Secret Shopper report: Kent

Our secret shoppers have been hunting for the best in independent health store retailing in the UK and Ireland, marking out of 10 in five sections. Here, our shopper was looking for help with a skin condition before the coronavirus lockdown began.

The Better Retailing Awards are run in conjunction with the Health Food institute and reward excellence in independent health store retailing. The winner is selected from the stores visited by the Better Retailing secret shoppers throughout the year.

First impressions

Nice digs! This large store edges off a main tourist strip which makes it both prominent and at the same time far enough removed from hustle and bustle. It’s enormous in terms of the usual amount of floor space available to independent health food retailers and the shopping trolleys at the entrance are testament to this. Ceilings are high, aisles are wide and the glass shopfront windows allow ample light to shine in, highlighting what seems to be a flourishing business.

Verdict 9/10

Store layout

Every grocery need imaginable seems to be here at your fingertips. Tantalising loaves of fresh bread lend a rich aroma, and according to a sign, are baked daily. Fragrant herbs are everywhere. Organic local fruit and vegetables are in abundance. Frozen and refrigerated goods are available, as are meat and dairy alternatives galore, treats, desserts, snacks, grains, cereals and staples. The store is Soil Association certified, they have refill stations, and a section dedicated solely to superfoods. Everything is beautifully presented and there is certainly plenty to fill your cupboards, but what about my health concern? How will this store perform when it comes to advising on vitamin and mineral supplements and alternatives to traditional medicine?

Verdict 9/10

Personal attention

Unfortunately, when I twice try to get the attention of an employee stacking the shelves, he seems a little too cool to engage! Well groomed with a fair amount of swagger, I may have encountered a health-food hipster. After my second attempt is ignored, I decide to head to the front counter instead, where luckily I am met with somebody who makes themselves available.

A kind and contrasting employee is busy yet still walks me over to the vitamin and mineral supplement section when I say I’m looking for something to help clear up my son’s psoriasis. After listening with empathy, she advises I get some Neem Cream as it’s recommended to alleviate the symptoms of Eczema, Psoriasis, Acne, Diabetes, Gingivitis and many more common skin problems. She explains that one of her own family members suffers from the same problem and brings up the link between these skin problems and citrus fruit. Citrus is important provider of vitamin C, however, so she mentions that it isn’t advisable to cut it from a child’s diet.

Verdict 6/10

Check out

I thank her for her time but tell her I will think things over and come back to the store on another occasion. The shop has remained busy throughout the period I’ve been there and I take the opportunity to eavesdrop on customers at the till. The staff member continues to be friendly and efficient, and seems to know some of them personally. Patrons seem to be buying up big – whether it be household cleaning items, fresh produce, supplements, bathroom products or cupboard go-tos.

Verdict 8/10

Overall impression

The store is clean, big, bright, well attended and with great stock. The location is handy. The advice I eventually received, and the product the staff member recommended, was of high quality. The only real let down was the initial employee I encountered. It was unfortunate that he was the first point of contact that I made. I learn later via their website that they have been operating from various local locations for 40 years now. On leaving, I notice across the way there is a health-food café, and after further research, discover that although a separate business, they work in conjunction with this store, using a lot of their produce and ideas. A tempting menu has the secret shopper now contemplating a spot of lunch.

Verdict 7/10

Total marks: 39/50

Read the previous Secret Shopper report here...