Mystery Shopper June Part One

In the first part of June's Mystery Shopper, we travel to Liverpool
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We sent our Mystery Shopper out to buy an all-in-one PC. We knew that Apple already had a range of hardware, however, we also wanted to compare this against options from other manufacturers. She visited a range of stores included departmental, national and an independent, to get a feeling of what was available in the market.

Staples

This warehouse-style store was stacked from floor to ceiling with all things stationery related, so where was the technology? After a quick look around and a walk down a long narrow aisle, I found myself in front of the PCs. I passed the counter area, which had two staff members standing behind it. One shop assistant smiled in my direction and asked if I was okay.

I told him I wanted a PC with everything in the monitor, similar to what Apple already produces. I asked if there were Windows-based alternatives as well, trying to probe for a response. "I'm sorry but we don't sell them," he said. "I'm sure PC World can help or the Apple Store in town. You could also try John Lewis – you will probably get a better deal online."

That pretty much killed the conversation, but I thought I would try to get a little more information out of him. I asked him if he knew anything about these products. He added that he thought both Sony and HP had some models and that they cost around £700.

I looked on the retailer's website later and found a single all-in-one: the HP Touchsmart IQ510uk Desktop PC with Core 2 Duo processor T7250, 4GB RAM, 320GB hard drive, Vista Home Premium 64-bit, priced £849.99.

John Lewis

This was a clean and well-organised store. I headed towards the consumer electronics section, where I spotted the Apple iMac machines.

I approached an extremely smart salesman who was directing other members of staff. He smiled and asked how he could help. He was very professional in his approach, informative and explained the features and benefits of the Apple iMac, HP Pavilion TouchSmart and Sony models without using too much jargon. He focused on one model from each of the three manufacturers, which were:

• HP Pavilion TouchSmart IQ522 Desktop PC with a 22-inch monitor, Nvidia GeForce 9300MGS HD graphics, 500GB hard drive, priced £1,099.

• New Apple iMac 2.66GHz SuperDrive Desktop PC with 20-inch monitor, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, 320GB hard drive, £949.

• Sony VGC-JSE/S Desktop PC with a 20-inch monitor, Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT, 500GB hard drive, £899.

His personal preference was the iMac. "The operating system is unique," he enthused. He also claimed that I wouldn't need internet security software, as I would with Windows-driven PCs, because in his view Apple products weren't targeted by virus hackers. This made the system quicker. In an eco-friendly comment, he added that the iMacs used the same amount of power as a light bulb.

I told him that I was worried about using files from my Windows machine on the iMac – was there an easy solution? I didn't have to worry, he said, there is an Office suite available for the Mac, priced £98.75. He went on to add that Apple had been in the market for about six years, whereas other all-in-one manufacturers had only been doing this type of product for about two to three.

We then walked over to the HP TouchSmart. "There are a few subtle differences – the best is the touch screen," he said. "I also like the scrolling. HP machines come with a wireless keyboard and mouse as standard and there is a small light underneath which illuminates the keyboard, a decorative feature which looks good." He briefly explained the other products on display and then returned to the iMac, which was cleary his preferred product when it came to all-in-ones.

Apple

I was met by an assistant as I entered the large glass doors of this Apple store. He asked how he could help and showed me to the iMac range.

Meesh explained the product in detail and recommended the Apple iMac 2.66GHz SuperDrive Desktop PC with a 20-inch monitor at £949.

Obviously I wasn't able to compare other manufacturers' products in this store; however, it was good to get a comparison between retailers. He gave me a card with contact details so that I could book an appointment online for a personal shopping experience where I could visit the store for an hour and get a more detailed account of the iMac product.

Computer Plus

This store was on the Brunswick Industrial Estate, a warehouse-style store similar to Staples. There was a variety of PCs and laptops on display. A casually dressed man came from the rear of the store asking how he could help.

Unfortunately, he said he didn't currently stock all-in-one computers. But he pulled out a copy of Asus World magazine and flipped to the Eee Top ET16 series machine, which he said he could order. These all-in-one touchscreen computers boast similar functionality of regular desktop machines.

He didn't give any further details of this machine, but it was good to know that the hardware was available to order if I wished to.

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