This month our Mystery Shopper heads to the birthplace of radio – Chelmsford in Essex – in search of a mechanical gaming keyboard.
With a budget of £70 and a host of tech shops to inspect, here’s their review of each store, factoring in product range, customer service and price.
ARGOS – 6/10
After entering Argos, I couldn’t see any immediate staff around, so searched ‘keyboard’ on the nearest touch-screen device. I was presented with a single gaming keyboard: the £99.99 ASUS Strix Tactic Pro.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t in stock but I was given the option to order it in for collection one week later.
Disappointed, I went and searched for keyboards in a nearby catalogue instead, but only found a couple of pages of non- gaming keyboards.
I went over to the pickup counter and asked a store assistant if Argos stocked any other gaming keyboards. He led me over to another touch- screen and this time typed ‘gaming keyboard’ into the search bar. Six appeared, including a few reasonably priced ones from Trust, SteelSeries and Corsair, but sadly none of them were in stock either.
It also wasn’t immediately clear if any of them had mechanical keys. I thanked the assistant and left slightly disappointed.
MAPLIN – 7/10
I was surprised no one greeted me when I walked into the store.
I went to search for a gaming keyboard myself and found a nice mix of budget and higher-end offerings.
A member of staff saw me browsing and approached to offer his assistance. After asking about mechanical keyboards he replied: “I’m not a gamer, sorry. Most gamers look at the normal keyboards around the corner and aren’t interested in them!”
Despite his friendly demeanour and his attempt at helping me, I was left none the wiser as to which product was best. He left me alone to browse and I soon spotted a Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition within my budget. There were other products including the £149.99 Blackwidow Chroma, £99.99 Logitech G510s LCD keyboard and £109.99 Corsair Raptor K65 RGB.
The range was great – it was just a shame the store assistant didn’t have the knowledge or ask another employee over to help me instead.
STAR STORE: GAME – 9/10
GAME featured a nice mix of budget peripherals (like the retailer’s own GAMEWare Essentials £14.99 gaming keyboard, down from £19.99 to £14.99), right up to the top-of-the-range Razer Blackwidow Chroma keyboard for £139.99.
After looking at the products on show for a while, I thought I’d test the knowledge of the staff. I asked the nearest assistant for some help, who made it clear straight away he wasn’t too knowledgeable with keyboards. He went over to the counter and asked a colleague of his to help me.
A young man with glasses walked over and asked if he could help.
He shared his gaming experiences with me and talked about the keyboard he owns. After taking my budget into account, he recommended the Mad Catz STRIKE 3 keyboard with its mechanical-like keys and affordable price.
I left the shop content – it was just a shame there wasn’t a fully mechanical keyboard within my price range.
CEX – 5/10
Whenever I look in CeX’s windows I feel like a kid in a sweet shop. There’s always tons of tantalising tech.
But after taking a good look, I couldn’t see any keyboards, so I stepped inside the store and queued up to speak to a member of staff.
I asked a chap behind the counter if they had any gaming keyboards in stock.
“Oh, we did have a Razer one in the other day but it was about £170. That’s gone now though. I don’t think we have anything – I’ll just check,” he said.
He went away to look, and asked another member of staff, before returning to me and informing me they didn’t have any in stock right now.
He told me to try again in a week’s time, and also said that he managed to grab a bargain himself recently – a £12 budget gaming keyboard.
While luck wasn’t on my side on this occasion, I couldn’t fault the level of customer service and the friendliness of the CeX staff. But with nothing on offer at all, I couldn’t give CeX a decent score.
CURRYS/PC WORLD – 7/10
After stepping into the huge Currys/PC World, I didn’t know where to start.
I walked towards the back and stumbled across a long row of gaming keyboards including several variants from Roccat, Corsair, Mad Catz and Razer.
There were two assistants behind me chatting to each other. I approached one and asked if he had any mechanical keyboards in stock. He picked up a few keyboard boxes. “This Razer one is definitely mechanical,” he said, pointing to the Blackwidow Chroma. “That’s £89.99.” I was about to ask him another question when he quickly backed away. On closer inspection, I realised the Blackwidow was actually priced at £149.99.
I did spot a Mad Catz STRIKE TE mechanical keyboard for £89.99 (with £10 off), but unfortunately it was above my budget. As I left, I saw a member of staff dancing awkwardly with some customers by the Sonos speakers – probably the strangest thing I’ve seen during my mystery shop career.
THE REST – 2/10
I tried four other stores I thought might sell keyboards – Tesco, HMV, Debenhams and WHSmith – but none of them had any in stock.
While the store assistants were friendly, their advice and knowledge was poor – and sent me on a bit of a wild goose chase. A store assistant in Tesco told me to try Debenhams instead – the first floor in particular.
I followed his advice, and soon found myself on the first floor surrounded by women’s clothing. I went up to the second floor (home) and asked a lady there if they had any gaming keyboards.
“A keyboard?” She looked absolutely flummoxed. “Err,” she stammered, “We might do it online but we don’t do it in store. Try HMV.”
I took her advice and went into HMV. After looking around and not having any luck, I asked an assistant there. “Try Maplin or Argos,” he said.
I also checked in on WHSmith, which sold a couple of basic HP keyboards, but had no gaming variants.
Overall, Chelmsford was a mixed bag for PC accessories. For such a big Essex town,
there were only three stores that had a range of gaming keyboards in stock – Maplin, Currys/PC World and GAME – but none that ticked every single box.
GAME came very close to receiving a perfect 10. Its staff were knowledgeable and helpful, and there was a very good keyboard on offer in the £59.99 Mad Catz STRIKE 3, but it wasn’t mechanical. So in the end the store failed to offer exactly what I was after.
Maplin was almost the complete opposite. It was the only shop that had a mechanical keyboard within my budget – the Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition keyboard for £69.99 – but the store assistant who helped me knew nothing of gaming, and left me alone to make a decision myself.
Currys/PC World deserves an honourable mention, too, for its quality display, wide range and amount of staff around to help. It’s just a shame the fellow I asked knew nothing about gaming products either.