Our Mystery Shopper's on the look out for school-friendly PCs

Mystery Shopper: Chelmsford

This month we sent our Mystery Shopper to Chelmsford to find out what computers would be recommended for a child about to start secondary school…

PC WORLD – 8/10
This was a bright, clean and attractive looking store with an inviting entrance, beckoning shoppers inside. On entering the store, I was approached by a well-dressed and very courteous assistant who asked me what I was looking for. After listening carefully, he called over another sales person, repeating my request. The new assistant eagerly asked me to follow him, taking me to the desktop computers, on the way asking my son’s age and checking out his interests.

After listening to my response, he recommended an Advent desktop priced at £499.99 as being the best for “performance and value”. Asking for alternatives, the salesman showed me two systems with similar specifications and performance from Samsung and Acer at £459.99 and £525.99 respectively; all models were in stock and available to buy today.

Pressing for more choice, I asked him if there were laptop alternatives. This seemed to catch him out initially, but he quickly came back with a list of reasons as to why choosing a desktop was the better choice. He felt that children often preferred a wider screen for gaming and social media, and desktop machines were less prone to being dropped. If there were any spillages on the keyboard, it was simpler and less costly to replace – all valid points. Spying Apple desktops nearby, I asked if they were viable options. “Too expensive,” was his response, followed by “all schools use Windows,” which was understandable but not entirely true.

Moving onto software, he recommended Microsoft Office at £99.99 followed by a detailed account of anti-virus and security packages; all of which I would need, he insisted.

Asking him if he thought I would need anything else, he finished off his pitch with, “you’ll need a printer and a scanner,” adding that I could pick up a HP Deskjet printer for £59.99.

Customer service and product knowledge was good. Recommendations were limited to desktop computers, which was surprising considering the popularity of laptops, but I understood his thinking when considered for a child.

COMET – 9/10
Located next door to PC World, the store boasted a similar entrance – inviting with a clear and clean store layout once inside.

Initially I had the impression there were no staff around; it was not a busy period of the day. I had the opportunity to walk well into the store before I was approached. Again, a well-dressed and very polite sales assistant asked if he could help me with what I was looking for. He listened intently to my shopping needs before asking me to follow him over to the laptop display, recommending two Samsung machines. He briefly explained the difference between the processors before recommending alternatives from Acer and ASUS – each were £599.99.

Remembering what I had just heard in PC World, I asked him to explain his thoughts on the possibility of a laptop over a desktop computer. He responded that young people preferred the convenience of a laptop, adding that if I was worried, I could purchase a Comet three-year insurance policy to cover any such eventualities. Again, I asked the assistant to offer Apple alternatives; he responded that they were, “fantastic machines” but they tended to be more expensive. Without any prompting, he told me that I would need a colour printer and scanner, showing me an Epson and HP model, each priced £59.99, as well as Microsoft Office at £99.99 and Norton Anti- Virus software.

Overall, I was impressed; I appreciated the sales person’s recommendation of the software package and accessories without the need for prompting.

CURRYS – 6/10
This store had a disadvantage in that it was located at the far end of the retail park with a dark and uninviting entrance. Entering the store, I quickly noticed that the look and feel of the interior was different to the previous two retailers visited, presenting a less clean feel to its layout.

I walked straight to the computer aisle and looked at both desktop and laptop machines for around five minutes without interruption from one of the assistants standing by a nearby checkout. Disappointingly, an assistant walked past, ignoring me whilst I tried to get her attention. A minute or so later I was approached by another assistant who stopped and asked me what I was looking for.

This advisor’s product knowledge was good, recommending a Samsung laptop at £379.99. Acer and ASUS models were mentioned again, both at £599.99. Microsoft Office (£99.99) and Norton Internet Security were also recommended. He went on to explain that I could a get a “bit of a deal” if I bought all of these items together.

Whilst talking over the final elements of the sale, the assistant was interrupted by another staff member asking if he knew about a cooker that had not been delivered. This was an unwelcome interruption, annoying me as the assistant abruptly asked his burning questions, choosing not to wait for a break in the conversation.

This spoilt a flawless sale and good product knowledge from the assistant that I had been speaking to for some time.

MAPLIN – 6/10
Located in the centre of Chelmsford, this store boasted bright and engaging signage with plenty of activity in the window. Inside it was immediately obvious from its look that this company’s history lies in the supply of electronic components and that it had latterly moved into the selling of computer peripherals, video and audio products.

It did not have the product range offered in other retailers visited, although having said that I wasn’t disappointed by the customer service approach and personable meet and greet representative who asked me if there was anything in particular I was looking for today.

I explained that my son was starting senior school in September and that I needed advice on what he would need. Interestingly, he was the only person to suggest an iPad as being “ideal for school work, gaming, music and videos”.

An interesting and reasonable suggestion, which I suspect was driven by the fact that Maplin’s range of PCs are not as great as other retailers, although a HP laptop was offered at £299.99 and an Acer Aspire with a lower price tag of £265.65. He made other suggestions as to what I might need which Maplin stocked, but none of them were really relevant.

The assistant was honest, tenacious and tried to get a sale from his instore product range.

STAPLES – 2/10
The outside of the store was well signed, modern and inviting with a theme of modernity and brightness carrying through with well stocked displays and aisles and an almost supermarket feel to it.

I was not greeted by anyone as I entered the store with no meet and greet on the door. Apart from a person at the checkout and another cleaning shelves, there were no other staff members to be seen. I was able to walk around the entire store and look at the computer aisle for at least ten minutes without interruption. Eventually I asked the person near the checkout if anyone could help me. She shouted across the store for someone to come over. After a few minutes and several more shouts, a manager came out from a side door and came over.

I explained what I was looking for, and his response was that all of the stationery was on aisles one to four and computers and printers were “over there,” pointing to the computer displays. Pressing for more information and possible recommendations, I told him that I was not a computer expert and did not really understand the different types of machines. He advised that he wasn’t an expert either and repeated his previous direction to the stationery and computer aisles. I took the hint and moved off in that direction before leaving the store.

Overall, the shopping experiences from both Comet and PC World were the best. The salesman in Comet went the extra mile; although he offered other products not related to the brief in terms of school needs, he was clearly thinking about the person being purchased for and trying for that extra sale was fair enough.

Samsung & Acer were the most recommended products across stores, together with the add-ons of Office and anti-virus. Staples was very disappointing; Whilst I appreciate the assistant didn’t wish to offer advice if he was unsure, he could have easily recommended another colleague.

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