Mystery Shopper: Harlow

With its shopping centre and retail park, Harlow has a host of tech stores to browse. This month, our Mystery Shopper is tasked with locating a £300 laptop for the back to school period… 

Argos 8/10

As I entered Argos I thought I would try and find a budget-friendly laptop using the store’s catalogues, but I was eager to get the opinion of one of the assistants. 

Once the lady behind the till was free, I asked her for some help, to which I was promptly asked if I needed a disk drive. I told her it wasn’t necessary but that it would be useful.

After tapping away at her till she told me that the Toshiba C50-B-13N, down from £269.99 to £249.99 would be ideal for a student, and that I could get an Office 365 and McAfee bundle thrown in for an extra £50.

My friendly helper then explained that I could take out an Argos card to distribute the price over 12 months, and that I could also get back-up cover for £6.49 a month. She went on to tell me how beneficial the cover was and that she even uses it herself on her range of devices at home. 

Before wishing me a happy day, I headed out of the store in search of a wider variety of notebooks. 

Currys/PC World 7/10

The retail outlet in Harlow had been merged into both Currys and PC World, with a Carphone Warehouse section, which set the bar high for me. I went in thinking there would be a great selection of laptops on offer and I wasn’t disappointed, with devices from Apple, HP, ASUS, Acer and Toshiba all on show. 

While I was browsing the range, a gentleman came over and asked if I needed any help, saying another assistant would be over to help out shortly. The wait turned out to be a much longer one, but after about 10 minutes or so another man strolled over. 

He asked me what I needed the device for and what my budget was, and suggested I try the HP 15-G259SA notebook, as it had 500GB of storage. In addition he explained that Office 365 was available as a bundle for an extra £100, taking the price up to £369.99 – a little over my budget. 

After explaining why this option was best thanks to its variety of specs, he left me to have a think.

Staples 7/10

I have never normally considered Staples as a hub for computers, but the laptop selection stood out like a sore thumb, right in front of the entrance where the likes of Toshiba, Acer and ASUS decorated the counters. 

Having walked around the range for a few minutes, I still hadn’t been approached by an assistant, so I decided to ask for some help. 

After my helper walked over, he asked what I was looking for and told me that the HP I5-R101NA notebook for £269 or the Acer Aspire ES1-512 notebook priced at £229 would be perfect for my needs.

I was pleased to hear that the assistant also had knowledge regarding the processors and told me that the Celeron processor with the Acer device would provide me with enough storage and power. 

But with no mention of Office 365, I prompted him to see if this was available. Thankfully it was in a bundle with a price tag of £50. With no pressure to buy, I was then left to have a think. 

Maplin 5/10

Known for its abundance of electrical goods, I was excited to enter Maplin, but this feeling was short-lived. 

As I entered I could see a variety of tech goods around, from cables to speakers, and I was immediately greeted by one of the staff members with a warm smile.

Once I told him that I was after a budget-friendly laptop, I was informed that the store carried no such products. 

After a short pause with no alternative suggestions, I asked if they had any online. My helper did reveal that there was stock online and invited me over to a kiosk where we could browse the selection. 

He bought up the store’s website and virtually escorted me to the laptop selection, but sadly all that my helper could find was a gaming laptop from PC Specialist, which was priced at £679.99, and an addition from Acer with an 11-inch screen. 

I think his spirits were slightly dampened by the selection, and suggested I try Staples or Currys. So off I went to search somewhere else.

PC Fix 7/10

Walking past this indie store, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I noticed a wall decorated with all sorts of laptops, so I decided to give it a go. 

Another customer was already being tended to, so I had to wait a while to get some service. But out of nowhere, another staff member popped up behind me asking if I needed help. 

He informed me that each of the laptops had been reconditioned, came with Windows 7 and all ran perfectly. He guided me through the majority of his selection, which included Acer, Sony and Toshiba, but he suggested I try out the Sony Vaio VGN FW21L for £259.99 or the Compact Presario for £299.99. I was also then offered a free installation of Office 365 with each device, should I choose to purchase one. 

However, while these devices were reasonably cheap, I felt the price was a little steep for a re-conditioned laptop and decided to have a think about the decision. 

CeX 9/10 Star Store

Although this store perhaps isn’t known for its plethora of laptops, I found the service top notch. 

The store was buzzing with life as I entered, with customers nosing through the tech gadgets and DVDs on offer. I had a browse of the second-hand laptops in the shop window and approached one of the store members for some guidance. 

Sticking to my budget, he went on to show me a Samsung NP91553G laptop for £205 and a slightly pricier Dell E6520 for £280. It was clear my helper knew his stuff, as he talked me through the hard drive and RAM availability, but told me that I would need to buy Office.

He also advised that I shouldn’t splash out on certain devices or something that costs over £300 as a student, and I found his honesty of great value during my time in the store.

After sizing up my options, he told me that I should consider looking elsewhere to make sure I pick the right device, and I left the store with a smile on my face.


All in all, Harlow turned out to be a success for a low-cost laptop, albeit Maplin was slightly disappointing. I was surprised the outlet carried no devices in-store and that my helper couldn’t find a better selection online. 

I was impressed by the great selection on offer in Currys/PC World, but I found that the sluggish response from the customer service team was a bit of a hindrance to my visit. In addition, I found that the staff in Staples were not very keen to assist with my query, as I had to ask one of the assistants for help before anyone bothered to approach me.

As an indie store, PC Fix had a great range available and the fact that everything was competitively priced was a bonus. Plus, Argos’ friendly customer service made my time spent in the store a pleasure, while the assistant’s knowledge and attention to detail also impressed. 

But this week CeX certainly proved itself as a worthy contender. Although the store didn’t have a huge selection of laptops, it certainly made up for that on service – a worthy winner this month.

PCR’s Sector Spotlight on Education is running throughout August – click here for more articles

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