Save time and money with a personal shopper

What comes into your head when you think of personal shoppers? Moneyed ladies sipping champagne as an elegant fashion expert in an exclusive designer store holds up a succession of little black dresses for her yay or nay? Or a service rendered obsolete in an age when consumers want to equip themselves with the knowledge to make the right decisions?

Whatever your view, personal shoppers are no longer the preserve of the rich and famous. The new generation of personal shoppers is not restricted to fashion - it's offering up expertise in everything from gadgets like laptops and smartphones to cars and interior design. Many such services may not be new but are now flourishing as the pressure of everyday life means more people are cash rich but time poor.

Saving time and money

Not only will these services save you time, their proponents claim they should also save you money. Richard Asher founded MyGadgetHound after spotting a gap in the market for a service that helps people find the right technology goods. "You're busy and only a layperson when it comes to the ins and outs of laptops, phones, and so on, so short of time you lean towards the more expensive, assuming the price tag will guarantee it does what you want," he says.

"There are two dangers here – you spend far more than you need and your top-of-the-range product proves to have drawbacks you didn't anticipate. Now, because you didn't have the time to research and didn't use an expert, you have more research to do and a bigger bill."

He explains that even if you did need to splash out on a top item, using his service would still provide a time saving. "Whether people put a monetary value on their time and labour is the question," says Asher. "They tacitly do so when paying a gardener or cleaner, so paying someone to do their shopping research is ultimately the same kind of labour-saving. The more choice floods the market and confuses customers, the more time and agony I save."

Asher asks his customers a series of "plain English" questions to ascertain what they're after – what is their budget? What will they use the product for? What is essential? What other products do they have and do they need to be compatible? After the client gives him the details, he works out a quote based on how long he thinks it will take to track down the right product – he has a typical rate of £20 for a single product with discounts for multiple products. Then he provides the conclusions of his research; it could be a single recommendation or a number of products.

He says he's been asked for help with everything from phones and laptops to turntables, ergonomic tablet stands and hi-tech dog toys. He can help with some requests better than others: "I once got asked to transport a boat from Wales to Oxford."

"People want to save themselves research time and hassle," he explains. "I'm not sure how many people realise I can pay for myself more than once by ensuring they don't overspend but that's just a bonus. Peace of mind is another intangible offering."

A combination of obtaining the right product for the right price, saving time by letting somebody else do the grunt work and avoiding costly mistakes is the theme in the value of personal shoppers across a variety of industries.

Value is key

Rebecca Hayes is the equivalent of a personal shopper in the interior design world but the value of the service she offers is not dissimilar to MyGadgetHound.

"Value is key," she says. "Instructing a professional interior designer, with whom the client has a good relationship, ultimately saves the client from making expensive mistakes. And the client will get access to products not always readily available to the public and can also receive some items at discounted rates." She says this saving can be offset against the design fee, so the customer can often receive professional advice for free or very little extra cost.

Her fee depends on the size of the project but it starts at £150 for a two-hour consultation, while a full interior design package starts at £600 per room. The more items that are bought for the job, the more likely the discounts Hayes has access to will cover her fee.

"Some clients are confident about what they want and how to go about achieving that, so just come to me for advice in a one-off consultation," she says. "Others require much more involvement, either because they are time poor or because they require a lot more assistance devising a scheme that will work for them aesthetically and practically."

Personal shopping is not a frivolous service aimed just at getting the best from your non-essentials. It can also be used for some of the cornerstones of life – a good estate agent is essentially a personal shopper for property, a travel agent one for holidays. Kevin Rowe is managing director of A1 Car Search, which amounts to a personal shopper service for cars.

The independence of a personal shopper is just as important as their expertise, as it guarantees nothing but your best interests in informing the help they provide. He says: "The customer is our focus. We are able to give completely independent advice and will not sell certain vehicles because they do not come up to the standard we expect for our customers. We look at a customer as a long-term relationship and generally our customers come back to us again because of the trust we've built."

A1 advises on and sources the car a customer wants, services and valets it, including the cost of its service into the price of the car so you will pay no more than from any other dealer.

Adding value

"There is no reason why you cannot have both value and the right car," says Rowe. "It's completely false that value comes from the longevity of a car - value comes from the residual values and running costs of each vehicle. Owning a vehicle for a long period of time doesn't automatically mean it's good value for money." Rowe explains this is too simplistic and the right car depends on much more and he gleans this from the questions he asks customers.

Here is one of the biggest bonuses of investing in a personal shopper – it is their job, day in, day out, to source, examine and review the products you might only purchase a handful of times in your life.

If you live by the idiom of time is money, then the time you save you by using a personal shopper will already be money in the bank. But even if you feel you are time rich, there are savings to be had by using the expertise of other people when buying everything from a new phone to a car. The prospect of saving a few pounds, or maybe even thousands assuming a massive mis-purchase, means personal shopping could be the new DIY.

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