Money is no object in PCR's South London search for an MP3 player

Mystery Shopper: Croydon


Upon entering the quiet store’s music section I was immediately approached by a sales assistant who asked if he could help. There were three brands represented on the display – Apple, Sony and Archos.

After relaying my story, I was directed to an Apple iPod and picked out the Touch, with its large screen and wi-fi access. “The Touch has many features which makes it more than just a music player; you can use the app store to buy games and programmes that let it do many more things. It’s like a mini computer,” I was told by the sales assistant.

“Because of the iPod’s popularity there is triple the selection of accessories and docks. For your 100 albums I would suggest the 16GB model, which would have more than enough space.”

I prompted him to show me some other devices. Moving away from the Apple area, the other MP3 players were neatly displayed but were not demo-ready. The salesman picked out a couple of units as being ‘good’, but unfortunately never went any deeper into their feature sets. Instead he moved onto docks – specifically for Apple devices – demonstrating an Altech device for the iPod Touch and iPhone, which had impressive sound quality.

I was a little disappointed with the visit. I had expected a less biased opinion given the wide choice of MP3 players available, but the advice was reasonable none the less.

Score: 6/10


“An iPod Classic would be the right choice for you,” stated the sales assistant as he navigated through the menu screens of the recommended device. He was making excellent use of the live iPod displays with multiple demo-ready products, rather than pointing out other brands’ players, which were switched off in a protective glass cabinet. I pushed him to see what else Comet has to offer.

“The Sony 16GB (NWZA845B) would have enough memory space for your needs; it’s £139.99 and has digital integrated noise-canceling,” he told me. Comparing the iPod and Sony NWZ in terms of memory for money did leave the Sony trailing behind the £200 iPod Classic with 160GB of space.

“You could also use the iPod as an external hard drive,” I was advised. With regards to docks, I was told: “We have a number of MP3 player docks. The majority are for iPods, but if you choose another brand you can always use a 3.5mm line-in.”

The member of staff pointed out the Bose SoundDock Portable (with a rechargeable battery, £349.99), Bose SoundDock Series 2 (mains only, £249.99), a JBL On Time 5 (£129.99) and the Sony SRSGU101P (£99.99).

Demonstrating the JBL and Bose units with the same song, I found the JBL had great clarity but the low wattage prevented high volume playback, whilst both Bose units produced the best performance at any volume.

The salesman was comfortable showing me the Apple products aided by the display, which allowed him to show off the devices at any time, compared to every other MP3 player in stock. I just thought it was a shame that he was unable to provide a side-by-side demonstration.

Score: 7/10


The sales assistant began with a quick summary of what Sony MP3 players and Apple iPods were capable of, as he said they were the most suitable products the store had for my needs.

“Both Sony and Apple used to use their own music format which only played on their devices, but both now use MP3 which is the most common,” I was told. He showed me the iPod products including the Touch, Classic and Nano, detailing the key features and the fact all could carry my 100 albums.

I asked which was the best for ease of use. “For the average customer the iPods offer that bit more due to the vast range of accessories created specifically for the range. The docks also tend to be a bit cheaper as there is more competition. For your needs I would edge towards an Apple iPod, but the exact model depends on your budget or purpose of use,” he said.

Looking at the docks the salesman pointed out the Bose SoundDock Portable with its rechargeable battery. “You could always use a surround sound setup or a mini hi-fi with an iPod dock,” the member of staff stated. We viewed the Sony BDVE370 5.1 system (£299.95) which allows an iPod to be connected via the USB port and the Sony CMTBX77DBI (£129.99). Both produced great sound and could be considered as a solution, but I was sold on the Bose.

I was pleased with the service received; the salesman knew his stuff and was happy to take the time to show me other products that met my needs. With third-party firms building iPod compatibility into their products, it was hard to see the benefit of choosing any other MP3 player.

Score: 9/10


All the members of staff were busy as I browsed the store’s MP3 player section, but I was eventually approached by a sales assistant who apologised for the delay and offered his services.

The display was somewhat limited in comparison to the other stores I visited in Croydon, but it included a selection of iPods, a few Sony units and a discontinued Archos device.

The salesman looked uneasy when I asked his advice regarding the best option for my needs. “I would say an iPod,” he replied. There seemed to be a lack of certainty behind the recommendation, so I asked the salesman why. He then admitted that he did not have a great deal of technical knowledge as he hadn’t worked in store for long. “From my experience iPods are very popular choices and I have used them in the past,” he said.

I changed tack and moved onto speaker docks. The staff member took me over to the display, but unfortunately all of the products were unplugged, denying me the opportunity for a sound test. I thanked the sales assistant fand made my excuses. On a different day this visit might have been ten times better. I found the customer service polite and honest, but it did not quite fulfill my needs.

Score: 6/10


After I explained my requirements to the salesman, he said there was nothing he could suggest other than an iPod as it was all they had in stock. He added that a Classic would be the best option for me.

The MP3 players were all laid out and demo-ready. He picked up the iPod Classic and demonstrated music and video playback to me.

“Would you like to speak to the Apple expert?” the member of staff asked, but I declined. I asked my helper which brands he preferred. “Sony has great sound quality and Archos has amazing video playback and recording options,” he said.

I then asked about the speaker docks. Retrieving his own iPod Touch from his pocket, the sales assistant took me through the devices available, starting with products from B&W and Panasonic, and moving on to his favourite, the Harmon Kardon Go Play (£249). When listening to this speaker, the sound quality was far greater than the other brands.

This was a great visit; I was well looked after and couldn’t have asked for better customer service. The assistant knew his stuff and showed great enthusiasm when talking about the products, despite the lack of MP3 player competition.

Score: 8/10


The sole member of staff on the electricals section was busy as I entered, so I browsed the available devices. Once available, he was straight over to help. “I think an 8GB player would suffice for 100 albums; we have a number of iPods that would do,” he said.

I asked if there were any other options and he looked over the ticketing for some specs to recite to me. The product range was limited, with little to match up to the Apple display, but the sales assistant said I could find more products on the Tesco website.

The Sony A-Series player was suggested as an alternative. “This one has a built-in FM radio and is 16GB,” the salesman read from the ticket. Once again I got that sinking feeling that all I was going to get was the iPod.

We moved onto speaker docks. The section was large, but the products were all unplugged. I asked which had the best sound. “I don’t know, I’ve never heard them,” came the reply. Brilliant. “The JBL has a strong reputation, though.”

I left the store not really knowing what to make of the visit. The salesman did pick out a suitable player, but with little product knowledge demonstrated I left more puzzled than when I went in.

Score: 3/10

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