The second half of this month's Mystery Shopper, where our undercover reporter assumes the form of a student in the market for a bike between £180 and £400, capable of carting ‘projects’ to and from halls of residence to classes...

MYSTERY SHOPPER: Chelmsford Part Two

You can read the first part of Mystery Shopper’s trip to Chelmsford here.

Sport Direct
On entry, Mystery Shopper was greeted with clothing on the floor and a sea of racks. Overstocked and untidy would be an understatement. To add to the immediate feeling of ‘let’s get outta here’, I was greeted by what I could only assume was the staff’s music choice – some out-of-tune, uncensored, grimy rap music.

I could, however, immediately see a display of bikes on the upper level, so I went to check it out. There were four bikes on show, all from the Dunlop brand and all costing below £100. The stand featured one BMX, one lady’s mountain bike and two men’s builds. There was nothing an educated buyer would consider here and very little explanation on the header cards, except for the sale price.

Nonetheless, the Mystery Shopper experience is calculated largely by interaction with staff and their explanation of the build’s capabilities. So I went in search of interaction, but found no-one to question. I then caught the eye of one lad who appeared to be available. However, by the time I waded through racks of clothing he disappeared. These low cost bikes must sell themselves…

Cycles UK
Cycles UK, located in a retail park, had a vast array of bikes on display outside of the shop, enticing customers in.

After browsing the diverse range of bikes, an assistant led me to a stylish Marin costing £319. He pointed out several of its features, which justified its price and left me convinced that I’d be better off spending a little more.

He insisted I purchase a decent U-lock, reminding me that cycle theft is on the up. I then questioned fitting a rack to the rear of the bike, at which point the advisor pulled two that appeared not to fit the Marin from the shelf and let down the so-far helpful experience. He did, however, redeem himself by explaining that Cycle UK do stock a model that fitted – pointing to the holes to which the rack would be fixed on the frame.

What the assistant didn’t need to say was: “We’re a little steep on price; it’s because we only stock quality.” I hadn’t thought prices were steep, but if new to cycle shopping, I’d surely have taken this as advice to shop around.

Discounts appeared on many of the 2009 models, which Mystery Shopper can’t help but feel, along with the good service offer, would secure a sale.

Chelmer Cycles
Visitors to Chelmer Cycles are greeted on entry by the till, which is great for prompt service and even better for deterring theft from the store.

As such, I was able to immediately talk to the owner about my needs, explaining that I was yet to secure a university place, but it was highly likely I’d be going to Nottingham. The assistant stopped me in my tracks and placed emphasis on the fact that in such a high crime area, a strong U-lock should be considered, whatever I bought.

The retailer pointed out some burly looking Krytonite locks and explained it’s best to combine them to secure the whole bike. He wasn’t fond of the quick release systems that are dominant on the majority of bikes, suggesting it leaves a bike prone to component removal. This was enough to convince me I needed to secure any bike well.

I was pleasantly surprised to be shown a well-built Kona below £400. The store owner then detailed how I’d fit appropriate racks and guards to the bike.

Though small, Chelmer Cycles was tidy, well arranged and stocked good kit. Most importantly the owner listened to my needs and offered sound advice. Top marks here.

Month-by-month, Halfords seems to be improving its service, and the Chelmsford store performed especially well considering that footfall was low considering the time of day. This may or may not have been the case had it been higher, but the staff member Mystery Shopper spoke to was certainly clued up on his gear and polite. There’s not much more you’ll need than that to
sell a bike in Halfords.

Both Chelmer Cycles and Cycles UK offered excellent personal service and really took some time out to listen before lunging in with a sales pitch. Chelmer just about had the edge in terms of advice given. However, it’s worth noting Cycles UK appeared to still be getting used to where things were in the new store.

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