Once more, a handful of stores in the capital are tasked with selling to our incognito investigator

Mystery Shopper snoops south of the river

Ok, so the circus has rolled out of town, but the enthusiasm for cycling remains in the capital. Mystery Shopper rolls through four South London stores, from small re-cycling specialists, through to reknowned independents and a chain store to contrast and compare service…

Edwardes (Star store)
This was one of the rare visits where everything in the assistant’s power was done to secure business for Edwardes over competitors.
From the word go, the salesman was trying his level best to sell, beginning with introducing me to the basic road bikes a shade under my budget, but quickly progressing to the other side with two easily comparable £600 GT and Cannondale builds. Cross comparing the warranty and back up, the assistant sold both the CSG-sourced bikes well and progressed to sell the Edwardes brand discussing post purchase servicing and sizing up – though did dismiss high-end bike fitting, saying it’s unnecessary for most riders.
When I’d mentioned that I had looked elsewhere prior to my visit, the assistant stepped up his price comparison game, offering a ten per cent discount on the two 2013 models and saying that accessories could be done at half price if the bike was purchased here. I didn’t ask or hint at needing a discount. Most customers would go for the discount promises, but the retailer surely needs to protect margins a little better?

Evans, Waterloo
As point-of-sale display goes, urban Evans stores do well to emphasise the size and shape of folded bikes. Today though, Mystery Shopper came in search of a full size road rig, which the assistant in Waterloo took to mean everything from hybrids, through fixies and dedicated road bikes.
This was a case of the assistant being far better at selling the store and what it could do for a customer than any particular bike on show. A quick rifle through numerous bikes didn’t provide much useful insight for a beginner cyclist, though the helper did seem to understand why manufacturers spec the bikes the way they do and relayed this information to me in a jargon-free manner.
In terms of selling Evans’ store and services to me, this was a top notch experience, with after sales services, finance arrangements and test rides (ID sensibly requested) all offered.
Once I’d been taken care of, it was encouraging to see the staffer move straight on to another customer – often on these visits I find staff reluctant to see a string of customers in succession.

Balfe’s Bikes
There was lots of positives to take from the visit to Balfe’s Bikes new London branch. Unfortunately, these were outweighed by one big negative, allowing Mystery Shopper on a test ride without any ID check or form of collateral against my test ride – surely not wise in South London where bike theft stats are among the worst in the country?
The positives came largely from the presentation of the store, which managed its space well and had plenty of clever on-street signage and a bike pump to attract customers to the front door.
Jumping on my ‘BMX background’, the staffer suggested I try out the Trek singlespeed in the shop window, detailing the warranty information and selling Balfe’s service perks if the bike was bought here. Telling me that I’d roughly fit a 54/56 frame I felt to not be giving away specific sizing, so buying online with this information would still be an uncertain experience.
Kudos must be given for the magnetic business cards, too, a brilliant idea to keep your business fresh in the minds of customers.

Working solely with recycled bikes, Recycling of London had stock that would offer be a trip down memory lane for many, with Moultons galore, among other classics.
It took a while to be seen, as the shop floor assistant was chatty with customers, spending plenty of time with each. Noting that he was clearly a fan of the versatility of a hybrid bike, I wasn’t surprised to be told that in his opinion a newcomer to cycling should never start out on a road bike. “You’ll break it,” said he.
Taking me through a GT from the ‘80s and comparing with a ten year old Ridgeback, I was sold largely on the frame strength, with little else considered. At times the conversation seemed based wholly on the assistant’s own experiences of cycling, not always a bad thing, but on this occasion, to be told that ‘wider tyres are less likely to get punctures’ as if it were a fact was off-putting.
Nevertheless, the helper can’t be faulted for effort, gradually evaluating the best bike for me by asking questions. As I went to leave I was prompted to return with the offer of a cash deal and the promise of further stock matching my criteria being available soon.

This group of visits had one thing in common – to demonstrate the value of one good assistant being far better than ten reluctant ones. Every store visited had a friendly assistant willing to give time and each capable of selling the store’s individual perks.
Balfe’s Bikes would have come off a lot better had I not been allowed a test ride without any background checks – given how often BikeBiz.com reports on test ride theft, we thoroughly recommend a driver’s licence taken as a very minimum against test rides. We would also suggest a photograph of the rider prior to their ride, though every shop handles test rides differently.

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