Never mind the credit crunch. There are a plethora of companies, shops and membership services still aching to meet the most personal needs of the rich. But it’s no longer just the ultra wealthy who have a queue of style advisors and concierges at their beck and call.
Two years ago, the English born authority on high street fashion Topshop introduced 60 style advisors at its flagship Oxford Circus store to help shoppers curate their own look, plus an in-store concierge to offer tip-offs on London’s hottest spots to party, and naturally, show off new ensembles – all this at no charge. More recently, mid market department store John Lewis has begun emphasizing its own squad of personal shoppers.
Many services are now blurring the lines between personal shopping and concierge services. “Stores like Printemps in Paris now go way beyond shopping advice to mimic the role of a hotel concierge, booking theatre tickets, reserving seats at restaurants, offering tips on galleries and exhibitions, helping to arrange taxis and metro tickets,” observes Paris based author, journalist, lecturer and commentator on branding, Mark Tungate.
Still, it’s the luxury retailers who are the seasoned pros at personal shopping, with customer service verging on a social connection and becoming part of a very special customer relationship.
Perhaps this explains why every February Fawaz Gruosi – the founder of what has become one of the most high profile jewellers in the world, 16 year old Geneva-headquartered jewellery brand De Grisogono - hosts a weekend in the exclusive ski resort of Gstaad. In the company of 20 guests, he remains on 24 hour call ensuring all have private drivers and tables at all the best restaurants. His event has become such a hot ticket that he has in the past fielded complaints from socialites who didn’t make it onto the guest list. De Grisogono is also famous for keeping its shop in Porto Chervo in Sardinia open till 4am the morning. Personal shopping indeed.
“Personal shopping becomes more important as wealthy consumers seek discreet, trusted experts who can help them identify true luxury goods that are of lasting value as opposed to pretend luxury,” Milton Pedraza, CEO of the New York based Luxury Institute, told Campden FO recently. “The best personal shoppers and luxury experts understand and even learn to anticipate client needs and align their interests with those of the client,” he says.
Jewellers like Van Cleef & Arpels, Hirsh, Boodles, Cartier, Graff and Boucheron routinely make staff available to meet customers at their treadmills, desks, favourite restaurants and hotels. Many fly round the world hand-delivering pieces.
Chris Cameron-Gudge, retail manager of Bond Street watch store Marcus, one of the most exclusive specialist watch shops in the world, has personally flown to Los Angeles, Moscow, Istanbul and Eastern Europe in the name of personal service. And his customers, it seems, are happy to return the favour. When he delivered a watch to a Moscow client, he thought he might be late catching his return flight to London. The client made a quick call and arranged armed guards, a police convoy and a fast track through the airport. “British Airways treated me like royalty, even though I was travelling economy,” says Cameron-Gudge, who was also thanked with Arsenal tickets by a Middle Eastern client.
At Harrods, an entire department of personal shoppers, which goes by the name By Appointment, is accustomed to sourcing products and services for clients from within the store and beyond – and fast. Going to the ends of the earth for the client is all in a day’s work. Leveraging their strong relationships with clients by remembering birthdays, securing clients the first look-in on new launches and working closely with clients’ PAs, butlers and housekeepers, By Appointment at Harrods works to satisfy its clients’ aspirations, needs, requests and deadlines.
Since introducing the complimentary service, Harrods have successfully sourced a zebra, a pot-bellied pig and a house filled with contemporary furniture for clients. The in-store personal shopping area for men resembles an elite private member’s club, while for women there is a sumptuous jewellery suite and both sections have dedicated spaces for private views and invitee only trunk shows.
“We make a point of never saying no,” says Abigail Rainer, director of By Appointment’s personal and private service suite. One of her staff recently hopped on a plane to pick up a Valextra suitcase for a client who packed it that night for her holiday the following day. Another customer who had just bought a property in London requested the entire interior be furnished with antique furniture, Pratesi bed linen, fine art and Christofle cutlery in just 48 hours.
Alongside specialist luxury goods retailers, there is no shortage of all-encompassing luxury lifestyle shopping services, some requiring membership fees.
One comprehensive service which works on behalf of lovers of luxury, regularly collaborating with family offices and collectors to source art, antiques, wines, jewellery, classic and performance cars, books, carpets, clocks and barometers, is Searchwells Etc. With offices in an 18th century listed watermill near London, it also puts its in-house experts on the case when it comes to restoration, shipping, storage, insurance, tax advice and finding property. Searchwells Etc visits homes and offices, often consulting on interior design and also advising clients looking to sell collectable items. It charges a commission on agreed purchase prices.
The most prolific luxury lifestyle concierge service in the world is undoubtedly Quintessentially, founded in 2000. Now boasting offices in over 50 countries, with divisions focussed on wine, cars, limited edition items, gifts and party planning,
Quintessentially experts can take clients on personal shopping outings to department stores and art galleries. Quintessentially Bespoke offers access to the likes of 30 evening gowns designed by Alice Temperley, while personal shopping guru and founder of Quintessentially Gifts, Antoinette Hunter, recently arranged a romantic picnic barbecue in Windsor Great Park, a hot air balloon ride over Sussex at dawn with champagne and the surprise of a book autographed with a personal message from the author.
Mind-blowing missions accomplished at Quintessentially include organising for a premiership footballer to come to a member’s home and have a kick around with his twin sons for their birthday, sourcing a bachelor pad with a difference for a member with a £7 million budget who wanted a secret study behind his library in the form of a Batman’s cage and organising an action packed Indiana Jones style adventure in Jordan for a member and his friend. The epic expedition involved training by ex MI6 agents with missions including uncovering hidden treasures in the desert, rescuing hostages in packed market places, private access to the ruins of Petra and camping in the Wadi Rum.
With services like Harrods and Quintessentially setting the bar this high, competition in the personal shopping and concierge market is fierce. Founders of Quintessentially Ben Elliott and Aaron Simpson occasionally still find their staff fielding calls from their personal friends who are “having a laugh” and making wagers with each other, trying to think up requests they bet their friends at Quintessentially can’t deliver. But they insist: “We’ll do anything as long as it’s legal.” And you can’t really ask for more than that.