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Pre Christmas excursion to the Midlands impresses our man of mystery

Mystery Shopper presses Corby’s retailers

Famed for its former industrial prowess, Corby is now perhaps best known in the bike world for its indoor skate park occupying a former chicken-processing factory. Mystery Shopper journeyed to the Midlands pre-Christmas, once more seeking a women’s bicycle to present on December 25th…

Wilco
Hard to miss with a large, well-placed store, the bright-yellow Wilko wasn’t on Mystery Shopper’s original hitlist, but as a motoring and cycling hybrid it’d be rude not to check out this retailer’s skills in the cycling department.
Early signs reminded me much of the poorer visits to Halfords branches where staff are barricaded behind the counters. Approaching the till area, staff did seem reluctant to come from behind the counter to assist, but one eventually did.
Unfortunately, the assistant wasn’t really able to engage me in the bikes on display, offering very little more than your average first time buyer’s basic knowledge of a bike.
Conversation stalled many times as one word answers to my queries became the norm and it quickly became apparent that some key knowledge needed to sell a bike well was missing. Mystery Shopper suspects the assistant may have been more into the car side of business than cycling.

Glovers Cycles
The exterior may not have been as bright and eye catching here as the Wilco store just down the road, but the cheery assistant more than made up for this with a hearty welcome. Observing the elderly staffer serve a prior customer, the assistant rattled off good knowledge on specific tyre sizes above and beyond your everyday sale, showing depth of knowledge.
With a slightly more basic query, Mystery Shopper didn’t feel as though he really tested the helper. It was unfortunate that, with the mention of bikes on the shop floor, the serving gentleman digressed in his sales pitch to me, discussing in depth price hikes from suppliers and other unrelated groans, which we can’t help but feel would lose most customers.
Getting back on track a little and perhaps suspecting the type of internet-savvy customer that might end up making a purchase from an internet retailer, it was recommended that I avoid buying online. The pitfalls of doing so were demonstrated on a workshop bicycle shaped object being tinkered with on the shop floor.

C&D Cycles
I was allowed to browse in C&D for a minute or two before the assistant politely asked if I needed assistance.
To get the only criticism out of the way early, the aisles in store were crowded and bikes needed to be moved around for customers to pass freely. This, however, didn’t hinder the assistant in leading me to a selection to choose from, all while asking questions on budget and the height of the rider set to be surprised with a bike come Christmas.
Explaining the difference between the high-end Pashley in the window and Raleigh’s budget friendly Red or Dead collaborations, the assistant didn’t force one option on me, giving his customer a diverse range of choices.
Eventually we settled on a popular ProBike model, which as the assistant put it, offered the style of the Pashley, but at a more affordable price. He added to this by telling me it was a best-seller with young ladies. Great pre-Christmas sales pitch, so far.
This was furthered with emphasis on the bike’s comfort features, but best of all, and a rarity on our travels, the assistant detailed servicing and after-sales services that his store can offer to ensure the longevity of the bike.

Halfords
Mystery Shopper entered just as a number of staff were going for lunch, leaving just the one sales assistant manning the mezzanine level bicycle display.
This staffer tended to a prior customer, whom Mystery Shopper observed be given sound and personal advice on a lighting purchase, interspersed with chat about local off-road routes.
Armed with the knowledge I was to be seen by who was presumably a cyclist himself, I began to question the helper about the ladies stock, largely separated from the main bulk of bikes on show. Pulling an example from the rack a little below the budget he’d asked of me, the assistant mainly sold the bike on value for money points, citing the included mudguards more than once.
Recommending a ‘guideline’ frame size for the height of the rider, the helper stopped short of promising the bike would be a perfect fit, but said it’d do the job.
The only obvious shortcoming of this sales pitch was the mention of after-sales service and care packages often quoted elsewhere in Halfords stores. Otherwise this visit was above average for the chain.

Cyclelife
The service here was so good Mystery Shopper wonders whether or not he may have been recognised. Such was the level of personal care and attention, it almost seemed over the top.
Giving the benefit of the doubt, the early signs were strong, with a female assistant meeting me on entry. Alongside another available staff member, the pair offered me two ‘categories’ – practical or aesthetic – to satisfy the needs of the person whom I was set to buy for. Intrigued, I questioned the pair, who said that typically young ladies buy on the looks of a bicycle, thus I’d be best playing it safe with a reliable sit-up-and-beg style bike, of which the female assistant herself was considering purchasing. Reassuring to hear.
Should I choose a more practical ‘do-anything’ bike, the pair concluded I’d best snap up a Marin. Citing the brand’s aftercare package and general reliability, the store re-assured me this would come into its own in warmer weather and that should I want to modify, the shop could change the tyres to make the bike a more comfortable ride on road – free of charge with the bike’s purchase too.

Summary
Plenty of pros and cons to take from this visit. The most obvious to me is what a difference a simple welcome can make. C&D shone here, giving me a minute or so to browse before coming from behind the counter to politely ask if I could use assistance. It’s surprising how often first impressions are neglected.
This particular visit to Halfords demonstrated how one quality staff member beats ten mediocre employees. While by no means perfect, the assistant handled custom with grace and in good time.
Cyclelife had to come out on top, however, despite suspicions that we may have been sussed.

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