Mystery Shopper: Birmingham

Our shopper goes on the hunt for an iPad or something similar
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CURRYS

My expectations were high as I entered the store. The PC section was well stocked with numerous aisles and displays, and Apple had its own dedicated area clearly marked with POS and out-of-the-box products, all demo ready.

The iPads were at the front of the section, laid out for customers to play with. I wasn’t left alone for long before I was approached by a sales assistant, who politely asked if I needed any further help.

I informed him I was looking for an iPad or something similar, to which he began to explain how the iPad worked. He highlighted the main screen, which had several icons displayed. “If you buy an iPad, some programmes would come preinstalled. These include iTunes, Maps, Photos, Calendar and Contacts,” he told me. “There are many more applications available from the App Store, which you reach by pressing this icon.”

Moving on to the prices, a wi-fi only 16GB device would cost £429, a 32GB £499 and a 64GB £599. If I wanted the 3G version I would need to add £100 to each of the prices given. “Due to very high demand I couldn’t sell you a 3G iPad today as we have no stock; all we have is the 64GB wi-fi only model,” the staff member told me. I asked about pre-ordering, to which I was told: “I’m afraid not, as we are unsure when our stock will be available.”

Reaching the end of our iPad conversation I asked if any alternatives existed, he looked a little puzzled for a second before saying: “There is nothing else we stock that I could recommend like the iPad.”

The popularity of the iPad was clear from this visit. The sales assistant was extremely competent in demonstrating the product and looked like he had a real interest in it. However, it seemed strange that no alternative was recommended, especially given the lack of iPad stock and the potential for other sales.

Score: 7/10

SELFRIDGES

When I asked staff in the consumer electronics department about the iPad, they were unable to show me one, or even to suggest an alternative. The sales assistant I spoke to sounded somewhat frustrated when he informed me that he was not able to supply the device, and went on to comment that he and his colleagues were getting at least six requests for it every day, including three already that morning.

The staff member put these enquiries down to the exceptional demand for Apple and the hype it creates around its products. “I’m a bit sad at the missed business,” he confessed, making a number of positive comments about the iPad’s features.

He went on to mention Apple’s new iPhone 4. “That would be a good alternative if you aren’t concerned about the screen size,” he suggested, but did acknowledge that the screen size was probably exactly why someone would want the iPad.

Obviously frustrated and disappointed by the availability and requests for the tablet, the sales assistant failed to take the opportunity to make a sale with an alternative, despite prompting for his thoughts. There were Sony, Samsung, HP and Toshiba products on display, but he didn’t even bother to mention them.

Score: 3/10

PC WORLD

The large store was full of specific manufacturer branded areas and I quickly located the Apple section. The iPads were displayed in a similar fashion to Currys, with live products available for customers to try.

As soon as I started to play with the tablet, a sales person approached me. After telling him I was interested in Apple’s device, or something similar, he thought for a second before asking: “Have you seen the Archos tablets? They’re not exactly the same though, and would only really be suitable for video, photo and music storage and have a smaller screen.”

After that small diversion the member of staff launched into a very good demonstration of the iPad, asking plenty of questions and tailoring his presentation to my needs.

He then went to on to tell me that they were all out of stock of the 3G range and had no idea when they would be getting more in. “The best thing to do is keep checking the website to see when stock becomes available and perhaps use ‘Reserve and Collect’,” he said. He apologised for not being able to complete a sale and put it down to Apple’s tight control of stock availability.

The sales assistant also pointed out that the iPhone 4 would be even better than the iPad because it operates in the same way but can fit in your pocket.

Rather than blitz through all the ‘wow’ features of the iPad, the member of staff took the time to ask me what I might want to do with it, which made the demonstration much more relevant. I was surprised that, given the lack of available iPads, we never returned to the Archos alternative as there was potential for a sale there.

Score: 8/10

COMET

Upon arriving at the store I saw there was already a group of customers in the PC section, but no sign of a sales assistant, so I went in search of one. I told a member of staff what I was after, to which he replied: “Funny you should ask that, because I noticed today that on our system we are showing iPad covers. This doesn’t mean we are going to stock the iPad, but I do think it’s a little strange.”

Despite not having the product in store, the member of staff didn’t take the opportunity to recommend an alternative, so I asked directly. He immediately took me to the laptop area and began to point out new notebooks from HP and Acer.

He favoured the HP model because of the brand and reliability. “I think the HP is built better and would last longer as a portable PC. These notebooks are smaller screened laptops with all the benefits of regular size units,” the sales assistant said. There was no DVD drive built in to the HP model but it was supplied with an external one, whereas the Acer wasn’t. I was told I could save £55 on the HP device.

This was an average visit overall. The member of staff I spoke to had good PC knowledge, but it needed prising from him and meant that I felt I was leading the conversation, rather than being sold a product.

Score: 5/10

HOUSE OF FRASER - TEC7

"Do you require any assistance?” I was asked as I entered the store. It looked like the member of staff had already had a number of queries about the iPad as, sounding disappointed, he told me the store was not stocking the device. He added that he had even gone so far as to phone head office that morning to ask whether they would be getting any in, to which the answer was “not at present”.

The sales assistant told me that while the iPad was clearly in demand, he personally thought it was just an iPhone with a big screen. I asked him what else I should go for if not the iPad, and he immediately took me over the netbooks.

The staff member described some of the benefits to using a netbook over an iPad, such as easier editing and attaching external products such as a DVD drive. He recommended the Toshiba NB305-106 for its reliability, battery life, processor power and memory.

The customer service was polite and conversational, offering a sound recommendation over an iPad purchase. I think a customer looking for an iPad-style product may have needed a bit more convincing to take a netbook instead but the benefits highlighted did make me think.

Score: 7/10

T C HAYES

After asking if I needed help, the sales assistant I spoke to passed me over to a colleague, stating: “He’s got more expertise about those kinds of products than I have.”

The second member of staff immediately welcomed me to the store and then promptly apologised for not being able to sell the iPad. “It’s just the way Apple does things,” he said.

Moving on, he asked me why I wanted an iPad and suggested I might consider a netbook. “The iPad is an iPhone with a big screen; netbooks are more functional for practical things like editing and creating documents, rather than just playing with them,” he suggested, adding that his preferred brands were Asus, Toshiba, and a newer brand MSI Wind.

Although I was not in the store long, the member of staff I spoke to gave me confidence with his positive approach about what he could do rather, than being put off by what he couldn’t. He had some strong arguments that showed weaknesses in Apple’s latest product and how a netbook could be a viable alternative. He certainly made me think about the product in more detail, which would have been great for a customer actually looking to buy an iPad.

Score: 7/10

SUMMARY:

The Dixons Retail stores with ‘out of box’ displays had a distinct advantage, as well as staff that genuinely seemed interested inthe products. The popular iPad alternative seemed to be the netbook, which offers a real keyboard and good value for money.

Interestingly, the iPhone 4 was also mentioned by several retailers as a replacement for the iPad, which I’m sure Apple didn’t intend and probably wouldn’t be happy to hear; although this could have been a convenient switch sale opportunity.

In an environment where limited stock was available, I was surprised that the staff I spoke to were not more eager to line up alternative products. The majority of the stores commented that they receive multiple enquiries each day, in some cases up to six, but only a few took the opportunity to show me something different. I can’t help but think the retailers were missing a sales opportunity here – surely it would have been worth the effort, even if they resulted in just one sale.

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