Mystery Shopper does Southampton

With a high student population, our man of mystery asks what these retailers would recommend as a 'uni bike'
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Mystery Shopper is ‘going to university’ later this year and Southampton is the destination of choice. Taking inspiration from the students in this South coast city, the undercover reporter will be needing plenty of add on accessories, such as a rack to transport my stolen microwave and a good D-lock to keep said cooking appliance secure in halls of residence…

Hargroves Cycles: 2/5
The southern-most store of the Hargroves chain looked to have a great selection of cycles for a pedal powered city. Mystery Shopper may have entered with high expectations having heard great things about the chain.

Sadly, however, the assistant remained quiet for much of the service, beginning with Mystery Shopper's approach to the counter and then throughout the discussion of which bike would best suit a student living on campus.

Driving the conversation forwards and having explained that my knowledge of anything bike related was next to zero, I had expected to be asked questions of intended use, where I would store the bike and whether or not I'd be carting luggage around with me. The subject of security was thankfully brought up by the helper, who appeared concerned that if I were to go to the expense of a quality bike that it may be stolen. Further to this he added that more than one lock was advisable.

Selling the bike, however, wasn't done with the same grace and our 'clueless' spy almost gave the game away by asking too many questions for a non-savvy buyer in order to keep the conversation flowing.

The Hub Cycleworks: 5/5
Mystery Shopper is a big fan of any store that has a counter overlooking the front door, something that ensured The Hub's helper spotted me right away.

Working with the information he'd extracted from me on budget and use, the assistant explained I'd be best off with a hybrid, of which the store could supply one pre-kitted out with racks and mudguards in order to save me the expense of buying extras. On the other hand, it was re-affirmed that if I didn't like his suggestion they could fit any bike with such items.
Showing great attention to my original brief, it was advised that perhaps quick release wheels could, on this occasion, be less preferable for security reasons. Further to this, the purchase of a D-lock was strongly recommended as a 'must purchase' accessory.

Though a prompt was needed to obtain a business card, the assistant did explain the store's deposit procedures and monthly payment plans well, giving the customer means to obtain their ideal bike.



Rock ‘n’ Road: U
EN route to Rock 'n' Road, Mystery Shopper encountered a student fumbling awkwardly with a unpackaged microwave upon his handlebars. Southampton is jam packed full of these characters on bikes, that's why it was with some surprise that Rock 'n' Road neglects the entry to mid-level market altogether.

In a prime location down the road from Southampton Football Club, the shop presumably must have a diverse footfall, yet only the performance cyclist is catered for. No problem, every store has its speciality.

Rock 'n' Road's speciality is tailor made, high-end and custom fit bicycles, for which a bit of research shows a strong reputation. Mystery Shopper did wonder, that with such an open plan three storey shop with masses of floor space, would stocking a few mid-level bikes hurt the business? Even a few reconditioned bikes out back to cater for the high student population would surely line Rock 'n' Roads till with easy money.

The assistant did admit very quickly that I'd be better off in one of Southampton's other stores given my budget. It was a shame to be sent on my way with little on which to rate this store's service.

Halfords: 4/5
Had it not been for those pesky kids, this Halfords may have scored top marks. First impressions matter and what were presumably work experience kids running round each other in circles almost put me off altogether.

The visit was redeemed by a 'veteran' of the store who confessed to being a keen cyclist. Removing staff from the baracade that is the counter in many Halfords stores can be a lottery, though this staffer practically hurdled his to help. Quickly establishing my budget and intended use, the assistant outlined both a Carrera and an Apollo matching my brief. However, given that my budget was almost touching Boardman's lower boundaries, the Carrera was flagged as the preferable and for many solid reasons, all outlined in jargon free demonstrations. Removing a bike from the rack, the assistant explained very well why hybrids are selling so well at present, before moving on to the Halfords' signature after care package.

Referring to reviews online and in magazines, the helper stressed the value for money aspect of buying via Halfords, though remained honest about the build quality of bikes falling below £200.

Pijin: 4/5
With a prominent High Street location, this BMX – only shop must be doing good business. Being a 20-inch dedicated store, Mystery Shopper had to change to brief a little and instead chose to test the 'rider-run stores' ethos to see if the staff knowledge was indeed superior to information found online.

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Catching me while browsing, the assistant asked if I required assistance I quoted a recent media launch for which I required information with a view to purchase. The response was very concise and immediately you could tell the assistant was a rider himself and one with an ear to the ground.

Engaging me in a lengthy conversation about the industry, sponsorship and product, the 'sale' wasn't pushed upon me, but was spurred from a recommendation stemming from our conversation. Enthusiasm did more for converting this customer than any other aspect of what can’t really be described as a sales pitch.

In depth knowledge of this vibrant and fast moving sector is essential if you're to stand out form the competition. Pijin nailed it.

Summary
The scoring, particularly of Hargroves, is perhaps a little harsh. The stock was comprehensive, the shop itself well presented, but the most important part of a business is its representation and on this occasion Mystery Shopper felt the effort to sell was lacklustre.

In both Pijin and Halfords, sales pitches stemmed from very laid back conversation with enthusiasts who were best able to share reasons for and against certain products, and without blowing the mind of an uneducated shopper.

Mystery Shopper felt unable to properly rate Rock 'n' Road having declared a budget well under anything in stock. As a result there was very little more to the pitch that could be analysed other than the assistant's directions to another store. This store is seemingly doing its own thing and there's nothing wrong with that.

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