We travelled to Southampton just before Christmas to check out the best deals and prices on technology. So just what did the port city's consumer electronics retailers have in store? In the first of this month's two-part Mystery Shopper feature, we visit Currys, Sony Centre and PC World.

Mystery Shopper ? Southampton


A chorus of ‘good afternoon’ from a number of sales staff greeted me as I entered this High Street heavy weight. I got straight to the point, asking for Christmas recommendations and offers. The sales assistant showed me the PC area, gesturing towards Asus’ 701 netbook, adding: "for only £179.99 this is a great little computer, loaded with a Linux operating system, 512MB memory and an 8GB flash hard drive."

We left before I could look around at anything else, moving onto the camera section where I was shown the Panasonic S7 digital camcorder, reduced by £30 to £149.99. This was an ultra portable camcorder with SD card, ten-times optical zoom, 2.7-inch LCD screen and an image stabiliser. He didn’t seem to know much beyond what was on the ticket, but happily provided me with a list of the specs for me to take away and mull over before considering a purchase.

Music was the next and final category, as I was shown an iPod speaker system, a popular choice, according to the assistant. I was given a demo of its two ten watt speakers and 50 watt sub-woofer. At half price – £79.99 – this was a good sounding system to thrill any of the millions of iPod users this Christmas. As in Currys.digital (page 36) there was also a £10 gift voucher up for grabs.

The store had a great range of all the latest gadgets and technology, supported by solid price points and eye catching POS.

Sony Centre

I was warmly greeted by one of the sales saff as I looked over some of the products near the entrance. "What products would make good Christmas presents?" I asked the assistant.

To start off with, I was shown the Sony NWZS639F MP3 player. "This is from the new range of Sony players and has £30 off at the moment, down to £99.99," the sales assistant said. The player’s features include BBCi Player compatible, 40 hours of battery life, two-inch QVGA screen and a ‘sense me’ mode, which matches music to a user’s mood.

A camera was the next item; a Sony Cybershot W-170 on offer at £169 with a free 4GB memory stick included. It boasted 10.2 mega pixels, five-times optical zoom, double anti-blur and a 2.7-inch screen. Quite an impressive specification for the price.

Finally I was shown the Sony DAV-IS50 home theatre kit, priced £399 – the last one they had – with the smallest speakers I have ever seen. "This micro speaker system has won awards from What Hi-Fi," the assistant said. The system may have had tiny speakers, but a massive spec, including HDMI upscaling, the ability to sync with Sony’s Bravia range of televisions, a digital amp and a digital media port.

A good range of products for the Christmas season – I could have stayed in there longer.

PC World

This story seemed strangely quiet and as I moved along the aisles, I noticed the shelves were looking very barren, with empty gaps where my wallet-friendly products should have been. On each aisle end was a Christmas deal poster, but again very few actually had any stock to promote. I wandered around aimlessly for about fifteen minutes before I approached someone for some help.

I found the store manager. Asking him where the best deals were for Christmas, he breathed a sigh and said: "Sadly, we haven’t got much as the store has just had a refit and we haven’t received much of our stock back yet. Most of the Christmas offers start next week." I could understand the problem he was facing, but I was keen not to have wasted the trip so I pressed him for a product recommendation.

He asked a nearby sales assistant to help. This chap was keen on his keyboards, showing me to an end aisle where three types of Logitech keyboard stood.

"The cheap £9.99 one isn’t that good, but if you want a decent present to give someone that doesn’t cost the earth I’d recommend the LX710 for £29.99, saving £20," he said. This wireless keyboard was ideal for music and photo fans, providing instant access to your tunes and pictures, ready for Windows Vista functions, programmable hot keys and included a matching wireless laser mouse.

After the keyboard offer, I was shown to the back of the store, which housed the TV and audio section. On another aisle, where the Christmas offers were, was the Panasonic PT460EB Home Theatre kit.

The sales assistant noted: "This is a great offer. There is £70 off, bringing the price down to £179.99." It boasted 1,000 watts of power, HDMI upscaling, an iPod dock, PAL progressive mode, optical link and Dolby Pro-logic II. "Panasonic is a great brand for audio equipment," he said, reminding me that it has 1,000 watts of power. He seemed genuinely passionate about the product.

I was a little disappointed with the lack of promotions the store had. However, considering the store had just undergone a refit and it was missing a lot of stock, it would be unfair to mark it down too much.

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