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Secret Shopper Report: East London

Aladdin's Cave

Our Secret Shoppers are scouring the highways and byways for the best of GB’s health food and natural lifestyle independents. They’re looking for the perfect 10 in each of five sections and haven’t found it yet. How does your store measure up? Here, our spy is mooching around East London.

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.

Store location: East London
Issue enquired about:

First impressions

This incredibly busy store is situated on the ground floor of a packed shopping precinct in East London very close to a behemoth retail site. It could be easy to miss the store if you were caught up in the overall mélange of shoppers, but the green exterior is graphic enough to pull people in. Also, it feels like there is a regular, returning clientele.

There is a central section and two narrow aisles positioned either side. The store is inviting – a feeling of “what’s going on in there?” – and there is a decidedly ‘local’ buzz, a bit like an upmarket market stall or bazaar.

Verdict: 7/10

Store layout

This store is an Aladdin’s cave that piles 'em high and keeps stock levels full on. But don’t be fooled – the labels in this high-traffic outlet are decidedly upscale. Yes, there’s budget opportunity and something for all the family, but the buyers here are totally on trend and up to speed with all the premium brands such as Ecover, Viridian, Pharma Nord and Salcura. I notice a good mix of eco household, beauty (topical), food and drink, and a good range of supplements, but I don't see any cosmetics. The chill cabinet looks very interesting and is packed with drinks and healthy ready meals including burgers and fruit pies. A bit like a book or a film that you need to dip in and out of – always finding something new. I find it difficult to take it all in in one go! In spite of the store’s use of every available square foot, I don’t feel cramped. But, it’s easy to get taken up and moved along with the throng and the layout seems to unfold on the way. I don’t notice many promotions but, unlike some stores, the staff are very visible and happy to answer questions. The attendants are all busy refilling stock (nothing stands still here, products or staff) and one very well-spoken young man asks “What’s the highest strength Coenzyme Q10 you do?”. A sure sign of discerning customers who turn up knowing exactly what they want.

Verdict: 8/10

Personal attention

The staff are all busy in-store and I am left to graze among the shelves, which is perfect for me. At the right moment the owner (I am certain) asks if she can help, but isn’t intrusive. I tell her about my eczema problem – it isn’t serious – and that I often experience it with the change of the seasons. She recommends Biona Raw Virgin Coconut Oil and fills me in on its comprehensive benefits. It is very reasonably priced, and when I mention the more expensive but condition-specific Salcura option she suggests I try the coconut oil first and upgrade to the Salcura if necessary. I am most impressed by her credibility and generosity.

Verdict: 9/10

Check out

The checkout service is amazing. With such a busy store it needs to be smooth-running and it is. I am very happy to part with my money, the product is totally holistic and will happily find a place in the kitchen or the bathroom. I ask about adjunct therapies, but the answer is no. This is solely a retail operation that knows its niche. There is, however, an e-commerce website that runs autonomously from the bricks and mortar store. I ask about social media and newsletters but no score there, although there are leaflets at the till point and I pick up a colourful one from The Lemon Detox Company.

Verdict: 6/10

Overall impression

I love the ‘buzziness’ and friendliness of this store and I know I have missed some brand opportunities, so I look forward to going back and discovering more. It has a cheerful atmosphere with great feedback and teamwork. It has a non-formulaic, ‘one-off’ ethos, and I would certainly recommend it to family and friends.

Verdict: 8/10

Total marks: 38/50

Read the previous Secret Shopper report here...