The Instagram logo

Secret Shopper report: North East

Our secret shoppers are sniffing out 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 a natural remedy for hay fever.

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: North East
Hay fever

First impressions

It’s my friend who has come along with me that first spots the store as we’re driving towards the nearby car park. The store has a modest exterior that looks very much like a coffee house, there’s even a fresh coffee logo on the window. Thankfully, the store’s bold signage helps to assure us that we’re in the right place. In addition, there are some initial hints about what can be found inside (including eco-friendly cleaning products and pantry essentials) via a small window display.

Verdict: 6/10

Store layout

As I walk in, I’m immediately struck by how quaint the store looks – it’s also surprisingly spacious despite being a coffee shop and health store rolled into one. It’s the coffee shop aspect that greets us in the first instance as there is an ample seating area for customers to enjoy food and drink. On the plus side, it’s very easy to walk through this area to get to the health food section which is split across the left and right of the store. As I walk across to the right side (where the counter and fridge items are also located), I come across pantry options, wholefoods, herbal teas and sports nutrition. Free-from foods, supplements, natural bodycare and eco-friendly cleaning options are located on the left side of the store. A number of items are vegan-friendly which is great to see. I’m also pleased to find the store stocks local options including cheeses, honey and nut butters.

On the supplements front, the store is reasonably stocked with options from leading ranges such as Natures Aid, Green Origins, Sun Chlorella and Pukka Herbs.

Verdict: 7/10

Personal attention

Disappointingly, there is no hello or even an acknowledgement from the member of staff who’s behind the counter when we enter the store. I browse for quite a while yet there’s still no attempt at communication made. It could be a case of not wanting to rush potential customers or it could be due to shyness but it did come across as a little strange. It’s a popular store locally and people have also commented about how chatty the staff members are – that’s not my experience today. If I didn’t already know what I wanted to buy beforehand, I could quite easily have walked out empty-handed. I’d had a look at what the store stocks before visiting and was eager to pick up some local honey to help with warding off my allergy symptoms. I do at last get a hello when I go towards the counter to pay.

Verdict: 5/10

Check out

My check out experience is very average too. I’m greeted with a hello but I don’t get asked anything about my shop or whether I need anything else. While the store’s assistant is sorting my change, I peruse the store’s leaflets and pick up one on an allergy testing service that’s offered in-store plus information on forthcoming events that are happening in the store. I know from visiting the store’s website that they are planning on expanding what they offer and that they don’t offer online shopping. I cannot think of anything else to ask and no information is offered by the store’s assistant either.

Verdict: 5/10

Overall impression

I paid the store a visit towards the end of the day and wonder if that has maybe hampered my experience a little. It’s a decent local health food shop and it’s good to know they are increasing their range further in the coming months. I might visit again in the future to sample the food there and check out their stock additions. But next time, I’d like to come away feeling far less underwhelmed on the customer service front.

Verdict: 6/10

Total marks: 29/50

Read the previous Secret Shopper report here...