WORK EXPERIENCE: Shopping until you drop as a personal shopper
6:20pm Friday 18th October 2013 in News
Work Experience - Personal Shopper at Debenhams Cardiff. Sophie is shown the ropes by Debenhams Personal Shopper Elia Diniz-Thomas. (1461584)
Shopping as a profession is a dream come true, as SOPHIE BROWNSON discovers when she is a personal shopper for the day at department store DEBENHAMS.
AS EMBARRASSING as it may be, Confessions of a Shopaholic is undeniably one of my favourite films.
So imagine how I felt to have the chance to be a personal shopper for a day at department store Debenhams, in Cardiff.
Rushing excitedly into the store (as I do most weekends) I was welcomed by expert personal shopper Elia Diniz-Thomas, 53, who has been in the job for 14 years after starting out as a sales adviser.
On the third floor, next to Star by Julien MacDonald, there is a discreet room marked, quite aptly, ‘Personal Shopper.’ Showing me around, Mrs Diniz-Thomas explained how she got into the profession.
“I just love shopping,” she told me.
“I never get sick of it, and I have been doing it for 14 years now.
“I used to work on the sales floor and the sales manager said that there was a job going that I would be perfect for, and here I am!
“It is a really good job and you get to meet people from all walks of life –from teenagers to my oldest client, who was 100 years old, so you get some good stories.”
Typically working four days a week from 9.15am until 6.15pm, Mrs Diniz-Thomas explained to me that clients can book appointments either online or on the phone, specifying their age, measurements, lifestyle and what they are looking for.
“I would advise people to book in advance to avoid disappointment, but people can sometimes pop in to see if I am available,” she added.
Appointment length varies, I am told, with mother-of-the- bride appointments lasting around two hours, while a jacket or accessory might only take half an hour.
Like hairdressers, personal shoppers get to know their regular customers very well and will know what will suit them straightaway.
“We have regular customers who come back twice a year for a wardrobe update, be it a spring/summer or autumn/winter wardrobe.
“With regular customers I can shop for them in advance, so when they come they can try on straightaway.”
But even the slightest changes can affect a person’s wardrobe, I discover – weight variation is not the main issue – even a change in a person’s hair cut or colour can affect what will suit them.
But if this is the case, how has the current economic climate affected the way we shop?
I couldn’t help but ask – is there such a demand for the service when people are cutting back to the very basics?
“People do spend less because of the recession,” Mrs Diniz -Thomas agreed.
“I used to have mothers of the bride come in and spend £700 on an outfit, but now it is more like £200 and they want to be able to wear it again.”
Despite this, the bottom line, I discover, is that some people, unlike me, hate to shop, and would rather pay for a professional service to get it over and done with than trawl around for hours without a clue.
After my briefing on the industry, I then check the diary to plan the day ahead, making sure that everything is clean and ready for the clients coming in.
I am then taken on a practice assignment – a wardrobe update for a young person.
After taking details of the prospective client, including their size and lifestyle, as it’s important to know the type of clothes suitable for what they do every day, I enter the shop floor with my clothing rail.
There’s no mistaking that if you are clueless when it comes to clothes this service is well worth paying for, as Mrs Diniz-Thomas explained to me that she can immediately look at someone and can judge what they would look good in.
“Some people don’t enjoy shopping and not everybody is into fashion,” Mrs Diniz -Thomas said.
“Programmes like Gok Wan actually made some people nervous about a personal shopping experience as people think that you are going to strip them apart when they arrive.”
I have just 20 minutes to shop alongside the expert, while the client is to wait either in the personal shopping area or in the café, before returning with my rail to the spacious dressing-room.
While shopping I am briefed on the current fashion trends to guide my choices.
Knowing the trends for each season is also essential, so that I can advise the client on what is trendy and what to invest in.
I am told to look out for animal print, leather, and punk-era items of clothing, while monochrome and berry are the statement colours of the season.
Despite being under pressure, I find the actual shopping enjoyable, and manage to ask how someone would become qualified in this field.
“We get sent to London for three days, where we are coached by professional fashion experts on size, fit and colour, to know what suits a broad range of people,” Mrs Diniz-Thomas explained.
With so many shapes and sizes out there, I imagine that the variety can prove to be a challenge.
“I do find it sad that there aren’t as many stores catering for larger-sized people, sometimes I have struggled to find items that would suit just because the sizes aren’t available in store,” she added.
Personal shoppers dress clients for any occasion, from funerals to bar mitzvahs, and the whole experience also makes a great gift, with the personal shopping experience ranging from £50 to £100.
Back in the private dressing-room, where the client would then try on, I am to make necessary adjustments to how the outfit is styled to make sure it is perfect.
I must then take their choices to the till to wrap up the sale.
The whole experience taught me that a big part of the job is knowing what the individual wants and being able to deliver.
“There is no pressure to buy, although 99.9 per cent of people go away with something,” Mrs Diniz- Thomas added.
“We simply teach them a new way to dress, and once they know it gives them such confidence.”
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