Mystery Shopper: London

PCR looks for speakers on Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road
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SELFRIDGES

I arrived at the store shortly after it opened for the day, so most of the staff were occupied dusting and wiping down surfaces. After browsing the well presented theatre-style area, I approached a member of staff and explained my requirements.

He led me to the Bose display, showing me the Bose Companion 3 (£199) and 5 (£299). He then informed me that there was ten per cent off hi-fi equipment, including Bose speakers.

I asked if the Companion 5 was worth the extra £100, to which the assistant said that the Companion 3 would be good enough – despite the fact that I had mentioned that I would be willing to pay more if it was worth it. He told me that the Companion 5 has ‘bigger speakers and more wattage’ – failing to mention the main selling point – that it provides a surround sound experience from only a 2.1 set up.

I then had to ask for a demonstration, which we used my iPod for. The sales assistant didn’t point to any key features such as the clarity or the more spacious sound of the Companion 5, though when I mentioned those benefits he agreed. But again there was no mention of the surround sound effect feature.

As our conversation drew to a close, the assistant reminded me of the ten per cent reduction offer, claiming that I won’t find a better price and that it will be a purchase which I will keep for many years.

I could tell that my helper was still warming up after just getting into work, however failing to mention the main selling point of the Companion 5 suggests that he didn’t know about it. I was also disappointed that I was not automatically given a demonstration, something I would have expected every interested customer to receive as standard in a store which prides itself on providing a quality shopping experience.

Score: 5/10

JOHN LEWIS

Walking over to the speaker section, I told an assistant that I liked to watch movies and play games. Examining 2.0 speaker sets located with the desktops, I asked about surround sound options.

The member of staff said that they didn’t stock any, and instead moved my attention to the Bose Companion 3, almost warning me that it is “more around the £200 mark”. I said that as long as it gave considerably better sound it wouldn’t be a problem.

While talking about the Bose speakers, the assistant highlighted the benefit of the subwoofer, keeping high/medium frequencies separate from the low, allowing for a larger and clearer range.

The computer that the speakers were connected to was then turned on to give a demonstration of the sound quality. While it was booting, he debated whether to use the computer or a store iPod.

Unfortunately he stuck with the computer which only had the sample Windows music, but that wasn’t a tragedy as the Mr Scruff track gave a good impression of the quality. However when he remembered I mentioned movies, he played the only video present – a wildlife video which included background music. My helper acknowledged it wasn’t a good demo.

The member of staff recommended looking into a sound card which supports surround sound if that is the route I want to take, however said that the Bose speakers are one of the best solutions due to the sound quality and value.

My visit had been a good one, the only disappointment being that the content used for the demonstration was just sample files. However the demo had been given without me needing to ask and the assistant had been knowledgeable and pleasant.

Score: 8/10

CURRYS DIGITAL

Many staff in the store were already with customers as I entered, and after a few minutes of wandering I ventured to the back of the store where an assistant was standing in the TV section. He said confidently that he knew about speakers, and started by asking if I was looking for 2.1 or 5.1.

Sadly, when I said 5.1, it turned out the store had sold out. Undeterred, I asked what 2.1 he would recommend, to which he showed me the Sony SRS D21’s at £49.99 – saying that they were pretty powerful. All of the PC speakers were still boxed up so any sort of demonstration was near impossible.

After asking about higher end options the unsure sales assistant initially said the store didn’t stock any, before correcting his mistaking and taking me to the Bose-dedicated gondola end. Here there was a demo unit, showcasing the Companion 2 and 3. The assistant said that they would give a vast improvement in sound quality.

I noticed the store also stocked the Companion 5, so I asked about the difference between the SKUs. This stumped him and after resorting to looking at the boxes we finally landed on the answer that the Companion 5 offers surround sound creation – something the staffer was able to explain in depth.

Finally, I enquired about other possible upgrades to my desktop to improve my experience. The sales assistant suggested a larger monitor, around 19-inch to 22-inch. He also recommended the Companion 5 at £279.99 to get the best experience.

The assistant was confident and relaxed. While at times clear that he was more used to selling TVs, he had a dedicated attitude and the ability to save situations by continuing unfazed and providing the right information.

Score: 8/10

MICRO ANVIKA

Unable to find any speakers in store, I was greeted by an assistant who helpfully pointed them out. The store only had one 5.1 kit, the Logitech X-540, which I was told wasn’t powerful.

I told him I didn’t have a strict budget and was happy to spend more if I felt it justified. He then showed me the Bose Companion 5 – describing the surround sound creation but adding he’d “no idea about watts as Bose doesn’t share that information”.

Asking if I could hear it, we attached my iPod. Curious about the difference between the
Companion 5 and the Companion 3 sat next to it, he informed me that it was “the surround sound creation”, but failed to offer to switch the iPod to it, or to the Harman Kardon Soundsticks which he also very briefly mentioned.

Talking about upgrades, he recommended looking at sound cards, despite not having any in stock, saying it would improve sound quality. I wasn’t overawed by the sales environment and although the helper had given me some good information, the lack of an offer to demonstrate the other units was disappointing. I didn’t feel he had given any good reason to buy from them. In this competitive area of London the visit was easily forgettable.

Score: 6/10

PC WORLD

Following my request for help with speakers and surround sound, one staff member recommended the Logitech X530 for £49.99 (£20 off the original price). He also mentioned the Sony 2.1 system, but said that the 5.1 set up would give me a better experience.

After asking if the store stocked anything better he showed me the Bose speakers, adding that they didn’t have any 5.1 in stock. He talked around the range but didn’t mention the 5.1 recreation on the Companion 5. He then gave me a demo with a difference, playing the music quietly, then turning it up to a good demo volume for a few seconds before nervously looking around for his manager, who would apparently disapprove.

Asking if he would recommend a good 2.1 Bose or an average (based on price) Logitech 5.1, Vitor responded with the Logitech due to the surround sound experience, adding that when he watches films at home in 2.1 it just doesn’t compare.

The assistant had been helpful and honest by not just pushing the expensive Bose. The ridiculous demo stood out, however. For the sales staff to be nervous about turning up the volume to make a sale, it renders the dedicated demo wall pointless.

Score: 6/10

PNR

After asking for a 5.1 solution I was again led to the Companion 5. To the average customer this would have been confusing as there was no mention of the 5.1 recreation feature. I asked why I was being shown a model with two speakers and a sub when I had asked about 5.1 and was soon shown the Edifier M1550 small 5.1 speakers for £69.99.

I asked which he would recommend and he said the Bose Companion 5, but warned it cost over £300. I then mentioned upgrades and after hinting at a card, either sound or video, the salesman showed me the FPS benchmarking of Resident Evil 5 for gaming, and continuously mentioned benefits for watching HD videos. However even when asked how I can get HD videos, he didn’t give any solutions, such as Blu-Ray. On leaving I was told that he would be able to cut the price of Companion 5 by ten per cent.

Despite the salesman trying to be helpful there were points that let him down on this average visit. My first impressions were poor when he talked about the Companion 5 in response to surround sound without mentioning the 5.1 recreation feature. Also the lack of a demo without request disappointed, as did the failure to guide me on HD.

Score: 6/10

SUMMARY:

None of the visits were even bordering on being perfect. This surprised me considering the amount of competition between the numerous stores on Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street.

The theme of the day seemed to be poor demonstrations, with Selfridges and PNR needing me to request a demo, confusion in Currys Digital, poor content in John Lewis, just one demonstration in Micro Anvika and a fear of loud volumes in PC World.

I was also surprised by there being no mention of Blu-ray. With such an emphasis on watching movies throughout the visits, and the fact I asked about upgrades to improve the experience, I expected adding a Blu-ray drive to be recommended.

The difference was made in the sales approach and confidence, as the stores' knowledge levels were similar in that it was good but often missed a few details. Currys Digital and John Lewis provided the best experience with demonstrations being given without needing to ask and the sales staff being helpful and confident.

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