Mystery shopper wanders Watford

BikeBiz's reporter tours the home of the Hornets in search of a bike for 'mrs mystery'
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It’s time, once again, for ‘Mrs Mystery’ to get her hands on a new bike for summer jaunts into the countryside. With countless connections to the countryside just outside Watford, BikeBiz’s undercover reporter tasks four stores with selling a £500 ladies mountain bike…

Halfords
At risk of repeating an old adage, this Halfords branch proves that one good staff member worth their weight in gold, is far greater than ten idle personnel.
With that in mind you can assume we’ve stumbled upon another branch of Halfords that’s well above average. Met at the top of the stairs by a young lad, I was asked if I needed help and listened to as I delivered my brief. The helper understood that a hybrid wasn’t what I had in mind and though conceding I’d best be served by an out of budget ‘unisex’ Boardman Bike, did his best to deliver anyway.
I was shown various suitable bikes at around half my quoted budget, each pulled down from the racks, despite what looked like an inconvenience.
The money off each was touted effectively, but not relied on as the helper detailed Halfords after-sales service.
The only fault I could place here was that the Boardman wasn’t too far beyond my quoted budget and while looking them over I did hint at budget flexibility. This, however, wasn’t picked up on and we quickly ended up back with the Apollos.

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Cycles UK
Once again, it’s always good to receive a friendly and prompt greeting. Impressing early, I could see that the assistant was making no assumptions about the girlfriend I was shopping for. He asked for the likely use of the bike, her height and my budget in quick succession, obtaining all he needed from me to make an informed recommendation.
This recommendation centred around two Specialized bikes tailored for the female form. One of which, however, was a 29-inch wheeled rig, which the assistant insightfully explained might not be best suited to a female of 5 foot 3-inch height. It was explained that smaller builds can struggle with the handling of bigger wheeled bikes and that the 26-inch would offer a much more planted ride.
This is where the experience began to worry me slightly. The salesperson edged toward a point of sale machine where I could see detailed information on sizes. When mine was pointed out on the system I had all the information I would need to purchase the same bike either online, or down the road where the very same model was also available.

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Neale & Sons Cycle Centre
Arriving just prior to the post lunchtime opening, Mystery Shopper was timing Neale and Sons to see if they opened on time. Sure enough, on the stroke of 2pm, the lights flicked on and the door swung open.
The owner was quick to greet me and, though jumping to a conclusion on budget, was certainly pro-active in his approach to finding the right model for the job. This did, however, lead us to a catalogue for which the brand did frustratingly little to match my brief. Not by any means the store owner’s fault, his key supplier has a gap to fill.
With another ‘unisex’ mountain bike put forward after some conversation, we settled on agreeing there was little way forward but to bring Mrs Mystery in store. The store owner was right to suggest this, of course.
On this occasion, with only lower-end stock available, each well below my quoted budget and a catalogue with just ‘unisex’ mountain bikes on offer this visit wouldn’t spur me into parting with cash. Had the brief been different, I think Neale and Sons could well have scooped the ‘Star Store’ award, thanks to the lengths the assistant went to in order to help.

CycleOpedia:(Star store)
With its faded signage, CycleOpedia could perhaps use a lick of paint to make the most of its excellent position at the end of a promenade of shops. Mystery Shopper is, however, no Grand Designs expert, besides, it’s what’s on the inside that matters and that was largely very good.
The staff met me on entry and quickly established that a hybrid bike wouldn’t be satisfactory from our conversation. With this in mind and with my budget skilfully worked with, I was shown to a 400 Specialized, which was then compared with bikes double the price in the catalogue. Without giving away sizing for the 5.3 female in question, the assistant used the bike’s weight as a key selling point, explaining that it would be maneuverable by the smaller rider.
The up-sell wasn’t pushed to the extent that I would like to have seen, despite my hints that I was in the market for a bike that wouldn’t just ‘do the job, but do it well’. This was however, the most rounded sales pitch of the day and I left with a satisfactory amount of information about the store and Specialized, but without enough detail that I could buy elsewhere.

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Summary
Nothing terrible about any of the experiences, but nothing outstanding, or convincing enough to guarantee my custom throughout.
What proved problematic on many occasions was the particular bike I was seeking. Apparently the £500 women's mountain bike market isn't a sought after enough area to carry any dedicated stock in some cases. The 'unisex' bikes offered were not convincing enough and we've no doubt, wouldn't have been the most comfortable ride for the customer.
What was lacking was sale closure on all occasions, CycleOpedia was a narrow favourite of the visits.

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