Mystery Shopper: Leeds

Our shopper looks for a laptop offering both performance and value
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CURRYS DIGITAL

Sales and finance offers adorned the windows as I entered the well lit store. “Good morning is there anything I can help you with?” asked a sales assistant. Proceeding to the laptop section he introduced me to another member of staff, who assisted with my query.

“What do you use your laptop for?” he asked. I answered that I used it for work, word processing, internet browsing, emailing, watching videos and storing photos. “If you play a lot of games or watch a lot of films then you will need better graphic cards and processor,” he said.

The sales assitant pointed out the Sony Vaio VPC-F11JOE/H at £1099.99 (16.4-inch widescreen, Intel Core i5- 520M 2.4 GHz, Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit, 6144MB, 320 GB HD, DVD-RW and Blu-ray player) and then the Toshiba L505-144 at £699.99 (15.6 inch widescreen Intel Core i5- 430M 2.26 GHz, Windows 7 Home Premium, 4096MB, 320 GB HD, DVD-RW rewriter).

I asked why there was such a huge price difference between the two laptops, to which the staff member said: “The Sony Vaio uses a Nvidia GeForce GT 330M GPU, which is renowned as be the best brand in graphic cards, whereas the Toshiba has an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570 – 512MB. The Sony also has more memory, which it needs for the Blu-ray drive. Both use the new Intel processors, on this occasion it is Intel i5. This is the equivalent rating of four stars out of five.”

The recommendation was confident and based on product knowledge rather than personal opinion which was reassuring, although the £400 difference in price for a similar specification laptop seemed a little excessive. The information regarding the Blu-ray drive and graphics card was appropriate and relevant to my answers, but of course it depends on how much value you place on these features.

Score: 8/10

PC WORLD

Clearly visible signs in the spacious store directed me straight to the laptops, which were displayed in order of price. 15 minutes of looking interested in purchasing finally attracted attention and a member of staff asked if she could help.

After considering my quest she started quoting points from the various laptop price tickets and mentioned the new Intel processors. “Intel has a new range of processors, i3, i5 and i7 and they are faster than the older ones. The i3 is slightly faster than the Core 2 processors, for example.”

Prompting the conversation along I enquired: “Which are the best laptops for performance and value?” She suggested the Sony Vaio VPCCW2S1E/R (Intel Core i3-330M 2.13 GHz, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, 4096 MB, 320GB HD, DVD-RW, 14-inch widescreen) at £699.99.

“Sony sells well because of the brand reputation. I would also recommend the HP DV6-2110 15.6-inch because the specs are similar, if not higher, and it is much better value for money.” (Intel Core i7-720QM 1.6 GHz, Windows 7 Home Premium, 4096 MB, 500 GB HD, DVD-RW, 15.6-inch widescreen, priced at £849.99.) She then commented that Toshiba machines are also a good brand to buy because of their reliability.

With little in the way of detail the recommendations didn’t seem carry a great deal of weight, picking points from tickets I had already read didn’t make me feel particularly confident in the assistance offered. Both products seemed appropriate but I left the store feeling like I needed to go away and do more research to further narrow down my choices.

Score: 5/10

COMPUTER CORNER

Offering a wide range of products and services including new and re-conditioned PCs and notebooks, internet terminals and PC repairs, the store had a vast amount of information on the walls.

A sales assistant greeted me as I walked in and asked if I was looking for a laptop. I outlined my requirements and he directed my gaze down through the glass counter he sat behind. Three laptops were displayed, but it was difficult to see if they were brand new products.

“I would say the Asus, priced at £349, is fine for doing the work you have told me about,” he said. The laptop he pointed to was the X5DIJ, with an Intel Pentium dual core T4200 processor 2.0GHz, 4GB RAM, 15.6-inch screen, 250GB HD, and 1.3MP webcam. He continued: “The Intel Core Duo is the best processor available” and compared it to the Intel Pentium in the HP laptop the store had on display.

Investigating the Asus laptop a little further showed that the price was below that quoted in the Argos catalogue (£399.99), suggesting it was a re-conditioned product. The customer service was friendly and the Asus was the most expensive laptop available in store, boasting the highest spec but I would have needed more persuading to prevent me from visiting other stores before purchasing.

Score: 4/10

CURRYS/PC WORLD

I felt optimistic on entering the newly launched hybrid store. Could it really be the best of both worlds? A good range of laptops priced from £400 up to £1300 was neatly laid out in the PC World area, all powered up and flashing features and offers on the tailored screensavers.

After a few minutes browsing I was approached by a sales assistant. “Hi there, do you need any advice?” he asked with a friendly smile. After describing what I used my current laptop for, he showed me the Toshiba L505-144, which I’d been shown in another store, priced at £699.99. He pointed out the main features and said: “This will suit your needs now but I think you could have a better model for a little more money, which will remain up to date into next year and the next.”

He pointed out the Sony Vaio VPC-EB1ZOE/B for £799.99 (Intel Core i5-430M 2.26 GHz, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, 4GB RAM, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 Graphics, 15.5-inch screen, 500GB HD, Blu-ray ROM/Dual layer DVD rewriter).

“The new Intel processors in both laptops operate on i5 standard,” he said. “The price difference is because the Viao has a Blu-ray player and a larger hard drive. The extra cost is worth it – being able to watch HD movies is great, especially if you are away with work and more space for storing photos and music is always useful.”

I asked if I could have some information to take away and the sales assistant printed out spec sheets before thanking me. I felt content with the recommendations and was more than happy to accept the up-sell to a more expensive model as the additional features definitely added value.

Score: 8/10

COMET

Blank laptop screens greeted me as I found the section in the quiet store. I browsed the display hoping for some staff interaction but as with the laptops there was little to see.

Over 15 minutes passed before someone noticed me and made himself available. After initial small talk I explained my requirements although I wasn’t sure if the staff member was listening, as he pointed towards a piece of Intel point of sale and told me the new processors were slightly faster, allowing me to have more programmes open.

“The HP (WA052EAABU) has an i7 processor which is the highest of the new releases (15.6-inch HD LED display, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive for £849.99) or the Sony Vaio (VPCEB1Z0E) has an i5 chip, which is the next one down (15.5-inch display, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive for £799.99),” he said. The information had been gleaned from the sales tickets, which didn’t boost my confidence. I thanked the assistant and made my excuses.

The visit was a disappointment as the range of laptops could have allowed more comparisons of performance and value for money but this wasn’t realised. Unless I had known exactly what I wanted there was nothing to encourage a purchase.

Score: 4/10

TESCO EXTRA

The laptop section appeared a little disorganised on entry as there were a few missing POS cards, however, all models were priced and turned on. Two laptops on display had missing keys on the keyboards; presumably these had been pulled off by shoppers. I was approached in store within ten minutes and explained what I was after.

The sales assistant recommended the Acer AS5532 TF20 (15.6-inch display, 1.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 TF20 processor, 3GB RAM, 250GB hard drive, ATI Radeon HD 3200 shared graphics and Windows 7 Home Premium), which had £100 off the price. As talked me through the specs and attempted to demonstrate the speed of the processor by opening a few menus (rather than programmes) and inviting me to have a go myself.

The staff member was confident in answering questions without any additional assistance, but I was surprised he didn’t offer a choice of laptops or show me a comparison against another model. The AS5532 was certainly good value but not really a performance laptop as the processor isn’t the fastest. The attempt at a product demonstration was much appreciated, as this was something sorely lacking on most of the other visits.

Score: 7/10

Summary

Judging by my visit, the perceived balance of laptop power versus value lies around the £700 mark, with Sony Viao laptops proving popular with most stores. Detailed knowledge of the new Intel processors varied, although staff awareness of the performance improvement was noted in all stores stocking the products.

It was disappointing to see staff simply reading points from a price ticket as, although useful, they should not make up the entire conversation. Many of the laptops mentioned had similar specifications but it seems that the additional value provided by Blu-ray playback and larger HD space will become more important in the future to secure a sale.

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