Mystery Shopper: Solihull

PCR goes on the hunt for an external hard drive
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HOUSE OF FRASER - TEC7

I had been looking around the Tec7 section of the store for a few minutes and couldn’t see any HDD units anywhere, when I was approached by a member of staff who politely asked whether I needed any assistance.

I told him what I was after and he retrieved a 1TB Toshiba external hard drive from behind the sales desk, costing £89.99. He told me this was the only one in stock.

“I would like the option to stream movies and music if possible,” I said. He said it wasn’t sure anything like that was available. A colleague remarked that he thought I would probably be able to find one in the local Currys.

The first assistant tapped busily away on the internet to search for a product fitting my requirements. “I’ve found one on Play.com, it’s a 1TB multimedia HDD unit by Dane-Elec for £119.99,” he said.

During my visit I received little in the way of useful information regarding external hard drives, and I was a little shocked to find a sales person openly referencing an online shopping site rather than talking up the benefits of what they had available in store. Helpful to me, but maybe not to the Tec 7 bottom line.

Score: 4/10

TESCO

I easily found the HDD display at the end of an aisle. As I began to examine the range a member of staff came over, but rather than asking if I needed any help, he promptly picked up a crate and began replenishing the shelves.

After a brief search I found a trio of sales assistants gathered together, so I approached them. One of them walked back to the HDD display with me. “Would you want the HDD to be portable?” he asked. “The more portable devices are smaller and neater in style and would only need a USB cable to power them. The larger units are more for desktop usage and need to be plugged in.” I replied that I simply wanted the best option.

The sales assistant informed me that he felt Western Digital was probably the best brand because of the reviews on the Tesco website. “The reviews are independent – you can visit the site and read what real customers thought about their purchase and experiences,” he told me, adding that he himself used a WD hard drive and had had no problems.

I asked about protection, and he started to look for the relevant information on the display models, which was not easy as they were all in plastic cases. He couldn’t find anything about security on the WD products, so we looked at other brands. Both Hitachi and Iomega clearly stated how the user could back up content and create password protection if needed.

The staff member helping me was knowledgeable and happy to offer his experience in support of a sale. He asked questions to ascertain my needs and the product range available was comparable to other stores. The combination of low prices and the information provided would have definitely encouraged me to buy.

Score: 7/10

PC WORLD

I had a good look at the range of HDDs displayed in three distinct areas of the store. There was a promotional aisle end stocked with Seagate models and standard shelves containing multiple boxed products from Iomega, Western Digital, EMTEC, Slingbox and Netgear. Above this was an out of box display, which allowed customers to handle units.

Memory sizes ranged from 320GB to 4TB and prices were between £44.99 and £389.99. Netgear’s EVA9100 Digital Express Media Player (£99.97) and EVA9150 Digital Entertainment Elite Media Player (discounted £180 to £149.97) were highlighted on a separate aisle end.

A sales assistant approached me, but didn’t ask any questions as to what I might want an external hard drive for, so I explained. With this information he proceeded to tell me that “using them is as easy as dragging and dropping”, assuming I understood what he meant.

I hinted at the potential for streaming media and my concerns with protection, to which the member of staff reviewed the packaging and recited the key relevant points from each, stopping at the Iomega HD Media Player and informing me this would be suitable.

I specifically asked about the great offer being made on the EVA9150, with its mega saving of £180. All he said was, “Yeah, looks like it will do it”, as he looked at the back of the box – but no further information followed.

This was a disappointing visit. With a wealth of products and no particular budget, the options were endless – I would have loved to have heard about data encryption, or maybe streaming to a separate computer when I am away from home. The potential to get me excited about these products was completely missed.

Score: 5/10

CURRYS

The products in this store were in protective cases to prevent theft, but the hazy plastic stopped me from reading anything about them. I browsed the display, looking at Seagate, Western Digital and Iomega products with prices from £39.99 to £199.99, and sizes from 250GB to 1TB.

I located a member of staff and he began by asking simple questions as to why I wanted a HDD and what I would do with it. He explained that Western Digital was the favoured range in Currys and most stores carried a good selection. After I enquired about streaming media, I was told that all the WD units in stock only had USB ports and I would need an HDMI connection or wi-fi.

“Netgear has brought out a new wireless storage box with HDD,” he suggested. “We don’t have it in stock here but I’m sure the Wednesbury store would have it, or PC World over the road.”

I asked about protecting and backing up my data. The assistant pointed out what was on the boxes – that most of them had password protection and backup facilities. He didn’t elaborate any further.

I was given reasonable advice regarding the WD products, but no comparisons were made to other brands. Storage size was never mentioned despite the member of staff knowing I was going to store movies.

Score: 6/10

JOHN LEWIS

The HDD display was clearly signposted, if a little untidy. The available products included Omega and LaCie, with prices ranging from £49.99 to £129.99, and sizes from 320GB to 1TB.

An assistant came over and offered his help. Once he understood what I was asking for, he recommended Iomega products as they’d received positive reviews in Which? reports. “If you want to stream media you have stored, an Xbox might be the best option. You’ll need the Media Centre Extender kit to do this though – a quick search on the internet will explain what you need.”

I found all this interesting but what I needed was already on the shelf and hadn’t been spotted – the Omega Screen Play HD Media Player 1TB priced at £129.99. Finally noticing the relevant product, the member of staff talked me through the information described on the packaging. “This could be a viable alternative to an Xbox,” he said.

I had hoped for more detail during my conversation – useful information regarding the Which? Award winners and what made them the best was not offered. With the variety of products available I expected much more and felt this was definitely a missed sales opportunity.

Score: 4/10

COMET

After I requested some assistance from the customer service desk, an assistant came over looking keen and eager to offer his advice. “Good afternoon, I understand you would like help with hard drive products,” he said.

Viewing the HDD display, he pointed out a 1TB Iomega model. “If you wanted to stream anything you would need to go for an HDD with media drive capability,” I was told. This simply meant I could connect it to a TV or Laptop using an HDMI cable and be able to view, watch or listen to whatever was stored on it.

“The Iomega range offers reliability and good value, and the other brands wouldn’t be able to connect up like Iomega. For instance, if you chose a Western Digital unit you would need a separate streaming device as well,” the sales assistant said. I prompted him to advise me about what sort of protection I might get with an HDD device. He reassured me that nearly all of them came with backup protection and password protection if needed.

The information I received was simple and to the point. I was given appropriate advice that met my request and I would have purchased, but I would have liked an overview of a few products in more detail.

Score: 8/10

Summary:

With a wide variety of external hard drives to choose from it was interesting to see that only a few selected brands were recommended by store staff. Many of the sales assistants I spoke to found it necessary to read information directly from the product packaging, which in the dedicated stores was more than a little disappointing.

Currys’ apparent favour towards Western Digital products was interesting, particularly as the devices didn’t cover all my needs. Meanwhile, John Lewis’ recommendation of an Xbox when I had gone in for an HDD was somewhat bizarre, considering that the store did stock exactly the sort of product I was looking for.

Tesco put on a good show – they could take on the dedicated stores with a little more focus, but Comet was the obvious winner, with a decent solution backed up by good knowledge and straightforward conversation.

Over all, the visit was slightly disappointing, and a few of the stores could have stocked a wider range of HDDs.

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