The first suggestion I would have for you would be to find a bike shop that accommodates a bike riders needs! Any shop that doesn't allow a decent test ride with one of their bikes, can't be serious about getting your business!
I've never purchased a car or a bicycle without taking a test drive/ride. You'll find that the fit of your bicycle will be the most important aspect of the purchase for both comfort and safety. You'll spend lots of hours on commuting each year...make them comfortable! Make sure the bike shop will fit you to a bike, not make the bike fit you!
You really didn't give much information about the commute you will have. For example, what state are you in? Will you be riding seasonal or year round? What types of weather will you likely experience? How long ( distance ) is the commute? Without knowing more information, my answer will be limited to the basics.
One thing you'll need to know first off is the type of repairs the bike shop performs. Look at their service area to see if they're well equiped for all repairs. Whatever bike you decide on, the warranty will be imporatant. Your question about value usually comes down to the old saying..."You get what you pay for!"
Where you must keep your bike while at work may determine how much you spend on a bike. Is the area "safe" for locking up your bike, or is there a chance of theft or vandilism? A $500+ bike could be very tempting for a thief. What type of lock or other security measures can you take with the bike at work?
Know the regulations for riding in your area. You'll need lights at night, but how good of a light front and rear will you need for the commute? If you'll be riding daily, fenders should be a priority. There are many things to consider when you commute on a bike.
I hope this helps plant some ideas about what you want/need for the commute, and possibly gather more information and update your question.