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Secret Shopper Report: West London

Big on style if a little aloof

Here’s looking at you! Our Secret Shoppers are hunting up and down the land, looking for the best UK health food stores. They give marks out of 10 in five categories, here inspecting a characterful, compact store in West 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: West London
Feeling tired and run-down following respiratory infections

First Impressions

This characterful, very compact little store is located in a leafy but busy and affluent suburb, awash with yummy mummies, cute kids (and dogs!), metrosexual men and celebs. From the moment I spy a blackboard outside, beckoning me in with exotic immune-boosting “super smoothie” options, it is clear that they cater for the demographic.

The exterior is painted in a shade of trendy French blue (Farrow & Ball, no doubt) and cleverly harmonised with the store interior, allowing the browsing process to flow. This is key to the shopping experience because this store is quintessentially and unashamedly ‘size doesn’t matter’. It is tiny.

Verdict: 8/10

Store Layout

The way this store maximises space is a strategic masterplan. The rainbow of bottles, tubs and and jars invite me in with their immaculate, seemingly colour-coded presentation and the result is a very creative, calm experience. The blue-framed window and door exterior and streamlined interior create a seamless and holistic journey, just like the lifestyles they cater for. As well as the beauty, supplement and food goods, there are funky yoga mats and a unique Yoga Formula plant-based supplement for yoga junkies.

The store owner/buyer cleverly balances high-end industry stalwarts with local produce, teas and honey. One postcode-friendly tea, named after the store’s ‘village’ location, is artisan-made and beautifully labeled, as is the local honey. The jostling supplements, whether prophylactic, soothing or ‘curative’, cater for every kind of head-to-toe condition, but the common thread is quality. Familiar labels include Viridian, Solgar, Bio Care, Nutri Advanced, Higher Nature and Udo’s Choice. Mums buying for youngsters are spoilt for choice, with Animal Parade, Eskimo Little Cubs, Comvita and Power Teen (one variant for him, one for her!). Lots of baby stuff too, from Weleda to Barefoot SOS.

This kind of location has a demand for luxury beauty products and there is a great balance with other categories in store. These discerning ladies shop for Ren, Pai, Dr Hauschka, Weleda, Tisserand and Absolute Aromas.

Eco home products are lacking but foods and herbs and spices (creating a fabulous fragrance) certainly aren’t. There are oils, treats like Booja-Booja chocs, on-the-go snack bars, and the tempting chiller cabinet is stacked with smoothies and smoothie ingredients. And this store loves teas: Pukka, Moonpig et al plus of course their exclusive local blend, which is beautifully promoted.

Verdict: 8/10

Personal Attention

This is where I am disappointed. After a while, the girl says hello and I say I am browsing in the first instance. Her ‘spot’ is behind the till positioned in the window bay.

I look around, and compliment her on the presentation of the store as I study the products. I ask her if she is the owner and she tells me she is helping the owner, her friend. She is running the show alone, and seems rather aloof, or maybe shy of being in a visual space, and we don’t really ‘bond’. I mention that I am feeling run down after two chest infections and that I had experienced ulcers on my tongue. I am hoping she will advise vitamin B12, which is often recommended to address a deficiency. No luck, but she does point out their range of Wellness Formula that uniquely blends Echinacea, vitamin C, garlic, zinc, and other immune-boosting herbs and vitamins. There is really no selling technique though.

Verdict: 5/10

Check Out

Service is snappy as I am the only customer in the store. I am happy to spend, as the recommended product is a gold standard immunity booster. I am not offered any promos or newsletters, maybe that’s considered ‘uncool’ for such an upscale ‘boutique’, which is free of shouty price points and POS. But the store does have a lovely, informative website and when asked, the girl says that most of the products online are available in-store too. They are also affiliated on the website with a yoga teacher and a nutritionist, so their advice may trickle down to the store if requested, but the assistant isn’t forthcoming.

Verdict: 6/10

Overall Impression

A unique, beautifully presented store, brimming with tempting goodies. The assistant seems shy, even restrained and I don’t feel proactively welcome, but that may very well suit their clientele. I may return, having genned up on the website, and sample that intriguing locally produced tea!

Verdict: 7/10

Total Marks: 34/50

Read the previous Secret Shopper report here...