If Mystery Shopper were doing the rounds in those days, more heads may have rolled on this quite mundane visit to Verulamian to buy an £800 bike…
Rock and Road Bikes
First up, the staff at Rock and Road bikes were quick to approach Mystery Shopper and offer a few thoughts on what I could achieve for my quoted £800 budget.
The brief was open to both full suspension and hardtail recommendations, though knowing full suspension doesn't come cheap Mystery Shopper wasn't surprised at all to be diverted away from all full-suspension bikes.
Of the positive aspects taken from this visit, the assistant offered some advice on which tyres roll best through the typical UK muck during winter and even explained the benefits of hydroformed frames.
Further to what was otherwise a very average performance, I did leave with information on the warranty available with two brands, as well as an offered 'deal' on bikes that were currently in stock, which may well have opened some full-suspension models to my fictional wallet. The explanation of why a hardtail would carry more longevity at the £800 mark would also have been useful to a genuinely clueless customer.
Located on the same street as Rock and Road Bikes, this visit was surprisingly similar, both in terms of bikes stocked and the sales performance from the assistant. Again, Mystery Shopper was intercepted more or less at the door and recommended a hardtail over a full-suspension rig. It was explained that I'd be looking at a 'low performance' model if I bought into full suspension at that price point and would more than likely need to look into performance upgrades for serious riding.
It was therefore decided that a hardtail would be best for me, with a Trek and Whyte highlighted as possible candidates. I did, however, notice some models from the previous year on sale that could have opened a few perhaps stronger sales opportunities. It wasn't until prompted that these were talked over.
Warranty was again discussed, though with more detail than the larger store down the road. I felt that with gentle persuasion, many customers may have forked out for the bikes on sale thanks to the generous savings to be had and increased performance of the higher-priced bikes.
Despite being in store for a whopping 20 minutes on both the upper mezzanine floor and the ground floor, Mystery Shopper was not seen. Having been given nothing to review, aside from a casual chinwag between one staff member and a customer about a fight in town, there's really not much to document.
If standing in front of the counter isn’t enough of a prompt to be served, what is? I counted three staff in the cycles department. Granted one was on the phone and appeared to be giving advice on how best to approach the Cycle to Work scheme, but the other two staff gave Mystery Shopper no choice but to give up.
Leaving the cycle department I wrongly thought I might have more luck on the ground floor, though staff here were slightly more limited and were attending customers for the duration of my stay.
Halfords visits are a bit of a lottery; some are brilliant, such as the recent visit to Coventry. However, the service on this trip wasn’t good. A shame, as Halfords had perhaps the widest stock of bikes meeting my criteria for the day and could have scored big as a result.