/ Shopping

Shop flaw knowledge isn’t up to standard

Woman looking at TVs in shop

We expect shop staff to know what they’re talking about when advising us on what technology to buy, but our research reveals that this isn’t always the case. Are you getting good advice before you part with your money?

I’m not a technology expert – I have my colleagues at Which? for that! Before this research, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what a Full HD TV was.

So if I was out shopping for a flash new TV I’d want to know I was getting the right information. And it’s not just me – one third of Which? members we surveyed told us they look to shop staff for advice on electrical goods.

Poor advice in Britain’s biggest shops

So our recent research into how much shop staff know about the products they’re selling is disappointing reading. Of over 150 visits we made with a simple enquiry about either buying a HD TV or a recommendation for recording digital telly, almost a third were rated as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ by our experts.

This is worrying. I’m not sure I’d spot if someone was telling me complete rubbish about technology, or even if they were getting it half wrong. Which leaves me wondering: are Britain’s shoppers naïve to put all their faith in staff?

Among our nuggets of bad knowledge were not knowing how much recorded TV a digital TV recorder could store (answer: halve the number of gigabytes and that’s roughly what you’ll get in hours). Some also confused the difference between HD Ready and Full HD (answer: only Full HD will give you the optimum quality if you’re watching Blu-ray).

And then there’s the cables. According to loads of assistants we asked, we absolutely had to have expensive HDMI cables to watch stuff on our HD TV. You do need HDMI cables if you’re watching Blu-rays, but even then, we’ve found a £10 cable will do a great job – one shop assistant looked to sell us one for five times that much. Another was claiming the ‘need’ for surge protection – highly exaggerated, and certainly not worth the £70 proposed.

Which shop is top?

It’s fair to say that across all the chains we looked at – Comet, Currys, John Lewis and Richer Sounds – plus a host of independents, visits were hit and miss. John Lewis fared the best, with Richer Sounds not far behind. On the other side of the coin, we couldn’t rate one visit to Comet or Currys as excellent. You can watch our undercover filming in the following video:

So really, shops should be looking at training their staff better. Customer service would be improved, and let’s not forget that old saying: with knowledge, comes power.

Anne says:
25 January 2011

Actually, the difference between HD-ready and full-HD is that HD-ready can be any HD spec up to 1080i (interlaced). Only 1080p (progressive scan) is ‘full HD’ but most people can’t tell the difference and most full-HD TVs are too big for the average living room. So you still didn’t know…

Hi Anne, I’ve always found the term ‘HD Ready’ to be quite jargony – but yes High Definition starts at 720p. And all 720p TVs (or as manufacturers like to call them ‘HD Ready) can do 1080i as you say.

As for Full HD, yes you’re right it’s 1080p (1920 by 1080 lines) and on a smaller TV (say 32”) you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. But as you approach the 40” mark it’s quite obvious that the quality is higher, so I’d say Sarah’s description is quite right since Blu-ray’s are optimally viewed at 1080p.

Also, a few years ago you would have been right about 1080p only being available in bigger TVs, but now you can find much smaller TVs supporting that resolution – however, I don’t particularly see the point in a 1080p 26” TV.

Anne says:
26 January 2011

Sarah’s description is right, but over-simplified, as I think you agree – though you’ve spent half your post painstakingly explaining what I already said, so I can’t quite tell!

Damn Young says:
30 July 2011

I see the point. I looked at some today. a 16″ widescreen TV claimed to consume 20Watts of power, and could be 12V battery operated.


I never bother to ask shop assistants except if they have a particular model in stock – I always do the research myself.

I have never seen the point of large TVs – they get in the way – even if hung on the wall I far sooner have a decent painting instead. I have several. My main Living room TV is 19″ – my main computer screen is 22″ as I often want to open two programs at once effectively side by side – and still easily see text or graphics. I have never ever wanted a larger Main TV than the one I have,

David says:
26 January 2011

Last time I checked the companies mentioned are all PLC’s with share holders not charities with bottomless pockets.
The staff are on Minimum wage, not paid commission.
If your readers are met by umm’s and arhs maybe they should walk away or just ask for someone to else help.
I have worked in the past in one of these stores, and have a HND, RSA and A level in photography, this makes me very good with cameras, and I happen to have good knowledge of PC’s, but if your were to ask me about a washing machine I wouldn’t have a clue!
Lets see how every one reacts if the retailers stopped paying Dividends, gave staff weekends off, every bank holiday and a fortnight off for Christmas then see what state the country gets in to then! and employed university degree holding staff, your £99 PVR would soon cost £300!
If you want expert advice go to a specialist not a mass retailer.

Recently went shopping for an LCD TV with full hd. Comet were quite knowledgeable and hepful, but in Currys I was told I should buy insurance as new TV’s only last 3 or 4 years, the same as modern cars. Currys will not get my business.

I brushed up on TV’s with my Which mags and their website so was well prepared !!

Damn Young says:
30 July 2011

That’s rubbish, TVs are more reliable now than ever. Look inside one, and you just see a few large chips. They are low voltage and low current compared to antique TVs.

Anne says:
27 January 2011

I’ve watched the filming now and I have severe issues with some of the insinuations you make, especially that “a bog-standard SCART will do”. Odd statement from people who also think 1080p matters.

HI Anne – a Scart for a fiver will absolutely suffice, there’s no point paying more than that. What you should avoid are Scarts for a couple of quid – they’re more likely to lack extra screening and be prone to interference. So ‘bog standard’ probably the wrong turn of phrase to describe a five quid scart when you can actually pay less – I’ll hold my hands up to that!

As for 1080p – get a screen of 40-inch or over, a good quality Blu-ray and the difference to 1080i is quite clear

Richard Bates says:
27 January 2011

I’m a recent Which subscriber (still in the trial period) and I was surprised as to what I see as some inaccuracies in this article.

HD Ready has a specific meaning – i.e. the device can accept (over a cable) and display an HD image, i.e. 720p or above. An HDTV has an HD tuner built in, commonly Freeview HD or Freesat HD.

Full HD is an entirely separate concept, meaning that the display has a 1080 resolution.

In the magazine article (which I don’t have in front of me) it was suggested as a myth that an HD Ready TV needs an external box to display an HD picture. I don’t think it is a myth.

It is certainly not a myth that an HD ready TV can display HD pictures – I have one and it will not display HD without an external box.

No it’s not a myth – but then that phrase is not used in the article. The point here is that an HD-ready TV can have an HD tuner built-in. The example pulled out in the article the shop assistant wasn’t aware that the HD ready TV came with Freeview HD and persisted with the line that an extra box was needed. It wasn’t.

Confusing HD ready and Full HD (as you point out Richard) was an entirely different mistake. But it was one that many shop staff continually made.

jason says:
28 January 2011

Frankly i get frustrated when so called experts make comments about cables and how you can pick them up for a tenner!

I work for Currys and am frustrated that we are all painted as giving poor service

There is a massive difference in the quality of cables and using an hdmi cable with a pvr will upscale the picture (thus improving the picture)

Asking simple questions is key to ensure you match the right cable with what the individual is connecting it to

i believe its about the customer waking away with what they require to get the best out of their purcase

If you want the best picture then you will invest in better cables, if this is not important or you can not see a differnce then you wont

We have a grest demo instore that allows us to show you the benefit of a better cable, this really supports the customer in maing the right choice for themselves

Demonstrations are a great way of helping the customer to make informed choices. They have always been a good way of comparing speakers and other audio equipment.

I sympathise with conscientious and knowledgeable staff working for large electrical retailers. The problem is that many of us have had some bad experiences. Human nature is to remember these times.

I hate shopping for TVs and the like. I have no clue what makes a good telly. I totally rely on what I read in Which? and on advice of friends in the know. What I do know is that shop staff are rubbish. They want a sale, that’s all.

I’ve recently bought a few things after a bonus and I’ve found that it depends massively on who you get – in general, I’d agree that shop staff are rubbish but I struck lucky at Comet where the guy knew what he was talking about and when he wasn’t sure, admitted it, went over to a colleague and got the answer. In general, I’ve found PC World has the worst staff. Currys probably comes 2nd – although to be fair I go into Currys quite a lot, so it’s not a fair comparison – I do occasionally ask questions I know the answer to just to gauge the knowledge of the staff.

Damn Young says:
30 July 2011

It is hit and miss, but it is always pleasing to get good service in a shop. Low paid staff in my local small ASDA do try hard to help customers. I also saw a polish shelf stacker there practicing speed-shelfstacking. I’ve had good and bad service in all the electrical stores. You can’t rely on them being knowledgeable, so research your purchases on the web first.