Mystery Shopper applies pier pressure in Hastings

UK's sunshine capital gets a grilling. With boutique stores, chains and independents, who will come out shining?
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Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside. The sea air really puts Mystery Shopper in the mood for applying some pier pressure to the retailers of Hastings. With varied terrain, we’re in search of something speedy, yet capable of tackling some steep inclines…

High Tide Cycles
Purely a business handling second-hand refurbished cycles, High Tide were a sociable bunch, talking Tour de France, cycling Hastings and much in between.
With chit chat flowing nicely, it was time to talk about a bike to get Mystery Shopper from A to B in the minimal amount of time. With just one yet to be refurbished bike in stock, there wasn’t a whole load to sell on, though the assistant pulled the cycle from the window and began to detail what was right and what was wrong with the bike. The garish paintjob could only be described as ‘technicolour dreamcoat’, but the shop assistant wasn’t shy of pointing out the paint defects and suggested a respray by the new owner.
Having done his best to help me see past the aesthetics, the helper began to sell on the positives, pointing to the sturdy wheels adorned to the bike and telling me ‘they’ll last and last’.
Sensing this particular bike might not be my cup of tea, he urged me to check back regularly, as racing bikes ‘come and go like buses’. Helpful throughout, but a bit of a lottery as to whether you’ll find the right bike here.

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Hasting Cycles (Seafront)
Hosting a closing down sale, the seafront store has until now provided a hire bike and sales service to the town’s population.
With the clearout well underway, I was browsing some vintage stock when the assistant approached with a friendly “excellent bike in its day, that one”. From there the conversation flowed freely as the helper shared his knowledge of the 1957 Raleigh gents bike. I was informed of the wheel and tyre upgrade that had been added by the shop and the workings of the gearhub, which given the bargain price, began to make the bike seem like a steal.
It became hard to resist the knowledgeable sales pitch, nonetheless, I was after something a little ‘faster’ and as such was pointed to the town centre branch of Hastings Cycles.

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Hastings Cycles
Having just come from the seaside branch where I had found some bargains for the eagle-eyed vintage bike shopper, I was told to expect the answer to my needs at the town centre store.
It was perhaps a bit disappointing that the assistant missed out on my hints that I had a budget nearer to £1,000 than the £300 bike largely focused on. Once I had made it clear I was after a certain level of performance, we moved onto a number of catalogues, though I was advised that I shouldn’t ‘spend too much’ as I’ll only be paying for less weight past the £500 mark.
I was handed a business card and told to have a look at the shop’s website for more detailed information and a wider range. This technique could easily lead to the shopper going elsewhere while Googling bike details.
To his credit, the assistant was knowledgeable and accurately described subtle differences in material specs and how they would affect a bike’s characteristics.

Halfords
As a Metro branch, stock was limited and as expected staff pointed me to the larger Bexhill branch.
Despite the larger, better stocked, neighbour, my helper didn’t hesitate to have a go at selling me a Carrera Kraken at £449. It wasn’t long before the helper was using my quoted budget to show me what a greater investment could see me riding on the store’s computer.
Comparing and contrasting against the Carrera, I was steered towards the Boardman range and was told that, should I choose to spend at the upper end of my budget, the upgraded components would quickly change the enjoyment I could get from the ride. Jargon began to slip into the pitch, yet it’s actually quite refreshing to receive a such a level of knowledge in Halfords. Understanding my geometry preferences and taking on board my expectations of the bike, it was wisely suggested I head over to Bexhill to see the bikes in the flesh. It was advised that I could order a bike into the Metro branch for my convenience if needed.

Bells Bicycles (Star Store)
Boutique bike shop Bells Bicycles has been in a number of locations in Hastings prior to settling on a busy side street just off the promenade.
Selling purely on style and function, the store was busy with both window shoppers and genuine custom during our visit. Joining the back of the queue, I had plenty of time to browse, but the store owner approached me as soon as she had a spare moment.
Telling me that she had spotted the Tokyo Bikes brand while in London and has since added one to her own stable of bikes, the assistant grabbed a set of allen keys and asked me to sling a leg over. Adjusting the saddle height while discussing her own experiences of the bike, I was quickly re-assured that my maintenance concerns were not to be worried about due to the simple spec of the bike and the puncture resistant tyres.
If I was being picky, the only fault I could pick with Bells would be not asking for any form of ID while offering me a test ride. Other than that, the owner’s enthusiasm and knowledge of her stock had me sold.

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Summary
If a defining word had to be picked to sum up Hasting's cycle stores, it would be enthusiasm. Each store displayed service with a smile and while that doesn't sell bicycles on its own, it certainly helps warm the customer to a store.
Halfords' assistant proved once again that employing the right people for a role can make a real difference with a chain store business.
Lots of second hand bikes for sale on this visit and why not? They may not be all bells and whistles all of the time, but in this economy where budgets are stretched, refurbished cycles can be a lifeline for many.

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