Our Mystery Shopper visited retailers in Derby to find out how easy it was to buy a storage device to save all of her data, on the move and from home, using both laptop and desktop PCs. The results were varied...

Mystery Shopper


Salesmen were circling the shop floor, on the look out, like vultures, so as not to miss a sale. I wandered round for a bit before stopping by the laptops, had a quick look and approached an assistant nearby. I needed a storage device to back up my data from both my laptop and desktop PCs. What could he offer?

The shelves were almost empty apart from an external hard drive, which I was told was the one “ideal solution for me.” He recited every last piece of writing on the price ticket and literature wrapped around the box, like a choir boy reading from his hymn book. When interrupting to ask him to explain in laymen’s terms what some of the specification information meant, I was told simply, “it means it’s good and exactly what you need.”

There was a half-hearted attempt to explain what 1TB of data was, but I was left feeling more confused than before. There was no mention of using a memory stick or DVD discs even after numerous, obvious hints. The Western Digital, mains powered, 500GB hard drive was £64.99 and was also my only option. I left the store feeling quite confused and not really feeling as though I had discovered the storage device for me.

SCORE: 4/10


I didn’t notice the store straight away as it seemed to have been taken over by a large tree. Having found the door and made it to the computer section, I was approached by an eager young salesman, asking me if I required any help.

After reciting my storage tale of woe and ruling out discs, a discussion ensued, firstly concerning 8GB memory sticks. The benefits outlined were the size; an obvious one I thought, compact, easy to use and portable.

The product offered was at a very affordable price of £39.99, boasting 16GB. This was the only product offered, with no real discussion on external hard drives, despite a range of stock. This was disappointing as the sale was brilliant up until then. I was unsure as to whether this was due to lack of product knowledge or if he was already sure he’d found the right solution for me.

SCORE: 6/10

PC World

I was immediately greeted at the door by a smartly dressed young chap. I asked him for his assistance and explained that I was looking for storage devices as we walked over to the stock.

Being told that backing up data onto discs was a “thing of the past,” this option was quickly excluded, followed by the memory stick as the only size they had in stock
had 1GB capacity. The feedback that I received was that there would not be enough memory to allow me enough flexibility for my needs. The only option left was the external hard drive. The salesman briefly explained all models, before giving no explanation as to the benefits and disadvantages between the brands other than the price, of which the cheapest one was recommended. The WD 320GB, a USB powered external hard drive, priced £74.99, was placed into my hands, adding in an excited tone that it was available in a multitude of different colours. Okay – as if a different colour would help.

This was a quick sale and a prompt greeting with, I felt at times, limited knowledge. He didn’t want to discuss the range of products other than to offer the cheapest.

SCORE: 5/10


I was greeted by a group of three girls gossiping at the entrance. Trying to get their attention numerous times I finally made eye contact. Speaking to one of them directly, with the others listening to the conversation, I was hoping the knowledge of three had to be better than one. Here goes, I thought, asking for an external data storage device. I was greeted with blank faces.

I thought I would help by suggesting that an external hard drive or something similar was the type of product I was looking for. I listened to the sales assistant as she read from the
price tickets. I still felt no further forward in my search for external data storage devices. I carried the conversation, discussing if a memory stick would be appropriate, but as before she just pointed to each product individually, identifying the capacity.

There was no effort to identify my needs, limited product knowledge and no product recommendation.

SCORE: 3/10


This store was quite different to others visited today; clean, tidy, almost clinical in its look. I wandered around the pod display units before finding a glass cabinet towards the rear of the store. There were external hard drives, memory sticks and spindled discs. I was approached by a smartly dressed salesman. This chap really wanted to help me and his attitude was a breath of fresh air compared to my other experiences of the day.

Again, I explained that I was shopping for a device that would allow me to store a fair amount of data, which was to be used on both my laptop and home PC. What could he recommend? I was quizzed over the amount of data I had stored to help determine the size of the product needed. As in the other stores he immediately ruled out discs, due to them being prone to damage, before quickly moving on to discuss memory sticks.

Although he believed there would be enough memory on the 8GB USB stick for what I had stored at present, he felt it would be better to buy a product with a larger memory base for when I have greater amounts of data, to prevent me spending extra money in the future.

This certainly was good sound advice and seemed to be carefully thought through. The product recommended was the Lacie 160GB portable USB hard drive. This would allow me to access data on my laptop, on the move, as well as being able to use with my home PC and was also at the very reasonable price of £49.99.

I left the store able to make a knowledgeable decision based on the information given by the sales consultant. This was the only store that attempted to close the sale, considered my future use and storage capacity needs.

SCORE: 9/10


The store was quite obviously very short of staff; just three sales assistants were working hard serving customers. Pacing up and down the laptop aisle a cheery faced area manager approached me, apologised for my wait and asked how he could help.

I explained my storage tale, emphasising that I needed to back up from my laptop and desktop. I had three options available to me, an external hard drive, a memory stick and finally a disc. Bingo! A clear and concise explanation of each product was given and the benefits of each product communicated. In our joint quest we ruled out the disc storage option through fear of scratching them. This left me the options of the memory stick or the external hard drive.

He asked me to tell him the amount of data I was backing up. Not sure, I said, but I do have quite a few music tracks and videos, also some documents and pictures. The memory stick was suggested first due to its small size, then quickly dismissed as it may not have been enough for what I needed, leaving option number three as the front runner.

The Maxtor 250GB external hard drive was powered by a USB port and ideal for using with my laptop on the move, boasted a slim-light weight design and was priced at £59.99. This was great; I had been given an understanding of both portable types of media storage from sticks to hard drives and benefited from a full explanation of each. I left the store with a greater understanding of storage products and satisfied with the service given.

SCORE: 7/10


I guess it was the type of product which was Mystery Shopped this month; what we found was that sales staff were only prepared to recommend one product and not explain in detail each and every type. It seemed they had their favourite and recommended on a personal usage basis – which I guess isn’t a bad thing to do.

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