Secret Shopper Report: Cheltenham

An attractive package

Since 2012, our Secret Shoppers have sought out the best (or worst) of GB’s natural health and lifestyle independents. This time our spy has travelled to Cheltenham, to ask for help with sleeping problems.

Store location: Cheltenham
Issue enquired about: Cream for a split ear, problems sleeping

First impressions

As I approached the store I saw that it was larger than most other health stores I have visited. It stretches across three shop fronts and has an automatic double entrance door, enabling easy access for wheelchairs and buggies. On entering the store my first impression was that it was the size of a small supermarket with wide aisles. Fresh fruit and vegetables took up a whole wall on the left and soothing music played. I felt relaxed and in no hurry to rush through.

Verdict: 7/10

Store layout

Along the back wall there are fridges with a large and wide range of foods including dairy and dairy alternatives including yogurt, cheese, milk and butter, tofu and tempeh. Further along there is a range of organic pre-packed fish and meat, which I found somewhat strange in a health store but I could see that this would bring in a wider range of customers.

The shelves of dried foods were most impressive with a wide range of different types of flour, rice, seeds, dried pasta, nuts and dried fruit. There was also a great choice in salts, olive and other oils and vinegars. There was a good section for eco household products and small bodycare/hair colours/teeth and hair care and supplements sections. This is largely a food store – I liked the large wall of freezers containing ready-made vegetarian meals and handy products such as frozen pizza dough. One aisle I was impressed by was the pet food section with both dried and tinned cat and dog food as well as treats. I’ve never seen this before in a health store.

I found the layout very clear and well defined so that customers could easily walk directly to the section they were interested in. I found the whole shop light and airy, clean and attractive.

Verdict: 8/10

Personal attention

At first I was delighted to be left alone to wander around as there was so much to take in, but I felt that other customers may prefer to be offered help in a more timely manner. Saying this, when I looked for help it was easily found – I could identify staff by their monogrammed sweatshirts. A very nice lady was helpful and knowledgeable about stock.

When I asked for help with my daughter’s split ear I was shown a number of natural creams and chose Allergenics 100% natural Origin Emollient Cream. I asked for help with insomnia and said that friends had recommended Melissa Dream, a sleep aid with lemon balm and L-theanine. Two of the staff said they hadn’t heard of it which I found a bit disappointing. But then they said that the active ingredient is in fact lemon balm and they recommended a herbal tea. I chose Heath & Heather Lemon Balm and Liquorice, but I was disappointed they didn’t have what I was looking for.

I asked to see omega-3 supplements suitable for children and chose Eskimo 3 Little Cubs tutti frutti on the recommendation of the assistant. They were less knowledgeable about RDAs than I had hoped.

Saying all this, the assistant was not pushy, and the customers around me seemed very happy. One woman said that she comes in for one thing and comes out with several – and was happy about it.

Verdict: 6/10

Check out

Checkout service was okay but not overly friendly. When I asked about a loyalty card I was slightly taken aback by a blank “no”. I was not offered any information about events/therapies or a newsletter. A highlight of my visit was a small table with beauty products from Lavera – the representative was very friendly, gave me some samples and had a great rapport with customers. I will definitely try their products if I get on well with the samples.

Verdict: 4/10

Overall impression

The store wasn’t particularly busy but many of the customers needed help and were asking for advice, which they were generously given. I did recommend it to family and friends even though I found it quite impersonal.

Verdict: 7/10

Total marks: 32/50

Read the previous Secret Shopper report here...

Read about the winning store in the 2014 Secret Shopper Awards here...