product case with the camera on their own personal iPhone. The item is in Apple’s database and is scanned correctly to that specific product. Once at that screen, the customer can purchase the item on their own, with no involvement from any retail employee. The item can be purchased with the manual entering of a credit card or, on select devices, with Apple Pay, a transaction process that is more secure than manually entering the numbers.

Apple Pay stores the user’s credit card information inside a special secure element inside of the main CPU on the device. When the user either uses it with a compatible terminal at a retail store or inside a compatible app, the actual numbers of the credit card are not transmitted. Instead, it uses tokenization. Put simply, this generates a random code that is used for that transaction and none in the future. If Apple (or any company that has this service available) is hacked, the user will not have to worry about their credit card information stolen, as it was not their actual credit card.

This helps both the customer not have to get a new credit card and helps Apple’s appearance in the media with knowing that the customer’s data is safe. When a customer purchases the accessory, they are free to walk out of the store with no questions asked by any employee. To prevent abuse of this process, Apple has security cameras hidden in the store, along with several plainclothes special security employees. This whole process makes for a very good experience for the customer and makes them more likely to come back.

Apple is unique in the retail space, even though they still follow many of Gladwell’s ideas. By putting their best-selling products on the right of the store, Apple is able to generate more sales of those items. The Store is very open, preventing customers from being distracted by being bumped or otherwise. Many of the displays are visible from less than 20 feet away, enticing potential customers to go inside and take a look. With the checkout process being so easy, customers walk out quickly, allowing for more to come in. With the entire experience being a very good one, Apple makes it more likely that those customers will come back and buy more of their products. As the company with some of the highest quarters of revenue in history, they have a bright future ahead of them.


  • Gladwell, M. (2012). Consuming Passions: The Culture Of American Consumption. In Signs of Life in the USA (7th ed., p. 97,99). Boston, Massachusetts: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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