Mystery Shopper: Reading

Will our Mystery Shopper be able to find an all-in-one home printer for £100?
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As well as playing host to the titular summer music festival, Reading is known for its varied tech inhabitants, with the UK offices of Microsoft, Nvidia, Intel, HP, Fujitsu and Symantec among those businesses based at the Thames Valley commercial capital. But will our Mystery Shopper be able to find an all-in-one home printer there for £100?

CURRYS/PC WORLD 10/10

Easily spotting the printer row from the entrance of the shop, I walked across to take a look.

The range was broad, with offerings from four of the biggest names – HP, Epson, Canon and Brother.

The shelf-edge below each printer was clearly labelled with helpful information, breaking down the device into easily digestible details. Information included compatible ink, the estimated cost of ink per page and the connectivity options.

I hadn’t been standing there long before a staff member offered her help.

She asked what the printer was for and suggested the £45 Epson Expression Home XP-215 as fantastic for its price. I asked her about possible troubles with fake ink, and with a clear demonstration of her knowledge, she informed me how to check for counterfeit ink, before delineating the types of wireless connection available.

With a satisfying range, friendly and confident service, and prices way below my budget, I couldn’t have been happier with my experience.

JOHN LEWIS 3/10

Weaving between TVs and PCs, I found the printer area.

The printers were neatly placed on top of the counters, with a variety of paper types, ink and cables beneath.

The range on show was good, from the budget £40 HP Deskjet 2540 and the £70 selfie-lover’s dream – the Canon SELPHY – up to a £270 Samsung Xpress model.

Unfortunately, the staff weren’t as pleasing as the products on show.

During my time examining the printers, multiple staff had walked by or stood in stultified stillness.

One employee stood next to me and looked around, before moving a box half a foot along a shelf. I later saw him unhelpfully reeling off gobbledygook to a woman looking to buy a hard drive.

Following multiple attempts to approach different members of staff – including one holding a clipboard clearly marked ‘Customer Service’ – only for them to look at me and walk away as I approached, I left the store, extremely frustrated and disappointed.

ARGOS 8/10

Admittedly expecting little from a non-specialist retailer with thousands of products already filling up space in its catalogue, I was pleasantly surprised to find pages upon pages of printers listed in Argos’ laminated tome.

Several products were highlighted in the ‘great value’ section, including a budget-friendly Canon all-in-one for £40. Models from HP, Brother, Ricoh and Samsung were also among the offerings littering the pages.

Similarly pleased with the wide selection of inks listed alongside the printers – accompanied with a reminder to use genuine cartridges for reliability – I approached the customer service counter to ask for more information.

My question about printers left the woman behind the counter flustered – she admitted that she wouldn’t be of much use – a fair reaction given her position and the amount of products in the book. But it hardly mattered, as Argos’ catalogue had proved its worth with a wide range of products and detailed information.

MAPLIN 7/10

After a moment confused by the lack of printers in the store, I eventually spotted a handful stacked in a single column in the corner.

I took a look at the devices available – two models apiece for Canon and Brother, plus a single Epson device – and felt some disappointment at the limited offering.

Interestingly, ink had more shelf space, stretching for almost five times the length of the devices themselves.

At £180 and £150, two of the printers were too costly, but the £80 Canon Pixma MG3550 met my budget, despite being almost double the price in other stores.

While there was no helpful guide sheet like some of the other shops, a Maplin staff member soon offered his help. He was friendly, asking what I needed, and knew his stuff concerning each model. However, he then told me that the available Tec Jet ink “wasn’t proper”.

The service was positive and the range was just about acceptable – but the high prices wouldn’t have secured a sale from me this time.

CURRYS DIGITAL 6/10

Struggling to locate printers in the expansive store, I finally stumbled across an aisle lined with ink and printers under an ‘Audio’ sign.

Unsurprisingly, as in Currys/PC World, the shelves running along the aisle were edged with useful details. The range of products was similar too – from the previously recommended Epson up to the £230 Epson Expression Premium XP-800.

Unlike the other store, however, the printers were strewn along the shelves in haphazard arrangement.

I noticed that some of the staff had gathered and begun to chat, ignoring me. I approached and asked for some help: a woman obliged.

I asked which was the most economical printer, and she said she didn’t know – even though it was clearly stated.

The other staff joined us, one noisily swinging his keys. The woman, apparently happy with her service, returned to the group and continued the tale of her nephew’s birthday.

Currys’ unfriendly staff and messy store were redeemed somewhat by a broad range.

SUMMARY

Printers continue to be a solid market sector, with a wide spread of consumer and enterprise offerings available to attract a broad audience.

Of course, there’s the fantastic opportunity to periodically sell ink on top of the devices too.

These prospects were clearly understood by every retailer I visited in Reading, with each stocking a number of printers and a wide selection of inks.

While the provision of devices, ink and paper was universal across every retailer, prices and services were far from equal.

Prices not only focused on different ends of the market – with John Lewis occupying the top end of the market and Argos the lower end – but also deviated from store to store for the same model. Maplin’s £80 price tag for the Canon Pixma (which even claimed to be a temporary ‘WOW’ sale price) was almost double that of Currys/PC World’s £45 charge.

With printers clearly remaining a safe product to stock, retailers might consider being savvy with their pricing. A wide range of printers might pull a consumer in – but it’s little use if the price is too high.

Ink can provide a continuous reason for consumers to return to your store – providing good bundling opportunities.

As with any product, the ideal combination of service and price was required to seal the deal, and Reading’s firms often forgot one or the other.

Particularly with a category such as printers, where many consumers may struggle to separate a £40 model from a £150 device, service may ultimately mean the difference between a satisfied sale and a returns request.

I hope these retailers remember what their businesses rely on – customers – and try to respect them a little more.

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