One of Apple's most important characteristics is the way it deals directly with customers. Step into an Apple Store, or visit the company's online store, and you're immediately struck by the same elements of understated good taste and user-friendliness that we associate with its products. Apple never misses an opportunity to emphasise its brand values.

In this article we show how to make the most of Apple's various stores (and those of its reseller partners). In terms of bricks and mortar, we explain how to book an Apple Store appointment, how to return a faulty product or get a broken device fixed, and how to find your nearest store. And for the site, we walk you through the process of making a purchase online and what to do if the site doesn't appear to be working.

If you'd like to work on the other side of the polished wooden desk, have a look at How to get a job as an Apple Store Genius.

How to shop at Apple's online store

It's easy to buy a brand-new Mac, iPad or iPhone from Apple. The simplest way is to go to Apple's website and make your purchase there. You'll find every current Mac, iPad and iPhone, and lots of accessories.

The menu bar along the top of the site is split into seven sections: Mac, iPad, iPhone, Watch, TV, Music (which includes the AirPods, HomePod and the iPod touch) and Support.

The first six of those categories include accessories you can use with your new Apple product, from headphones and cables, to connected home devices and displays, mice and keyboards. The accessories sections include lots of products from manufacturers other than Apple.

Buying a Mac from Apple's online store

Buying a Mac on Apple's online store is really easy if you know what you're looking for - and if you don't know what you're looking for, there's lots of information on Apple's website to help you choose.

Go to the Mac section of the Apple website. You can choose a subcategory, such as MacBook Air or iMac Pro, from the new menu bar along the top; if you do so, the next page will show you (for example) an overview of the current MacBook Air and links to read detailed specs and view your buying options. That last one is the button labelled Buy, obviously.

Find the Mac spec that most closely matches your needs, and click Select. Now you'll see various customisation options, such as extra RAM memory, extra storage and (in some cases) improved graphics. You may also be able to add accessories and software to the purchase.

How to use the Apple Store: Customise your MacBook Air

Once you've configured the Mac you want, click on Add to Bag. When you get to the checkout you'll have the option to apply for a payment plan that will allow you to split payments over up to 24 months.

But before you arrive at the checkout you'll need to sign in using your Apple ID and password. If you don't have an Apple ID you can proceed as a guest. However, if you frequently make purchases from Apple you will find it easier to log into your account as all your payment and delivery details will be automatically filled in.

At this stage you will be able to see delivery dates and options, or choose a pickup location - search with your postcode to pick up from somewhere nearby.

How to use the Apple Store: Choose a pickup location

You will get free standard delivery if you order costs more than £50. When your item is dispatched you will receive a dispatch notification email and/or text message; you can also visit the Find your order page to view the most up-to-date status or your order.

Buying an iPhone from Apple's online store

It's also easy to buy an iPhone from Apple's online store, and many people choose to do this if they want to buy an iPhone outright, rather than sign up for a contract with their mobile network.

Go to the iPhone section of Apple's website and you can choose from the various handsets on offer.

If for example you were buying the iPhone XS you would click here and (after perusing the tech specs, features and so on) click on Buy at the top right. You'll see options to trade in an old model, then select colour and storage capacity.

When you're happy, hit Continue, then Add to Bag.

Buying an iPad, Apple TV, Apple Watch or AirPods from Apple's online store

You can follow the instructions above to buy any Apple product on the company's online store.

Apple's online store isn't working

From time to time you will find that the Apple Store is down. This is what usually happens just before the company announces a new product, although some times we all get excited and then it turns out Apple has done nothing of note, perhaps only tweaking something in the back end.

If the Apple Store is down when you visit, chances are it will be back online within a few hours. When there's a new product the site usually goes down in the morning and is back up around lunchtime in the UK, unless it happens to be down during an Apple keynote, which tends to happen in the early evening. In that case we would expect the store to be offline from about 6pm to 8pm.

Finding your closest Apple Store location

Alternatively, if you'd prefer to try the product out, you could walk into the Apple Store on your high street or in your closest shopping mall. Not sure where your closest Apple Store is located? British readers will find them all over the country, 38 in total, and you can look for your local store on Apple's website.

How to use Apple Store: UK store locations

Apple's flagship London stores can be found at Regent Street and Covent Garden.

You'll also find Apple Stores in major shopping malls including Bluewater, Lakeside, Trafford Centre, Manchester Arndale, Westfield Stratford City and Westfield White City.

How to reserve an iPhone from an Apple Store

When Apple first launches a new iPhone, stocks are very limited, and for that reason it's sometimes necessary to reserve your handset for in-store pickup.

The alternative would be having the new iPhone sent to you at home, but collecting it in store gives you the opportunity to use Apple's expertise to transfer the data from your existing phone to the new one - especially handy if you're moving from a non-Apple phone to the iPhone.

Apple will set up the iPhone for you, transfer contacts from your old device, set up your email and get you started with iCloud. Staff will also help you browse and download apps from the App Store.

Follow the instructions above for buying only, but select the option to pick up your iPhone in a nearby store instead of selecting delivery.

How to use Apple's Genius Bar

Another reason to go to the Apple Store is if you wish to visit the Genius Bar.

How to use the Apple Genius Bar

The Genius Bar is the place to go if you need your Apple hardware repaired. Apple's Geniuses may also be able to help you with software issues.

To arrange an appointment with an Apple Store Genius, visit the Apple Support page and choose the product that's causing you problems. You will need to answer a number of questions to drill down what the exact issue is, so that Apple can find the best way to help you.

For example, when our MacBook Air wasn't charging we went through the following choices: Mac > Startup or Power. As well as some (broadly relevant) support articles at the bottom of the page, we were given the option to talk to Apple Support over the phone, start a chat session, bring the MacBook in for repair or visit the Genius Bar. We opted for the Genius Bar.

To arrange your visit you need to enter your postcode and choose the store which is most appropriate. If they have reservations available, you can make an appointment. You may have to try a few Apple Stores before you find one with the necessary expertise for your particular problem.

Getting support from Apple

You can also get help from Apple by calling the customer services number: 0844 209 0611. But there are a number of other ways to get support via the website as outlined above. For more information visit this page on Apple's site.

There are steps you can take to repair your device before resorting to Apple's support process. We have advice, for example, on How to fix a frozen Mac and How to fix a Mac that won't turn on.

Apple Store iPhone repair

If you've broken your iPhone screen you may want to go to the Apple Store to pay for Apple to fix it.

You can make an appointment with a Genius at the Apple Store to service your iPhone. The cost of the repair will depend on the model and whether you have AppleCare coverage. It may cost more if the phone is out of its one-year warranty period.

If you're the kind of person who frequently breaks your gadgets it might be worth investing in AppleCare+ which covers two incidents of accidental damage, although you will still have to pay an excess fee.

Alternatively you can send your iPhone away to Apple to be fixed, but it will take longer than going to an Apple Store, where you will get your iPhone back the same day.

For more detailed advice, read How to get an iPhone repaired.

Apple's Refurbished Store

Unfortunately, as a rule Macs are not cheap, but if you're looking for a bargain you can also pick up a Mac, iPad or iPhone second-hand from Apple. Go to the Refurbished Store on the company's website.

How to use the Apple Store: Refurbished Store

The important thing to note is that devices bought from the Apple Refurb Store are not discernibly 'used'. They are cleaned, checked, tested and visually indistinguishable from brand-new models. The only noticeable difference in our experience is that an Apple refurb Mac will be packaged in a brown box rather than the white retail box they normally arrive in.

The price for reconditioned devices changes frequently but is typically 10 to 20 percent less than the original price. With Macs commanding a high retail price, this reduction can represent quite a difference.

Here's how to get a bargain from Apple. Students, meanwhile, will want to know how to get an education discount.

Apple resellers

You may also be able to get a deal on a new Mac or other Apple device by picking up one from your local Apple reseller, such as John Lewis and PC World, or Apple premium resellers such as iStore, Stormfront, Solutions Inc, Western Computers and KRCS. They do have sales, and although Apple bargains are rare, they come along occasionally.

However, you should beware that because Apple is strict with pricing and the margin that third-party retailers can make, it is rare that you will find a genuine bargain when buying a new Apple product from someone other than Apple.

You should always first visit Apple's online store to find out what is on offer from the mothership, and make sure that if you're buying an outdated model you are doing so knowingly. Copy down the specification and product code of the model you want, and use that in your search. If you know what to look for you could grab a bargain - just make sure you aren't buying last year's model while being sold the idea of this year's.

Apple warranty and returns policies

One of the benefits of buying from Apple is its warranty and returns procedure, even for refurbished products. Apple states: "Before we put a refurbished Mac, iPod, iPad or Apple TV up for sale in special deals, it undergoes a rigorous refurbishment process to make sure it's up to Apple's tough quality standards."

More importantly, a reconditioned Mac comes with the same one-year warranty (extendable to three years with AppleCare protection). You also get the same sales and return procedure with Apple, and can return a Mac bought from the Refurb Store within 14 days if you're not happy with it.

Buying Apple products elsewhere

The key thing, as always, is to know exactly what you want, and exactly what you're getting, especially if you're buying from a private seller. Get it all in writing, and if at all possible view the device you're buying, and use it, before you purchase.

Always use a credit card to make expensive purchases, or a secure payment service such as PayPal. This will make it much easier to chase up if there is a problem.

And remember, if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is: you really want to see proof of purchase before you buy a second-hand Mac to ensure it hasn't been stolen.