Mystery Shopper finds out who sinks and swims in Bath

John's Bikes, Cadence, Halfords, Total Fitness and Avon Valley Cyclery all visited in our West Country excursion
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This month Mystery Shopper gets down and dirty with Bath’s retailers, going in search of a bike to take over the hills and far away. There’s a catch though... Petrol prices are troubling everyone, so our incognito investigator wants a bike that will handle both road and off-road terrain...

Avon Valley Cyclery : 3/5
Located at the rear of the Bath Spa railway station, Avon Valley Cyclery's warehouse allowed for a spacious shop floor and some good point of display.

To begin with the assistant appeared a little on the shy side. However, he soon enough got back into his stride by simply asking me what I was intending to use the bike for and what my budget was. With these two questions alone it was simply a case of putting me on a bike that matched by brief – which was done with only a little deliberation.

Though the conversation was largely led by Mystery Shopper, the assistant's knowledge couldn’t be faulted, though as sales techniques go, this wasn’t at the stronger end of the scale. Sadly, certain key things relevant to my brief, such as fork lockout and tyre choice were neglected, leaving a bit of guess work for the less bike-savvy customer.

Cadence : 4/5
The deceptively large Cadence has both a basement and second floor, though handily you'll be met on entry thanks to some good till area placement – as was the case on this visit – by two staff at once.

With high footfall in store, I was able to observe both staff fairly quickly, establishing early that this is the kind of store that seems to have a loyal customer following – with no fewer than two customers being referred to by name during my visit.

My assistant made some bold and opinionated statements, writing off a hybrid bike early: “These do half a job. Best focus on either on or off road builds and customise from there,” I was told. An interesting angle and the logic may be sound, but the beginner may be thrown if on a low to mid-end budget.

The bikes recommended to me were done with strong reasoning and explained in a jargon-free way. I left with an earmarked catalogue for browsing and asked to return to 'size up' once I'd made a firm choice. He was wise to save the sizing up for my return as this would prevent me taking information away and buying on the web.



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Halfords : 2/5
A few doors down from one of Future Publishing's many Bath offices, this single-floor High Street Halfords had limited stock, consisting largely of Carrera's bike line, neglecting the performance end of the market almost completely.

As with most Halfords branches, the handlebar tags kept me amused while the inevitable wait to be seen ensued. It took a short while, as I had to contend with staff chatting with their mates, before I became tired of waiting and butted in.

In the end it was the handlebar tags that better sold the bike as the staff member couldn’t give many solid answers to my questioning and referred to the material dangling off each bike.

It was pointed out that there was up to 30 per cent off the entire Carrera stock, as well as further incentives to buy add-on packages, again discounted. These would be attractive and certainly offer good value to the consumer. It wasn't the salesman's efforts that would have won me over, however.

John’s Bikes : 5/5
Walking in on the closing of a sale is always a sign that the shop is doing something right. Waiting my turn, I observed aftercare service, such as tweaks to saddle height and further checks to the ride comfort.

As the prior customer departed they were followed with the seemingly well-practiced phrases "be sure to come back for your free service in four weeks. We'll email you a reminder." Brilliant.

On to me and having established that I wanted a bike for light jaunts both off and on road, a hybrid trek was initially offered for a test ride, followed by a rigid forked build, which I was asked to compare. Once the assistant had established my favoured ride he went into detail about riding posture and comfort in the saddle, showing me ways in which I could modify the bike to best suit conditions.

All in all, I found this experience educational, tailored, polite and, from a sales perspective, the "would you like to buy or place a deposit today" was asked of me. Good job. Details of my chosen bike were written on a business card and as I left I was reminded I could place a deposit over the phone and that my bike could be serviced and ready to ride inside an hour.


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Total Fitness : 4/5
Assuming the role of 'beginner triathlete', Mystery Shopper went into this specialist store asking some vague questions in the hope of a bit of a quick-fire education in the equipment needed to take part.

It was with some relief that the assistant steered clear of jargon, explaining to me that it's best that I ease myself in to the sport to avoid spending hundreds in one hit. Recognising that if I were to be thrown in at the deep end it would be a costly experience, the assistant referred me to the store's website, which listed ‘Triathlon packages’. An investment in such a bundle would give me better scope on whether or not to take the sport seriously or not, it was explained.

Sale items were recommended to further help ease me into the sport, should I want to make purchases to get me rolling right away. Modifications to my current bike were also discussed in order to help me get the most from equipment. Honest, helpful and plenty of sensible suggestions.

Summary
Each and every store had their strong points, even Halfords with its top-notch handlebar tags.

Mystery Shopper is, however, increasingly about sales techniques and methods used to secure a sale by those manning the fort. As such, John's Bikes just pipped Cadence, with my gut feeling being that Cadence would be the more intimidating to the newbie cyclist as the store seemed to have a very 'savvy' audience, despite handling my questioning with concise jargon-free solutions.

The closure of sales was strong across the board, with, at the very least, Mystery Shopper leaving with hints on websites and mentions of deposit.

Kudos to Cadence for resisting sizing me up on the spot having secured my interest in a bike. This often leads to customers taking away sizing information and ordering online.

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