Secret Shopper Report: Swindon

An enjoyable, leisurely shopping experience

Launched in 2012, our Secret Shoppers are seeking out the best (or worst) of GB’s natural health and lifestyle independents. This time our spy has travelled to Swindon to ask for help with a vegetarian, wheat intolerant, low potassium diet

Store location: Swindon
Issue enquired about: Advice for ingredients for a free-from diet

First impressions

Visiting this store is a little like stepping back in time. It’s a double fronted, quite old fashioned looking shop, reminiscent of the shops I used when I was a child. There are intriguing items in the window decorated with recycled materials. There are leaflets on the door window and in the display window. The bell jangles as you walk in. It isn’t a large shop but is full of interesting produce. The atmosphere and smells are redolent of a bygone age but even just glancing around I can see that the quantity and range of products looks right up to date.

Verdict: 8/10

Store layout

The shop doesn’t feel cramped as you enter although it is nothing like the shiny health food shops that you find in most shopping centres. Certainly there is enough room for two people to pass each other in the aisles. There are shelves along the two side walls and two double sided units in the centre. There are baskets on the floor containing fresh produce and a rack by the counter with fresh bread. There are four glass fronted, upright freezers to the side of the counter. The counter is directly opposite the door at the far end of the shop. There is a window in the wall behind the counter where I can see some of the shop personnel. You could get a buggy in the shop but I wasn’t sure how wheelchair friendly it would be so, because I have a friend who sometimes uses a chair, I asked. I was assured that a wheelchair would fit and that, if necessary, they would pick up the baskets from the floor. I was very interested to note that the shelves to my right as I entered were labelled with large red stickers indicating gluten free ingredients and products. Although I am wheat free it is often easier to stick to gluten free products. There is a good mix of food, drinks and eco products, both cleaning and personal and herbal remedies. The freezers contained a range of yoghurts, butter, vegetarian and vegan prepared meals etc.

Verdict: 8/10

Personal attention

I was greeted as I entered the shop by one of the staff who was doing a stock take. The shop is also a cooperative so the staff are all members. I browsed for quite a while. I was asked whether I could find everything I was looking for. I explained that I was a vegetarian, wheat free and had to keep to a low potassium diet for health reasons and that I was looking for ingredients for some new recipes I had found. I had a list of the ingredients that I needed, quite a few of which I had found impossible to get in the larger mainstream stores and health food shops. The staff member was very interested in the recipes that I wanted to make and between us we found all of the ingredients that I wanted. I was pleased to see that there was a notice by the unsulphured apricots explaining why the price was as high as it was. Bad weather has decimated this year’s crop; 85% has been lost. I asked about alternatives for some of the more expensive ingredients and was shown quite a few. A lot of the dried ingredients are bought in bulk and bagged up in the shop to keep down costs. The staff member was very knowledgeable about the gluten free products. I needed oats and she showed me which ones were suitable for me. One item I wanted was not in stock. I was told that it wasn’t something that they usually carried but that they would order it for me. I was directed to an alternative. As a side issue I had been having trouble cooking quinoa and she told me exactly how to cook it and what I wasn’t doing to get the results I wanted. I felt very happy with the service I received.

Verdict: 9/10

Check out

I was asked whether I had found everything that I wanted and the staff member chatted to me as she was totalling up my items. She asked whether I knew about the website and mentioned that there were recipes and all of which were tested and favourites of the shop personnel.

Verdict: 9/10

Overall impression

The shop is not in the centre of Swindon but there are a few, one hour parking spaces available in the street outside. Otherwise it is easy enough to park in the town centre and walk to the shop. This would certainly not put me off going again simply because of the availability of the items I wanted and the service I received. While I was in the shop customers came and went and the staff were unfailingly pleasant to all of them. No one appeared to be rushed, If you want a modern, gleaming store with loads of promotions and offers then this shop isn’t’ for you but if you want an enjoyable, leisurely shopping experience with excellent service then I would wholeheartedly recommend this store.

Verdict: 9/10

Total marks: 43/50

Read the previous Secret Shopper report here...

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