Featuring the first-ever pedestrianised shopping area opened by the Queen herself, Stevenage is the target of our Mystery Shopper this month as they try to find a tablet for a 10-year-old on a budget of £100…
A staff member appeared and asked me if he could help, but seemed disgruntled that I had arrived. He explained that the shop was in the middle of moving to another premises, hence the lacking appearance.
Despite me saying I had some idea of what I was looking for, my helper described each tablet in incredibly simple terms. It seemed as if he thought I was completely clueless.
At the front of the store stood a glass cabinet with a few tablets in – mainly pre-owned, with a few boxed new products, which were all £130. There was also a new Google Nexus 7 for £190, which the man recommended.
“You could try the Packard Bell Liberty tablet,” he added. “It’s a bit heavy, but it has 16GB of storage.”
He continued to outline each tablet, but largely used the details from the front of each box.
“What tablet is best depends on what type of game they’re playing,” he said, seemingly exhausted with having to provide help. “Maybe go try a few at PC World and Currys.”
While the man may have been busy, customer service should have been his priority, and it clearly wasn’t. The range of tablets was okay, but hard to know which was best.
Greeted by adverts for a ‘Back to School’ promotion and Lego minifigures, I was hopeful that Staples might have an offer on tablets for secondary school-aged children.
Staff were sparse around the huge shop, but I immediately spotted the tablet area, which was directly in front of me as I entered.
The Amazon Kindle Fire HD was just above my budget, at £129, but a separate line of Android tablets looked much more promising – starting at £99 for an Archos 70 Titanium.
A staff member noticed me and asked whether I needed any help. I explained what I was after, and asked whether it was worth increasing my budget to get a Kindle, to which he replied that it probably wasn’t a good idea.
“All the Android tablets are the same as each other, to be honest,” he said, when asked which he would recommend.
I asked whether the Kindle was similar to Android in any way, as I had heard it was based on the OS. He replied that it wasn’t based on Android at all, which wasn’t correct, but did at least offer plenty of useful information about the Android tablets.
A good selection of devices that were easy to find and friendly customer service stood out in Staples, but slightly confusing information didn’t make picking a tablet as easy as it could’ve been.
CARPHONE WAREHOUSE 7/10
Wary of being led into a contract I didn’t want, I carefully picked between the store’s tablets to find those available for a one-off payment.
The cheapest tablet on display was an Avoca 9.7 for £129 – just over my budget.
The shop was disorganised, with large cages holding only a handful of accessories and lots of empty stands.
The two staff members were busy serving customers as I entered, but as soon as one finished he turned to me and asked if he could help.
I explained what I was after, and he asked the age of the children the tablet would be for, before offering to get a few suitable boxed items from out the back and returning with two products.
“This is probably what you’re after – a seven-inch Avoca for £49,” he said.
“However, you get what you pay for – so I would recommend the Google Nexus 7,” he added, showing me the tablet.
“It’s more expensive, but it’s worth it.”
I asked whether any protective cases could be bundled with the tablet as part of an offer.
“We do have one pack, which either gets a fiver knocked off or is half-price with a tablet,” he said. “But I’d have to check and see which it is.”
I thanked him and left, feeling surprisingly sure about the tablet I would have chosen.
The store was a little bare, but my assistant was helpful, enthusiastic and seemed to know his stuff. His friendly demeanour and knowledge would have convinced me to spend the little bit more for a better tablet.
PC WORLD 8/10
“Good morning,” harmonised a pair of shirted staff members as I entered the store.
Surprisingly, they didn’t ask if they could help me, so I asked for help myself, explaining what I was after.
“Follow me, please,” said one of the men, leading me towards the tablet aisle.
The range was large, but quite a few of the tablet stands were empty.
“I’d recommend the Nexus 7, which I have myself,” advised the man, but added that better specs make little difference to game performance.
The Nexus 7 in the store was priced at double my budget – £200 – so I asked if there was a cheaper alternative.
“We’re all out of the Archos Gamepad, which was about £60-70,” he said.
“If I were you though, I’d wait a week, when Christmas sales will start and more stock will be in.”
I thanked him, and he also advised me that when I did purchase a tablet, to get anti-virus and parental controls, explaining the benefits without making it feel like a forced attempt to sell to me – which I found a good piece of advice, and something that hadn’t been suggested by the other stores. He then nattered on about the colour range of styli available – help I appreciated less.
My helper had some good recommendations, and seemed to know the differences and benefits for each type of tablet. It’s just a shame that so many were missing and those left were only available at high prices – meaning I couldn’t decide for myself.
TOYS 'R' US 6/10
Winding my way through rows of plastic animals, Furbies and board games, I found the tablet aisle.
The selection was huge – featuring dedicated kids tablets from LeapFrog and Vtech, but also including standard Android-based tablets like the Galaxy Tab 3 and the Arnova 10.
Despite the great range, the aisle was horrible to be in, with a cardboard box full of rubbish sat among the products.
Most of the tablets couldn’t be played with, using crumpled paper print-outs as a replacement display.
No staff were present, so I went and found a young man unpacking toys in another row. He unenthusiastically mumbled something and led me back to the tablet row, gesturing vaguely at a few products as we walked.
“These ones go up to age 12,” he mumbled, swinging an arm at the dedicated kids tablets.
“Android ones last longer but they’re expensive.”
He radioed for a replacement, saying he would be of more use.
He wasn’t, but he did have slightly better eloquence, using it to ramble a lot of nonsensical buzzwords.
“You should get the Arnova,” he said, bluntly.
“Because kids like games and that, don’t they? So this one’s good for that.”
When questioned further, he regurgitated text from the Arnova stand that I could have read myself – with far more enthusiasm.
Toy ‘R’ Us had a great range of tablets, but the warehouse-like store was unpleasant and staffed by uninformed and unfriendly people – a Furby would be of more use.
CURRYS/PC WORLD MEGASTORE 8/10
I walked in and didn’t even need to halt to find tablets – a large, clear sign hanging from the ceiling guided my way.
There were no staff members free, so I started to examine the tablets on offer.
One shelf-edge label advertised the Lexibook as a ‘kids tablet’ – exactly what I was after. Unfortunately, both further details and the tablet itself were missing – not what I was after.
Luckily, a staff member had been freed up and immediately walked over and offered his help.
“We don’t have much stock,” he said, after I explained what I was after.
“There is the Kindle Fire HD though, which is a little more, but is great for giving kids the education side through reading, as well as game-playing.”
I liked his consideration of letting kids learn using the tablet, and he correctly explained that Amazon’s Silk OS was based on Android. He did then slip up and tell me iOS was based on Linux, but his enthusiasm was commendable.
“It might be worth waiting for the Christmas price reductions in about a week,” he advised.
I thanked him, and said I would take some time to try out a few tablets. Unfortunately, quite a few of the tablets weren’t charged and died immediately – but I felt like the help I’d received had still been massively worthwhile.
Clear organisation and great customer service outweighed the lack of tablets to try out. It was particularly encouraging that my helper thought of the wider use of the tablet, rather than just giving me a lesser tablet that would play games and do little else.