Mystery Shopper: Warrington - PC Retail

Mystery Shopper: Warrington

We look for the best laptop available for ?1,000
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CASTLE COMPUTERS

I looked around the store and less than one minute later I was approached by a member of staff, who asked me what I would be using the laptop for. The shop could build the device to my own specifications, I was told.

“I’m thinking of a great Samsung with Windows 7, 320GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM, HDMI and everything you would need at under £700,” the sales assistant said. I told him that I didn’t mind spending the whole £1,000 budget as I would be keeping this laptop for a while.

“That’s a good idea as laptops are not as easily upgraded compared to PCs, so buying the best you can is wise,” he told me.

I asked the assistant if there was any literature I could take with me, to which he said: “I don’t put laptops on there as we like to stay up-to-date with the latest models but if you give me your details I will contact you with all of the information.” I gave him my number and he said he would phone me in the afternoon with some decent models, and then email me all the specs.

He phoned me back two days later apologising that he didn’t get back to me sooner, but said it had taken him longer than expected to contact his suppliers and get a great deal for me. His recommendation was a 17.4-inch widescreen WXGA Samsung R780 series Core i3 processor laptop costing £975.25 including VAT. It has 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, Windows 7, dedicated graphics card with 1GB of memory, webcam, HDMI connection and a card reader, plus a carry case and anti-virus.

I was told the store would fully build this for me and transfer any data onto it. I was happy with the overall customer service; The assistant was friendly and helpful enough, giving some good recommendations. It was a bit disappointing that I could not see or touch the recommended model before I spent the best part of £1,000, though.

Score: 7/10

STAPLES

There were only eight different laptops out on display, with the most expensive priced at less that £550 – just over half of my budget. Unless I bought two it didn’t look likely that my needs were going to be fulfilled.

An assistant asked me what I needed the laptop for, and I told him just general use. “This HP is the best laptop we have,” he said. “There is a dedicated graphics card which will help you when editing videos or playing games – laptops without these types of cards will steal space from the RAM.” He went through all the specs written on the ticket and showed me what the different ports did on the side of the laptop. He also pointed out the second most expensive model. “This Compaq is also a decent laptop and HP actually makes Compaq,” he said, and again went through the ticket information.

I asked if there was any literature I could take with me, and was told: “I can photocopy the information on the ticket but if you want more details the HP website would be the best bet; if you type in the model number it will tell you everything.” He disappeared and came back a minute later with an A4 sheet of information about each model.

The HP DV6-2030SA, priced at £538.34, had a 15.6-inch HD LED display, AMD Turion II M520 dual-core mobile processor, 320GB hard drive, 4GB RAM, up to 2.3GB integrated graphics, inbuilt webcam and integrated microphone.

I was pleasantly surprised by the customer service that Staples offered. Overall, the experience was friendly and helpful and it was the only store to point out the specific features of the laptop. But the product range wasn’t the best, and I couldn’t even spend half of my budget.

Score: 6/10

COMET

After stating my requirements, a member of staff told me they didn’t have any high-end laptops. “If you come with me I can show you what we have in store, but we only really have mid-range laptops. I can see what else would be more suitable via the computer,” she said. The assistant began by pointing out a Compaq CQ71-410 costing £429.99 “This is the best laptop we have in store, with a decent screen size of 17.3-inches and an Intel Celeron Dual Core processor, which is quick enough to do more than one thing at once.”

She asked me if I had a particular brand in mind. I said no, and was told: “Sony Vaio and Apple Macs are probably the best laptops around now.” The sales assistant started looking on the computer for more models and after about ten minutes she printed off the specs for three Vaios. “We have an installation team if you need any help setting the laptop up and we also have an insurance policy – the payment details are on the spec sheets I’ve printed.”

The most expensive device on the sheets was the 15.5-inch widescreen Sony VGNNW21ZF/S.CEK, costing £799.99. It comes with Windows 7, Intel Core 2 Duo 4 star processor, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, RadHD4570 2280MB graphics card and Blu-ray drive. The second was a 15.6-inch widescreen Sony VGNNW20SF/S.CEK, costing £599.99, and the last was a 15.6-inch widescreen device costing £529.99.

I was happy with the overall recommendations for my needs but felt that I should have been offered more top-of-the-range laptops, as I did mention on more than one occasion that I was willing to pay the full budget of £1,000. Definitely a missed opportunity to push my budget limits.

Score: 7/10

PC WORLD

As I walked up the central aisle I was quickly approached by an assistant. We chatted about my quest as he walked me over to the biggest laptop section I saw that day, with three rows of devices displayed altogether.

The first computer pointed out to me was the Acer 5740, costing £479. This shocked me as I had clearly stated that I wanted to spend £1,000. The assistant told me that this laptop had the brand new Intel Core i3-330M processor, which had only been released recently.

“It runs on Windows 7, has 3GB RAM, 250GB hard drive, HDMI, a five-in-one card reader, webcam and a decent 4.5 hour battery life, which is more than enough for any functions on a home computer.” I explained that while this sounded good, my budget was much higher.

He showed me the Sony VGNFW56E, costing £829.97, featuring an Intel Core Duo processor T6600. “This is not as quick as the new i3 or i5, but it is fast enough for internet use and running a couple of programs at once. For gaming I would recommend the newer processor,” he said. “This Sony costs £999.99 and runs on the new Intel Core i5-520M processor, which is the best we offer. But the battery life is a little lower at two hours.” I asked if there was any information I could take with me and he printed some off.

This was a very pleasant shopping experience, from the layout of the store to the smartly dressed staff. The assistant was very informative without getting bogged down in jargon. Again, I was surprised that I was initially given much cheaper options than my budget. The product variety was very wide – what I would expect from PC World.

Score: 8/10

CURRYS

After looking at the laptop section for a while, I went to find some assistance. I wandered around the store for a while before finding a salesman. I told him what I required and asked if the most expensive laptops were the best.

“To be honest, yes,” he said and pointed out the HP DV7-3111EA, and the Toshiba L505-144. “They both have the newly released i5 processor, big memories and hard drive space with dedicated graphics cards – useful if you want to edit video or play games.” He then went on to ask if I would need Microsoft Office and suggested I buy an anti-virus. “Is there any information I can take with me about the models you have suggested?” I asked. He printed out some information, including the spec sheets for both laptops (both priced at £799.99) and the prices for Microsoft Office and Norton Anti-Virus.

The recommendations were below the initial budget, although discussion about additional software was helpful, and I would have quickly spent the extra £200. I felt that very little detail was given, despite the fact that I had a substantial sum to spend.

Score: 6/10

TESCO EXTRA

I was surprised to see that none of the 12 laptops on display were turned on, and the most expensive cost just £499. A few sales assistants walked past me without offering to help. When I eventually stopped a member of staff she told me I’d be better off speaking to someone else, pointing to a lad standing behind the electrical counter.

He went along the line of laptops and stopped at the Toshiba L500-19Z, with 15.6-inch screen, costing £479. I could see that it had a VGA webcam and asked him what the VGA meant. “I’m not sure; we don’t really get laptop training. I’m sure if you look on Wikipedia it will answer your questions.” I asked him what else he would recommend and he took out the ticket information for the Acer Aspire 5740Z, priced at £499, and the HP Pavilion DV6-2020, costing £449. I noticed he had just picked the three most expensive laptops.

Overall, I was pleased with the range available – the store did display more laptops than most of the others – but it was a shame that there were no high-end models and product knowledge was a bit patchy.

Score: 6/10

Summary:

As the laptop market is an extremely crowded one, it was clear in all stores that the mid range units had the biggest focus. Despite clearly stating my budget was £1,000, few of the stores came close to the limit and none took the opportunity to show me what a little more money could get me. Once the message was clear, Comet and PC World both recommended Sony Vaio laptops, with the latter store actually reaching the budget limit by all but a penny. Intel’s popularity was obvious – staff were aware of the newly released Intel i3, i5 and i7 processors and were positive about laptops featuring the components.

During the discussions there was very little in the way of product demonstrations – I was not sold a laptop but merely given a list of specs. For what should have been an exciting customer experience with the possibilities of touchscreens, Macs, Windows 7 features and Blu-ray play-back demonstrations, very little was done to get me excited. An opportunity missed.

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