BikeBiz's man of mystery visits Renhams Cycles, Cyclelife Dover, Halfords and Activ in Folkestone.
Mystery Shopper had initially planned to board a ferry and never come back, but then the sun came out. Just ten minutes later and another hailstorm forced refuge in the coastal bike shops, but could any cycle store persuade our spy to stay in the country and buy a shiny new bicycle?
Seeing happy customers wheeling a bike from the store is always a good sign, as was the case on this visit. It did, however take longer than I’d have liked to be picked up in store, with two staff strolling by myself and another browsing customer without any intervention.
On the third pass I grabbed an opportunity with the assistant who pointed out a ‘TdF Edition Carrera’ going for £50 under my quoted budget thanks to an in store sale. Each bike was locked to the racks, so there was no gesture to allow me to sling a leg over, but I was assured that my size would be somewhere in the stock room.
Having hinted that yellow wasn’t Mystery Shopper’s colour, the assistant took the opportunity to upsell by £150 quid, explaining that at £500 I’d gain branded Shimano components, though the benefits of this weren’t discussed. The weight advantages were focused on. By this time it was clear that I wasn’t to be asked exactly what I planned using the bike for, or whether I’d need add on racks, despite the brief of ‘ditching the car’ as transport.
Renhams is located on the approach to the town centre, meaning spotting it on the way in was easy enough. Specialising in kid’s bikes and Cannondale, among other things, the helper established my needs early on, comparing and contrasting the features of a hybrid mountain bike and a flat barred road model.
Questioning me on my budget and where I’d like to take the bike, it was quickly decided that the flat barred road bike would best serve my needs. Sat above my quoted budget, it was technical features that were explained to me, as opposed to why I should invest further money. Redeeming this, the assistant stressed the build quality of Cannondale’s bikes and, seizing on my desire to ‘ditch the car’, added that I could add on a rack should I need to cart my things around. At this point I was expecting a closure of the sale, or to perhaps be asked when I was looking to buy, or whether I’d like to place a deposit. Despite picking up the pace of the conversation toward the end this, sadly, didn’t come and I was allowed on my way without any real incentive to buy at the store.
To date, Cyclelife visits have been near unanimously strong in sales pitches and general in store vibe, thus the bar was set high for this visit.
It was no surprise to be greeted immediately, despite the assistant being sat at the opposite end of the shop. I was given two or three minutes to browse before being approached and asked “what was I looking to achieve from my bike”. Good start.
I was perhaps offered a ‘deal’ a bit too soon in the pitch and on a current year model, however the offer of a discount was wisely used to test my budget’s flexibility. Pushing me toward the £500 mark, citing longevity and performance of the components, the assistant began to reign in the sale, telling me that he could have stock of whatever bike I’d settled on, normally next day, from Raleigh.
Having run out of catalogues, I left with a business card and the recommendation to do my research on the Cyclelife website.
This large surf and cycle retailer had a dedicated area for bicycles, which was one of the best-presented retail environments Mystery Shopper has seen on his travels.
Just one model in stock fell under my budget, but as we began to chat the assistant opened me up well and I granted him a little flexibility on my finances.
Having asked strong questions of me early on, the helper was able to pinpoint what he considered to be the perfect bike for me, adding that if I bought with Activ I’d be granted a £50 accessory add on, which would satisfy the pannier racks I’d perhaps need to successfully ‘ditch four wheels’.
It was the closure of the sale that really impressed, though. For the first time on Mystery Shopper’s travels, a proper bike fit was touted as an incentive to buy from Activ – the assistant essentially telling me that a bike could be tailored to my dimensions with component changes included in the price. This was obviously achieved without giving away any sizing details, as I’d “be fitted when I returned to buy.” A substantial reason to choose Activ over competitors.
The ‘problem’ with each and every store in a region performing reasonably well is that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where I’d purchase. Even if £400 is considered low end in this business, your Average Joe is going to shop around when dropping a three figure sum – that includes online too.
That’s why I’m able to confidently conclude that Activ would have been most likely to have seen my business on this occasion. On top of being a polite and well-rehearsed chap when giving a sales pitch, he also differentiated his store from the bunch extremely well. To stand out in a customer’s mind, personality and service are key, but giving a reason to return if the customer’s not buying right away is also crucial.
Register for the BikeBiz News Digest at the registration page.