'Like stepping into an Aladdin's cave of computer parts' - Mystery Shopper

This month PCR’s Mystery Shopper goes in search of a keyboard for different tablets in Kingston
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Kingston Upon Thames is an up and coming town centre for shopping, packed full of unique boutiques including small independent computer repair shops and larger tech stores.

This month PCR’s Mystery Shopper goes in search of a keyboard for different tablets – here’s how they got on in six different stores...

Maplin - 8/10

This is the first techie shop I walked past on my way into the town centre, so I ducked in, hopeful that trusty old Maplin wouldn’t let me down.

I was greeted at the door and promptly followed around the shop floor. I’m never sure whether this is to make sure that help is close by if needed, or if I just look suspicious. Either way, I continued around the store with my pursuer hot on my tail, ensuring I looked well and truly lost in the hope that it would encourage some form of customer service.

It took a few minutes of awkward glances before my observer offered his help. Once he did, though, he was packed full of knowledge about the different types of keyboards available. Sadly, there weren’t many tablet keyboards available in Maplin’s store. But the Bluetooth keyboard portfolio case for iPad 2 priced at £19.99 and the keyboard dock for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 priced at £44.99 were a good enough selection, considering both are popular amongst users.

John Lewis - 5/10

This is a rather large John Lewis outlet: one of those stores that’s really easy to get lost in. I followed the signs to the ‘Audio and TV’ section. I was half expecting a John Lewis version of Hogwarts to appear as I made my way.

I couldn’t immediately see where the electronics were, so I milled about near a group of employees, looking lost, in the hope that one of them might offer some assistance. They didn’t, so I did a lap of the floor and attempted for a second time to coax one from the pack. After a few minutes

of looking like a lone child in a supermarket, the lady at the cashier called over to ask if I was okay.

After finally finding my way to the tech section and asking for assistance, I was taken to the selection of keyboards.

The keyboard/case combo for iPad Air was priced at £89.95, and the other (which was just a keyboard mount) didn’t have a price on it at all. I asked if either one would work with any other iOS or Android device, however the shop assistant didn’t know... he then wandered off.

Computer Exchange - 9/10 Star Store

Even though Computer Exchange (CeX) is a largely gaming focused retailer, it regularly has many second- hand tech devices and accessories dotted about the place at bargain prices.

The majority of items are stacked up behind large windows in-store for perusal, so before bugging any of the staff I thought I’d have a look. I noticed a number of wireless keyboards and case combos tucked away amongst boot sale-style arrangement, so I headed over to the counter in search of assistance.

The young chap I spoke to was super helpful and appeared to know exactly what was available. They had a couple of Bluetooth keyboards that work with Android or iOS devices, and even had some other keyboards that weren’t built especially for tablets, and tried them out.

Due to these devices being second-hand, they naturally looked a bit worn, but the prices reflected the condition, with one Bluetooth Apple keyboard priced at just under £30 – a steal.

Barkman Computers - 7/10

Walking through the door of Barkman Computers was like stepping into an Aladdin’s cave of computer parts, consoles and piles of labelled boxes. I could hear muffled voices coming from the back of the store, so I sheepishly called out.

A heavily bearded face (games retail veteran Nick Elliott) appeared in-between two mountains of dissected computers, smiled and greeted me. After a quick chat and declaring my admiration for the store’s lifesize Legend of Zelda statue in the window, he asked if there was anything in particular I was looking for.

Aside from a few Logitech keyboard docks for iPad, they didn’t have much else on offer, but my bearded friend was a hub of knowledge and asked which OS I was buying for. He recommended a number of shops in the area, giving me directions and told me his preferred devices.

After lingering a while longer to stare longingly at the Zelda statue, I bid him farewell and navigated my way back out of the store.

Curry’s/PC World - 5/10

Unsurprisingly there was a large selection of keyboards in here, which ended up being a bit overwhelming. It became a blur of shapes, sizes and brands of keyboards priced at anything from £20 to in excess of £50.

The shop assistant came over and asked what I was looking for. My request for a keyboard that works with both iOS and Android was met with looks of uncertainty.

I was handed a Bluetooth Advent keyboard that was priced at £19.99 and told that it might work on both, but he wasn’t entirely sure. He then brought me over a Logitech keyboard/case combo for the iPad Air 2. I asked if this would be okay with any iOS or Android device and was told that it would, but not all tablets would fit in the case. I felt this defeated the point of the device, especially since it was priced at more than £70.

What first seemed like a good selection turned out to be of little help to me, as many were PC-only, made just for iPads or after inspection didn’t have any immediately obvious use.

Analogic Computers - 5/10

This store is tucked away in an industrial park just outside of Kingston town centre. These guys are more of a PC repair service, but they do offer products of varied descriptions for consumer and business use.

The main part of the store is a small waiting area with glass displays containing computer parts and devices for sale. No one appeared immediately, however after I made a few polite coughing noises, a lady walked through.

She guided me through all that Analogic had to offer

including repair services for PC and Mac, plus a number of PC fans that were on display. This was before I had informed her of what I was actually looking for – but I was happy to listen as she appeared enthusiastic about the business.

When I did enquire about tablet keyboards, however, all previous enthusiasm seemed to disappear as I was told that they didn’t stock them. I asked if she knew of any other stores that might, but all I got was a slight shake of the head and a half-hearted apology.

Summary

I believe I only scratched the surface of what was on offer in Kingston, however the retailers gave me a good idea of the most popular tablet keyboards on the market.

It looks as though Logitech is a favourite amongst many users, but after a bit of research on its website, I saw that there is a considerably larger range of options for different uses, styles and budgets that simply wasn’t available in the High Street stores I visited.

Most of the people I met throughout my Kingston adventure were more than helpful, had good knowledge of these products and were a credit to their store. The lad in Computer Exchange (CeX) was such a good salesman that I ended up buying something completely different from him to make his time worthwhile.

It appears that there isn’t much on the market designed to work across multiple operating systems, but with many being priced as low as £19, it wouldn’t be completely unjustified to purchase multiple keyboards for multiple devices.

CeX’s strong selection of second-hand goods also raises the question: Should more independent PC and tech retailers be buying and selling used products? The margin opportunities are certainly there.

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