IT magazine PCR, recently sent a mystery shopper to a number of the IT stores in the Lakeside area.
Let us see how they got on:
Arriving at the store early in the morning it was apparent that the place was operating on skeleton staff levels, with the few workers visible doing stock checks and ignoring my presence.
After 15 minutes of being the only customer in the PC section, I was approached by someone. I told him I wanted to create a PC-based entertainment system and he asked if I was looking for an all-in-one or a tower PC, explaining that the tower benefits from being upgradeable, while the all-in-one will look a lot sleeker. I chose the latter and he told me to look around at the models ranged while he sent someone over. Another 15 minutes passed and still no-one had come to help.
A Packard Bell rep arrived and showed me the Packard Bell D6020uk for £649, demonstrating Windows Media Centre, highlighting the built-in Freeview and informing me about the 640GB hard drive. He claimed that the model was the only one in-store with Freeview built in; however during my 30 minutes of browsing I knew that this wasn’t the case.
He then asked if I had Sky at home, telling me about using Sky Player if I did. Finally he told me how the optimised Dolby Headphone technology used by Packard Bell will improve the sound quality when using headphones or connecting PC speakers.
At this point there was still no sign of any PC World employees available to help and, asking where the PC speakers were, he proceeded to take me to them and look at what they ranged. He recommended the JBL Creature II 2.1 unit, an opinion based on him happily owning the smaller version. Getting out his phone he then tried to demonstrate it.
However, it had not been set up for demonstrations, as was the case with the majority of the other PC speakers on display in the store.
I also said that I would need a router to create a network; he again showed me their range, recommending the Belkin N150 for £39.99, explaining the range benefits of Wireless N giving better range.
The Packard Bell member of staff had been friendly and helpful with a good knowledge of Packard Bell and a general understanding of speakers and networks.
It was only on leaving the store that the member of staff assigned to welcoming customers asked if I had found what I was looking for – 45 minutes too late. I was disappointed that I was not served by a member of PC World staff.
Despite visiting the store early I was one of the few customers in the store, none of which I saw being served.
Located in the shadow of Best Buy is perhaps one of the smaller Comet stores in the group. My immediate impression was that the range was a lot smaller than that of PC World and Currys and that, despite it now being midday, there were still very few members of sales staff on the shop floor.
Letting the sales assistant know what I was after, he confidently recommended the Packard Bell D6020uk, £699.99, quoting that it had good specs for multimedia usage and a built-in TV tuner – at a good price. Asking about the few higher end all-inone units they had, he replied that they would be better for games.
The assistant then showed me the speakers ranged, demonstrating and highly praising the Bose Companion 3s, saying that the superior sound quality would really make the difference when watching films. He also pointed out that I could connect them to my phone/MP3 player, as well as my PC.
We then moved onto the routers after I said I needed to set up a network, with him recommending the Belkin Wireless N router. “It has the greatest range so you could use it in your garden for a party,” he said. He also explained the ease of setup and the importance of setting up a wireless security key.
The advice had felt rushed, and he showed me only one product in each section. But he always referred back to my needs and his advice and recommendations were sound. The assistant is a great salesman, but I got the impression that he was stressed, quite possibly due to pressure caused by the arrival of Best Buy, and it was this stress which affected my experience and would have made me take his recommendations and look elsewhere to get the best price rather than buy there and then.
In the PC section of this new store I was greeted by a chap who, in an American fashion, thanked me for coming to the store, introduced himself and then asked me my name.
He then proceeded to ask questions: “What are you looking for, laptop or desktop and what size screen?” Mentioning the multimedia/entertainment system and possibly a larger screen, he recommended a Mac, leading me to the Mac area where he showed me the iMacs. He demonstrated the new features. I was thoroughly impressed and even if I hadn’t used a Mac before, I would have felt confident in buying and learning, especially when they told me that I could book an in-store training session if there was anything I wanted to learn.
I said that I was impressed by the 21.5-inch iMac, £949, and would probably choose it as my centrepiece to the system. Taking the hint that I wasn’t done the assitant then suggested speakers to improve the sound experience. The PC speaker section was instantly different to that of the other stores as all of them were demo-ready.
Enquiring about routers, I was shown the full range. The assistant asked how big an area I needed the wireless to cover, using points in the store as examples of G and N ranges, as well as asking if there would be more than one active computer using the wireless internet at once.
The Best Buy assistant was confident and able to help you to make a decision on a product without being pushy. He didn’t use technical jargon, instead explaining it in an easy to understand manner. The demonstrations in store made a huge difference to the visit and my experience.
Explaining my desire for an entertainment set-up, the Apple sales assistant said, “I’d assume you’re looking for a large screen,” showing me the 21.5-inch iMac.
Highlighting the two key different models, 21.5- inch and 27-inch he said that although the 27-inch had the bigger screen I wouldn’t need the extra power so it may not justify the £400 price difference and that the base iMac would do me fine for £969. This came as a bit of a shock as the 27-inch dwarfed its younger sibling and I feel more could have been made of the value of having a larger screen.
Moving on to speakers, he showed me the B&W range, however almost immediately added that they are “very expensive at around £400” before taking me to the small Bose Companion two speakers for £99.95. He advised that they would offer better sound and more bass than the iMac but admitted that for films it might be better to go for a 2.1 speaker setup, something they didn’t stock.
I noticed the EyeTV USB sticks stocked and enquired about them. To my surprise he recommended using TVCatchup online for free, rather than selling me the many benefits of EyeTV such as being able to record. Whilst in store I was potentially undersold twice.
This store’s width, plus its second floor, makes it the largest Currys Megastore in the country. There are many manufacturer dedicated areas, including Blackberry, TomTom, Apple and HP.
Looking at the all-in-ones, the assistant pointed out the same Packard Bell model recommended in PC World, D6020uk. I hinted at an interest in a larger screen, to which he highlighted an Acer, and then the Packard Bell X8020uk, pointing out that for the extra £150, over the D6020uk, I’d get a bigger screen, quad processor, bigger hard drive, extra 1GB of RAM and a dedicated graphics card. This had easily sold me on the step up between the two Packard Bells.
Moving over to the PC speakers, there were very few speakers demo ready, despite a display which seemed to be designed as a control screen for the content playing on all the speakers. This surprised and frustrated the member of staff, who apologised that I couldn’t listen to the ones he recommended.
The assistant was very friendly and instantly likeable. Throughout my time in store he willingly recommended products. However he let me know that he was there to help and that it was my money, so should ultimately be my decision and preference.
I was disappointed by a number of things in most stores during my day. The first was that none of the stores really picked up on my home entertainment setup wish by suggesting products to go with the PC. Instead I had to ask about speakers, with the exception of Best Buy.
The other issue was demonstrations. PC World and Currys performed the worst, while the demonstrations given in Comet and Apple were brief. It was only Best Buy that shone, taking it away from the specs and price and focusing on the important bits – usage and quality.
The key thing to take from this is that Best Buy has arrived and is as good at customer service and showing off technology as it claims to be.