Imagine being able to shop 'til you drop -- and get paid for it. While this may sound too good to be true, demand for personal and corporate shoppers is growing, thereby establishing professional shopping as a viable career.
Employers ranging from busy executives to event coordinators count on the assistance of these specialists. While you don't need to be an expert shopper to break into this field, the job requires the same skills essential to any support position, namely patience and a perceptive and personable nature.
If you're a support professional and first-rate buyer with a passion for everything retail, professional shopping may be for you. Here are some tips from the experts on how to make a career out of your favorite pastime.
There are many career options for a shopper in the private sector. You can work for busy families, the elderly, executives or even celebrities.
"Buying the right thing for somebody involves being tuned into who that person is, and not only what her tastes are, but what her values are and what kind of an image she wants to project," says a personal assistant and personal shopper for a TV star living in New York City.
"Personal shopping is a lot about making sure my client doesn't run out of honey or milk, but it's also about making sure that everything I buy -- whether it's a gift for a family member or a major household appliance -- is congruent with the lifestyle and personality of my client," she explains, adding that good knowledge of the client's budget and spending habits is essential.
Department stores and specialty boutiques also employ personal shoppers to help patrons select the right items from their collections -- and to offer the kind of personal attention that keeps customers coming back for more of the same good fashion advice.
"I find that especially in a high-end store, customers feel more comfortable being served by someone who knows them, knows their size, their tastes and a little something about their lifestyle," says a sales associate at a New York City-based major designer store for men. "So it's important for boutique shoppers to pay attention to every customer they help." Boutique shoppers should ask their clients lots of questions to learn what looks good on them. This will help the client trust your advice, he adds.
Building a book of clients you've helped in a boutique can be a useful tool when you're ready to start your own personal shopping business; customers who know you well and have come to trust your fashion instincts can be a great start.
Special-event shoppers are responsible for all the buying necessary to carry off a big event for a corporation or nonprofit organization or a large private party such as a wedding, retirement party or bar mitzvah.
Special-event shoppers are usually hired by event planners, whose job is to secure the best vendors at the best price for a given event. "Since I don't have the time to see to every napkin and dripless taper, I'll hire a special-event shopper to research available vendors and present me with the best bids so that I can make a quick and informed decision about what to buy and from whom," says a New York-based event planner.
In considering candidates for a gig, "I look for someone who is thorough, imaginative, possesses a good working knowledge of the kind of vendors I work with and is able to demonstrate the same taste and negotiating skills that I would," he adds.
The Corporate Gift Buyer
For most companies, gift giving is a big part of their public-relations efforts, yet many busy executives want nothing to do with gift buying. Enter the corporate gift buyer.
"This essential promotional and relationship-building opportunity was, in many cases, going unattended," says Emily Lumpkin in her book Get Paid to Shop: Be a Personal Shopper for Corporate America. "Even companies that have entire departments created solely for public-relations matters prefer to outsource fulfillment of gifts and gift ideas to a specialist -- and that specialist could be you."