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PCR goes in search of a wireless router

Mystery Shopper: Stoke on Trent

PC World

I would be amazed if anyone didn’t know this store had a sale on as they entered; inside, point of sale picked out prominently displayed items which were reduced in price and positioned in high footfall locations.

The store layout was easy to follow despite the size and I quickly located the routers, neatly displayed between hard drives and PC accessories. Both Belkin and Netgear had the lion’s share of the shelving space at eye level. Display boards around the products gave step-by-step instructions about how routers work and how to select the correct product for your needs, breaking the units into two separate sections – cable or landline.

I decided to hunt down some help via the customer help desk and found an assistant, who enquired about my needs and what I intended to use the router for. I explained I would be printing and sharing files including video, photos and music.

“I would say the Belkin N300+ Modem router kit would a good choice,” he said. “I’ve used this before and it’s quick and has a good range. The router kit is priced at £129.99 and includes a USB port that allows an external hard drive to be linked directly to the router and shared with wirelessly connected laptops and PCs.”

He was very enthusiastic about the product and had answers for all of my queries. I was very impressed with how he simplified technical answers without sounding at all patronising.

I asked for some information to take away, which the store assistant quickly located. He commented: “If you have any questions or issues, please come back and see me. We have a technical support line and online support as well should you need any help.”

A comparison to another product would have been useful, but the choice made was given with confidence. I left the store having nearly bought a router I didn’t need – a very good sign indeed.

Score: 8/10

Currys Digital

The snowy weather was obviously taking its toll on the footfall level as the store was quiet and staff milled around freely, appearing unoccupied. The front of the shop displayed bold posters shouting ‘sale’ and ‘no VAT added’ from the large window bays either side of the entrance.

I found the router shelves and began inspecting the options available. Belkin and Netgear products dominated the display, ranging in price from £29.99 to £139.99. After ten minutes of browsing the boxes I went to search out assistance, found a member of staff, and he happily returned to the display to advise me.

On handing me a boxed product, he began: “I would choose the Belkin enhanced wireless connection starter kit. It comes with a high speed ADSL router with built-in modem and a USB dongle in case your laptop doesn’t have wireless built in. It uses wireless N standards, so it has a very fast network connection.”

This choice looked acceptable and seemed to tick all the necessary boxes. I wasn’t exactly sure what ‘wireless N standards’ were, but he spoke with confidence, which was reassuring. “This is a popular router, because you get the USB dongle as well as the router for a competitive price; Linksys does a similarly priced and featured device but I prefer Belkin.”

The assistant looked to have made his mind up that this was the product for me, so I thanked him for his time. I was pleased with the overall mystery shop; it didn’t set the world alight, but I received a solid recommendation backed by good product knowledge and confidence.

Score: 9/10

Comet

The large windows gave unobstructed views into the tidy two-tiered store and there were sales posters in them too. Once inside, I found a router range including Develo, Belkin and Netgear products.

There were many staff members around, but it took ten minutes to catch the attention of one, who asked how he could help me. I recited my quest and he paused for thought before reaching for a Netgear DGB111G Wireless G Modem Router Bundle priced at £59.99.

“This should do it,” he said, while reading the box. “It comes with a USB dongle to plug into your laptop or PC if it isn’t already wirelessly enabled.” “That sounds good,” I replied. “But what makes this better than the others you have?” At this point I think the box didn’t have much more to give as the assistant’s conviction in his decision began to waver. I waited, hoping for a second choice or an up-sell, but he seemed to be done.

I asked whether he had any literature to take away, but when he replied that he didn’t, I thanked him for his time and let him go. With a range of routers available comparable to other stores visited, the experience was lacking in the actual sale process. The reliance on the product box to deliver sales information doesn’t inspire confidence in choices, especially if you have already read it.

Score: 5/10

Currys

Large exterior posters promoted the January sale and ‘No VAT increase on selected lines’ as I approached the well-lit store. A recent refit was evident with a new layout, fixtures and signage throughout the sales floor.

The router range was slightly smaller than I expected from such a large store, though Belkin was well represented. An explanation board was located between the cable and landline router sections to help customers narrow the choices displayed.

After ten minutes of browsing, I asked for assistance. The staff member listened carefully and picked up the Belkin G54 Modem Router and Adaptor Bundle, priced at £74.99. “This has a USB dongle included, which you can plug into your laptop or desktop PC if it isn’t already wireless compatible. It uses the G standard, which should be adequate for your needs and has 128bit WEP encryption for security.”

He went on to talk about signal strength and the differences between cable and landline routers, which showed his product knowledge was very good but his pitch was a little too technical for my understanding. I got some information to take away and left feeling informed, but unsure if the product recommended was really the best for me.

Score: 7/10

Summary:

It was surprising to find so much variation in the knowledge levels of staff about a product that is essential to most customers. Recommendations largely relied on personal experiences rather than solid product knowledge, although Belkin proved a more popular recommendation in national stores.

The mystery shop showed that good customer service can be given within any retail store and that it is not dependent on range size or square footage. It boils down to a personal exchange offering a clear, confident choice backed with product knowledge and enthusiasm.

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