Mystery Shopper targets Swindon's retailers

Fancying a jaunt in the countryside, our spy hits four independents and a Halfords
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Mystery Shopper recently paid a visit to the home of The National Trust and an area neighbouring some of the UK and Wales’ best trail routes. As such, it’s only fitting that Swindon’s retailers get a grilling on the ideal bike for jaunts in the countryside...

Mitchell’s Cycles 3/5

Once in a while Mystery Shopper will come across a retailer that doesn’t put a foot wrong. That’s the case with Mitchell’s Cycles. Having said that, things shuffled along for much of the time spent in-store and I felt as though I was driving the conversation forwards.

All answers provided to my queries were spot on, though had I not been talking, there would have have been little more than the soft sound of my squeezing of the brake levers between us. Luckily, the fact that the bike had been removed from the rack for me to ‘size up’ was a redeeming quality, as was the mention that I should consider a deposit.

Of the unprovoked parts of conversation, the assistant did interestingly state his belief that prior model years represented far better value for money, largely down to the constant increase in retail prices on fresher model years.

I’d like to score Mitchells higher. Granted, I was seen immediately and staff were friendly. Sadly, I left feeling the performance only average.

Dan’s Cycles 4/5

In sharp contrast to the prior visit, Dan’s Cycles sales assistant demonstrated what a difference a bit of confidence makes. Getting straight to the point, I was advised that my £800 budget wouldn’t get me much in the way of full-suspension, though could buy me a sturdy hardtail.

The varying types of XC were discussed, with the assistant soon getting it out of me that I’d prefer a more aggressive ride to the more relaxed, traditional XC geometry. Such a small detail could make a big difference to my enjoyment of the bike, it was explained.

Having discussed value for money, the assistant went into detail about manufacturer Merida owning its factory outright, thus savings were passed onto the customer. It was at this point an indexed catalogue was handed over and the shop assistant suggested I check out some reviews online before coming back in to place an order. An extremely good close to a confident pitch.

Presentation of the bikes in-store was also tastefully done.

Halfords 3/5

This was a difficult one to ‘grade’. Given the high footfall in store, it relied on Mystery Shopper earwigging on other customer queries and all seemed well.

Deciding that it would be a while before I was seen, I decided to browse, which uncovered many points of interest. Firstly, to the untrained eye in particular, it seems like Halfords is upping its value for money credentials on bikes which require a little investment. For my £800 budget I could obtain a Boardman Bike with a very reasonable spec or, for a little more money, a Voodoo carrying a few brand name components.

Second of all, each bike was very well labelled with spec information, intended use and warranty information. As a result of this reading material, having to wait to be seen was less annoying than had I not been kept occupied.

Last of all, and one more mention for our Olympian turned bicycle designer – a women’s specific display of Boardman Bikes, for me showed a commitment from Halfords to openly invite more women aboard bikes. Has your store made a point of catering for the female cyclist?

Red Planet Bikes 5/5

Red Planet is only the second store to gain full marks.

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The female helper showed both enthusiasm for business and bicycles and had me sold without moving from the counter. As February falls in between model year changeover, the assistant rotated her computer screen to face me and took time to ask my budget and intended use, all prior to me asking a number of questions on warranty, value for money and technical aspects – each of which were faultlessly given honest and opinionated answers.

The social layout of the counter area suggested to me that the staff enjoyed sitting their customers down and taking time to find the ideal bike for each. A stool on my side of the counter and a coffee machine on hers gave a very inviting vibe to the store.

Though explaining to me I could obtain great value for money with the European manufactured Ghost brand, Red Planet’s representative gave accurate and justified reasons to consider the UK-built Orange brand.

To finish, I was directed to the store’s own very polished website.

Total Bike 3/5

Similar to the first experience of the day, Total Bike didn’t necessarily put a foot wrong, though being the typical short-attention span customer I felt as though I was kept browsing with obvious need for assistance before I was seen.

I was surprised to be met by a man who I had assumed to be a customer due to his plain clothes. Nonetheless, the salesman kicked off with a tour of the store’s top-end bikes, something the average customer needn’t see unless specifically mentioned. Nice to know what’s out there, but that’s time wasted in my book.

Things settled down once I’d given my budget and the chatty assistant got to the finer points of a Specialized model that was ‘on sale’. My questions were dispatched efficiently and customisation was even discussed briefly. The assistant did, however, have a habit of digressing into areas that would mind-boggle the average consumer.


If I had to pick a single word around which to centre my conclusion it would be ‘confidence’.

You can have too much, too little, or you can take Red Planet’s approach of just relaxing and gently leading the customer with the correct questions, before influencing sensible decisions based on listening carefully to feedback.

Red Planet injected passion into the pitch, but didn’t push any particular solution on me, instead opting to have me take a seat before guiding me through the pros and cons of particular bikes.

It’s hard to fault any of Swindon’s retailers – each had something to offer and none gave me reason to discount their store. If Total Bike’s assistant hadn’t digressed into irrelevant stories of past customers and distribution deals then they too would have scored on a par with Dan's Cycles.

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