This Mystery Shopping business goes from one extreme to another. This month, retailers on the south coast were asked about a bike suitable for the beach. And the majority handled the request admirably…
Baker Street Bikes: 3/5
Using a comparison to his own circumstances, Baker Street's salesman gave his pitch of a 'reliable Ridgeback' a personal touch.
Explaining that the brand covered my desired budget and above with £50 leaps between models, the assistant didn't pin down one bike, instead he talked about what the pros and cons of the cheapest model. Given the extensive stock, I felt that I could easily have been upsold on my main bike purchase, however this was remedied by a good recommendation of security and safety extras.
Baker Street's staff can't be faulted for adding a bit of personality to the pitch. However, as the assistant went on, I almost felt as though the staffer was encouraging me to buy at the lower end to avoid disappointment, should my bike be nicked. Given his sensible suggestions about security, this threw me a little.
In my opinion, space constraints in store meant that moving freely in the isles was an issue. Though it may detract from the store's very comprehensive stock, it might be worth looking at creating a bit more floor space to make the shop a little less claustrophobic toward the front.
Brighton BMX Co: 2/5
Sadly, Mystery Shopper felt that the timing of this visit may not have been ideal.
The lone assistant, presumably the store's owner, was mid-phone argument with a supplier debating carriage charges as I browsed. The phone call went on, and on, and round in circles as I hung around waiting to be seen.
Briefly catching an interval in the debate, the assistant turned and asked if he could help, to which I rattled off a question about stock of a recently released bike-related DVD. The answer was brief and to the point. "We don't have it," said the assistant before returning to the phone. No timescales for stock were given and with no end to an increasingly charged phone call in sight, Mystery Shopper had little choice but to move on.
If there's anything to redeem what little that could be taken from the visit, the store's brightly coloured front fitted in very well with the lively coastline town. Signage alone can be a turn off for some customers.
Cycle Store : 5/5
At the other end of the scale to Brighton BMX, Cycle Store's assistant handled being on the phone with perfect grace. "I'll be with you in just a moment," let me know he'd acknowledged a customer in store and was keen to help.
Once he’d finished with the caller, I was approached and quizzed on my intended use and style preferences before a guideline budget was asked of me. Simple, but direct questioning like this extracted loads of information from me in just a few minutes and as such, the assistant quickly narrowed down the bikes in store best suited to me.
The first recommendation was entirely sensible, given my brief. A hub geared Charge was lifted down for me to test ride. "Barely any maintenance will be needed thanks to hub gearing," he explained. "We can service the bike here, if ever necessary."
Once this test ride was over, I gave feedback on the twitchy feel of bike given the narrow bar. Quickly the assistant concluded that perhaps I'd get on better with a road bike. He pulled another off the rack and again asked for my feedback. As I responded positively, the helper suggested a deposit to ensure he could hold the stock. Textbook, absolutely textbook.
Evans Cycles: 4/5
This store introduced me to a little system rigged up in some Evans stores that draws staff attention to the till area should an assistant be busy. While attending to another customer, the assistant behind the counter appeared to push some kind of magic staff-summoning doorbell. And voila – as soon as he'd pressed it, two staff miraculously appeared.
Using my very vague brief of a 'beachfront suitable bike with little maintenance needed', the assistant suggested I buy no lower than £350 and that I stick with a reputable brand "like those stocked in Evans", he added.
And I explained that "I might trash it", my helper outlined Evans after-sales support and servicing, as well as a rough guide to the most common services prices after my complimentary first service. It was a simple and straightforward pitch that would satisfy any customer seeking a workhorse bike. I was re-assured Evans could keep me on the road.
Allowing me to leave without any prompt of deposit, or timescale for a purchase, as well as lack of explanation of what accessories I'd need in a high crime area, did let the sale down slightly.
Sydney Street Bikes: 4/5
Similar to the Cycle Store visit, Sydney’s Bikes’ salesman put Mystery Shopper aboard two bikes closest to my budget and quoted use – something which the helper had extracted from me with a few simple, yet direct questions.
Having allowed me a trial of both a Merida and Kona build in my range, the assistant was able to discuss which build I preferred and why, intermittently adding thoughts of his own to assist my decision.
When I explained certain aspects of my chosen bike that I disliked, the store's salesman explained that components can be changed or altered to better suit a rider's preferences. For each point regarding riding positions and differences between price brackets, a jargon free, yet concise answer was provided.
With everything running so smoothly, Mystery Shopper turned to see a familiar face – a Paligap rep to whom I'd been previously introduced. Turns out, while 'test-riding' the Merida, Mystery Shopper may have had his identity revealed. At what stage of the sales experience this happened I remain unsure. Either way, Sydney’s Bikes’ salesman asked the right questions, narrowed my choices, offered up-sells and concluded well.
Sometimes you can walk into a store and catch staff sleeping, not literally of course, but given that the conversation is lead by the clueless customer, they might as well be. And that's why Brighton's retailers impressed. Each store scoring above three out of five had pro-active staff. Whether that's down to sales training, or a good strong brew, having staff who are attentive could be worth their weight in gold.
Structure, is the word of the day. Each store here had it in their approaches. Each asked a guideline budget and intended use and had me checking out a suitable model in a matter of minutes. There was no lapse in my interest during any visit, because staff asked how I felt about their conclusions and always had a plan B if I wasn't happy.
When satisfied they'd found the right bike for me, the majority were not afraid to ask for a deposit.