The commuter urban market is regularly touted to be the next growth area for cycling retail. But is retail geared up for the sector –and for an influx of novice cycling customers? BikeBiz’s Mystery Shopper went to work and visited bike dealers in Norwich to check out their customer service...
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The commuter urban market is regularly touted to be the next growth area for cycling retail. But is retail geared up for the sector –and for an influx of novice cycling customers? BikeBiz’s Mystery Shopper went to work and visited bike dealers in Norwich to check out their customer service...

Cycle Republic
Well situated on a pedestrianised street in the heart of the city, Norwich’s Cycle Republic store is well laid out, giving customers plenty of space to examine and compare bikes. In fact the seemingly pared down selection on show looked as though it might not offer the depth of some of the other nearby bike stores, but in practice there were plenty of bikes to choose from in the sector I was there to see.

Two sales assistants were present in the store at time of visiting, both dealing with a customer at the counter. Soon after finishing up, one of them approached me and asked if I needed any help.

After setting them the task of finding me a commuter-style bike in the region of £300 the assistant showed me two displays – one priced under £500 and, considering the rang I’d quoted, a more optimistically priced set of bikes over the £500 mark. He mentioned the Chris Boardman bikes were a premium option and pointed out some of the differences between the price bands.

When quizzed on alternatives, including folding bikes, the sales assistant suggested that I disregard that bike category. He told me that folding bikes were only really suitable for short-range distances and they were a bit bendy if you “really go for it”.

Before leaving me to mull over his advice he said I was welcome to pull out a bike myself for further examination, and offered further help if I needed it. Despite the fact that the store brand’s future has been in the news lately, it didn’t reflect on this staff member’s willingness to provide friendly advice and help...

Freeman Bicycles

Independent dealer Freeman is set on the edge of the city centre near a busy dual carriageway, just a short walk beyond a nearby retail park. The shop, which has been a family business for over one hundred years, naturally contrasted strongly with Cycle Republic, being packed tightly with plenty of bikes and accessories. When I arrived the store had just taken delivery of new bikes, but this didn’t stop the sales assistant greeting me and offering help as soon as I stepped inside.

Again asking for a commuter bike in the region of £300, I was offered a large range that stretched from under the £200 mark all the way up to just over £500.

I was shown a variety of models and was encouraged to look at bikes from last year that had, as I was informed, better prices than this year’s models. The sales assistant also offered more expensive models from this year and said he could order them in for me if I liked. Despite slightly higher prices, most of the bikes shown were within the price range I’d asked for and I was informed that all of the models were ready to go with no additional extra purchases required.

When I mentioned that I was going to be leaving the bike at a train station I was advised to think about getting some bike security products. I also asked him whether helmets were compulsory as I’d heard a lot about them in the news recently. He informed me that they weren’t but they were recommended, especially if you were thinking of ‘putting the miles in’ on the bike.

The staff member spoken to provided appropriate (and friendly) advice, was clearly very knowledgeable, was a rider himself, and was not in the least bit patronising.


Heading slightly further out of town into the suburbs of Norwich, Roxy Music-themed Streetlife is situated on a residential street corner. No sooner had I opened the door than I was greeted and asked if I needed any assistance. The staff member spoken to wasn’t quite as chatty as the last, but was still friendly, informative and happy to answer questions.

Notably, Streetlife was the only store where the sales assistant took the trouble to get the bike out of its display so I could take a closer look – before I’d even had chance to ask. The sales assistant I spoke to took the time to explain bike jargon, taking pains to ensure all the information was clear to a novice bike customer.

The sales assistant also took the time to upsell, encouraging me to see the benefit of a model £50 more expensive than the one I was looking at (which was priced at £300). He convincingly recommended the jump up as “you get so much more for your money” – in this case suspension fork and a saddle upgrade.

Again I asked if helmets are compulsory and was correctly informed that they weren’t, but they were recommended. I wasn’t shown a particular model of helmet as a result, potentially missing out on an
added sale, but he did add that bells were an essential requirement for bikes being sold out of the shop.

The sales assistant also discussed the weight of bikes and made me aware that while there are lower priced alternatives, they generally got heavier the lower the price.

Mandarin Cycles
Eye-catchingly situated near a busy junction close to the centre of Norwich, Mandarin Cycles had bikes on show outside the shop, while inside the product displays were simply laid out with the bikes all easily accessible. I had chance to browse before being approached by a member of staff, who asked if I needed help soon after I stopped at a display.

The advice I received was friendly, personal and informative. I was taken around a range of potential bikes – all close to and under the price tag I was interested in. I was told that each bike was pretty much ready to go and would need no additional purchases.

I was taken through different types of models within the criteria I provided, including hybrids and more traditional models. Similarly, all of the bikes recommended were within the general price range I requested. He went on to show me more sporty versions of the bikes (without mudguards, etc) and had a substantial range of bikes within the price bracket I had gone into the shop with.

After some explanation the assistant went on to encourage me to make a purchase by making me aware of special offers that were available on relevant bikes, including a £50 discount that lasted until the end of the week.

The sales assistant also tailored his advice to me – taking note of my body shape and suggested that I wouldn’t need a particular saddle which could potentially make the bike too tall for me. It was interesting to see that my individual needs were being considered for the potential purchase.

Velo Cycles
Another bike shop situated on a very busy junction a short way outside the city centre was Velo Cycles – another well-stocked bike dealer.

After spending some time looking at the display, the sales assistant was busy chatting and I had to approach him for service. It’s a small point maybe, but I felt that this was one shop where I could have easily left the premises without being approached by a member of staff, unlike most of the others I visited in the city.

My request for a commuter bike in the region of £300 again met with a wide range of suitable bikes and I was taken through some of the key features of each model. I felt that the sales assistant was rushing through the options a little, especially compared to the unhurried and excellent service I’d received in most of the other shops in the area. But there was plenty of opportunity for me to ask further questions.
When another customer entered the shop with a problem with a pump, the sales assistant was keen to attend to her, possibly resulting in a rushed service for me. It’s good to see shops ready and willing to look after what I imagine was a regular customer, but it did leave me with £300 burning a hole in my pocket.

Overall though, my service at the shop was good – certainly not at the degree of some of the best of the other shops I visited in Norwich, but still boasting a good level of service that met the needs of the customer.

Overall, the cycle shops of Norwich impressed. All seemed well geared up to deal with both the thriving student population and cycle commuters of the city. In the main each shop had friendly staff who listened to what the customer wanted, and advised without being pushy or patronising. While only one of them got bikes out without being asked, all had a range of appropriate options on offer.

Overall, Mystery Shopper found that Norwich’s bike shops met with a high standard of customer service, and the city’s bike retailers look set to be a hard act to follow.

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