Secret Shopper report: Kent

Our secret shoppers are hunting for the best in independent health store retailing in the UK and Ireland, marking out of 10 in five sections. Here, our shopper is looking for help with aching joints.

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

Fashionable fixtures and tall shelves line the interior of this health food establishment. Its grey trimmings, wooden staircase and a dog bowl for the four-legged visitors bring warmth to the place, which otherwise could be accused of looking like a health-food version of Boots. A plethora of supplements line the walls, prominent white shelving stands from the ceiling to the ground, and from the front of the shop to the rear. It is bright and orderly – the result being a feeling of cleanliness, efficiency and reassurance.

Verdict: 9/10

Store layout

Unlike the usual store of this kind, there is an upstairs and downstairs. The stairs have writing on the steps as to what you are to find when you ascend them – a playful touch. There is an office downstairs too – a traditional desk, chair and computer set-up, separate to the checkout. This isn’t as intrusive or as out-of-kilter as it may sound and the transition from shop to office looks seamless. Rather than a formality, it brings a welcome transparency to things, somewhat like an open kitchen in a restaurant.

Downstairs is where the supplements are found. They are many, varied and there is not a reliable brand that I cannot spot. It is also home to cosmetics and self-care products galore, everything from luxurious looking creams, to lipstick, essential oils, natural hair dyes and patches for detoxing and to treat insomnia. Towards the rear of the store are the fridges keeping drinks and snacks cool.

Upstairs is where all the dry goods are. Here you have most of the packaged produce a health-food nut could yearn for – grains, cupboard staples, vegetable crisps and more, once again displayed on high white shelving that lines the perimeter. There is a toilet for customers in the upstairs section, which I haven’t encountered before.

CCTV cameras cover the store with a four-part screen of goings-on being visible to patrons and staff alike downstairs. Watch out thieves!

Verdict: 8.5/10

Personal Attention

The shop assistant approaches me as soon as I enter the store, and I note she does this, unobtrusively, with every customer. As there is a vast area to cover – well, both upstairs and down, I choose to have more of a snoop around first. After my perusal, I approach her. She isn’t in uniform, but dressed in attractive attire and seems open and professional.

I tell her I have trouble with aching joints, especially after I’ve been sleeping and that it has persisted for a few months. She is sympathetic and recommends just the thing – Viridian joint omega oil. This is available in tablet form, but she says she uses it herself and prefers the liquid. Infused with chilli, turmeric, pomegranate and ginger, she recommends taking three teaspoons a day, or alternatively using it as a salad dressing or within cooking, and after opening it should be kept in the fridge. All these ingredients are anti-inflammatory and she assures me will work a treat. She recommends visiting the GP too however, as joint aches can be the sign of a virus, or physio may even be necessary if the problem worsens or continues.

Verdict: 9/10

Check Out

The oil is priced at £15 and looks to last about a month, which seems reasonable to this thrifty secret shopper. The shop assistant is efficient at the register, which has brochures available for holistic local businesses and the store is also collecting for a couple of charities. There is no follow-up in terms of future promotions or loyalty cards however.

Verdict: 8/10

Overall impression

Professional but warm, this establishment is a pleasure to shop in. Considered advice and an array of options make supplement buying straightforward. It has a modern, hygienic feel about it and you could easily leave with more than you budgeted for, with the choice of bathroom products, kitchen needs, things for baby, dry and chilled foods and of course vitamins and minerals available.

Verdict: 8.5/10

Total marks: 43/50

Read the previous Secret Shopper report here...