With the fast-paced, high
pressure professional lifestyles of today, more and more
people have limited time to do their personal shopping.
Holding down a full-time job, raising children, and
maintaining a household doesn't seem to leave enough hours in
the day to get everything done. That's why many people are
now opting for a "service" to do much of their
personal shopping for them -- everything from buying
groceries to planning and purchasing an entire wardrobe.
Within the past decade personal shopping services have
emerged as a rapidly growing cottage industry with the
potential for highly profitable large-scale operations. It's
a service that appeals to a busy, above average income
clientele, as well as to corporate clients. And an
enterprising person providing this kind of service can make
Shopping for other people is not necessarily
a difficult task. As part of the service, the personal
shopper usually meets with clients to determine their needs
and compile a list of items to be purchased within the
client's specified price range. Then, the shopping begins.
After the client's items have been purchased, the shopper and
client meet again. The client looks over the purchases, and
once satisfied with the shopper's selections, pays the bill.
Most of the "work" involved with a personal
shopping service, is in the shopping itself.
Start-up costs for a personal shopping service can be
relatively minimal. There's little need for expensive
equipment and hardly any initial investment in inventory. The
biggest expense a home-based shopping service encounters is
usually the method of transportation used by the shopper.
Since most of a personal shoppers time is spent shopping, an
efficient running, low-mileage car or van is essential to get
to the many shopping locations.
Most of these services begin as part time, home-based
operations. Beginning the service at home allows the novice
entrepreneur to maintain a full time job while devoting ten
to twenty hours a week to being a personal shopper. Once a
profitable client list has been established, and depending on
the market size, the service can expand to a full time,
multi-employee business with yearly earnings of $50,000 or
Before starting up any new business venture it is
essential to determine if the business is right for you.
You must have the right temperament as well as the
facilities and an adequate market for your service.
Understanding these and other factors involved in
operating a personal shopping service before you
"take the plunge" will enable you to be
prepared for any eventuality. It's also a good way to
insure success and profit. Shopping can be a tiresome,
demanding and frustrating undertaking. Obviously if you
want to be a personal shopper, you must enjoy shopping.
Most of the people who utilize a personal shopping
service simply don't have time to shop for themselves.
And some just don't like to shop. If you are not fond of
shopping for yourself, you won't like doing it for others
either, even if they pay you. You can draw from previous
personal experience to help you determine if you would
enjoy shopping for others.
Once you've determined that you have the ability, and
would be happy shopping for other people, you'll need to
focus on the "business" side of operating a
personal shopping service. And that means you will have
to be certain that there is a market for your service.
Generally, a personal shopping service cannot rely on
clientele with average or below average income. You'll
need a "pool" of clients who can afford to pay
for someone to shop for them. Many personal shoppers have
found that people with incomes of $40,000 or more are
their best sources of clients. You'll need to do some
research before you start up to determine if your market
can support a personal shopping service.
The success of a personal shopping service depends
largely on the quality of the service. You must offer
professional service and quality merchandise. This type
of service requires that you know the best places to
shop, be familiar with brand names, and that you work
within the client's price range. The most successful
personal shoppers have established good connections with
retailers and wholesalers and know where to get the best
merchandise and the best prices.
You'll also need to be creative. Many times a client will
need a gift for someone. The client give you a
description of the person, and then it's up to you, the
personal shopper, to find the gift to fit that person.
This requires not only creativity, but an understanding
of people as well.
Another important factor to consider is how you will
advertise and promote your service. This is especially
important when you are starting up. You'll need to make
your service known to your market area. You should
investigate all the available avenues of advertising and
determine what's best for you. Establishing a realistic
advertising budget and implementing an effective
advertising campaign will mean more business and bigger
Starting a personal shopping service at home is the
ideal way to begin. No large facility is needed for
storage or equipment. One room can serve as office space
for administrative purposes, such as bookkeeping and
record keeping. You should also have an answering machine
for your telephone, a typewriter or computer and printer
if affordable, and various office supplies.
Furnishing a home office can be relatively inexpensive. A
desk, chair, filing cabinet and bookshelf are the only
basic items needed to begin. Purchased new, these items
will cost from $500 to $700. You may be able to find good
quality used items for much less. Many yard and garage
sales have adequate furniture for a home office, and at
If you don't already have an electric typewriter, you can
get a good one for $200 to $300. You shouldn't go
overboard here -- a typewriter that produces professional
looking documents is all that is needed. A computer is an
optional expense that can wait until the business has
expanded. Once the business is "booming"
investing in a computer can bring a high degree of
organization and efficiency to bookkeeping and record
The most important piece of "equipment" a
personal shopper will need is a car. Transportation is
also the biggest expense this type of service will likely
incur. Since well over 50 percent of a personal shopper's
working time is spent on the road, to and from shopping
excursions and consulting with clients, an economical and
dependable method of transportation is a must.
Most people operating home-based services use their own
cars. This alleviates the necessity of buying a new car,
or leasing a vehicle. If your car is in good working
order and gets good gas mileage it makes sense to use it
for your business. The government will reimburse you, via
tax deductions, for the driving and other expenses
incurred as part of the business.
Many personal shoppers also invest in a small camera.
This is a relatively modest investment that adds an extra
service to your business. A camera will allow you to take
pictures of items you think particular clients may be
interested in. Your clients will appreciate this extra
service because it allows them the opportunity to see,
and approve an item before it is purchased. It's a good
way to build an on-going and trusting relationship with
clients, increasing the chances for repeat business.
A good instant camera is sufficient for a personal
shopping service. You can get one for about $50 and it's
well worth the investment.
When starting your service, it is important to
remember to "live within your means." There's
no need to get several pieces of expensive office
furniture, or buy a new car. Be sensible and get only the
basics. Your total investment in equipment and office
furnishings and supplies need not exceed $1,000.
Since a personal shopping business is service
oriented, you won't be selling a specific product. That
means there's not a lot of initial inventory as there
would be if you were starting a retail business. However,
you may on occasion find it necessary to deal with
suppliers of wholesale merchandise, because some clients
may demand such merchandise.
If you purchase wholesale merchandise for your clients,
it is important that you maintain a good relationship
with dependable suppliers of inventory. The better your
connections with reliable suppliers, the better your
chances of getting those special items for your clients
at a good price.
Even though you usually won't be selling a product, you
will be selling a service. And you'll need to take just
as much care in pricing your service as you would a line
of products. Most personal shoppers use one of two common
methods for pricing their service:
1) Set a fee based on the total price of the merchandise.
2) Charge an hourly rate.
Whichever pricing method you choose must bring in
enough income to cover any overhead you have, your time
and labor, and leave you with a reasonable profit. This
requires knowing what the market will bear, as well as
how much you desire to make your service personally
Most home-based shopping services initially institute a
fee based on the total cost of the merchandise purchased.
This fee should be a percentage of the purchase price.
The percentage will vary depending on the market area,
the type of clientele and the total price of merchandise
purchased. It's up to the personal shopper to determine
an appropriate percentage.
Generally, the larger the total price of merchandise
purchased, the smaller the service charge. For example,
if you charge a service fee of 20% on a purchase of $500
or more, your minimum fee will be $100. For a smaller
total purchase of merchandise -- say, from $200 to $500,
your service charge could be 25%. That would leave you
with a minimum fee of $50 and a maximum of $125.
This type of pricing makes good business sense if you do
a lot of pre-shopping from newspapers, catalogs and by
phone. That way, you've located your merchandise before
you actually go shopping. This will save you time and
result in a higher degree of profit on your labor.
Hourly billing for this type service usually works
best if your service offers a good deal of consultation
as well as shopping. In most cases, personal shoppers who
also feature wardrobe consulting as part of their
service, charge an hourly fee. If your service is in a
market that has the potential to support a wardrobe
consultant as well as a personal shopper, you may
consider billing clients by the hour.
Many personal shoppers who also offer consulting as part
of their service charge as much as $45 an hour. The rate
you set depends on how much you feel your time and
efforts are worth, and how much the market can afford.
You'll need to make a profit, but you'll also need to be
If you limit your service to shopping -- no consultations
-- then an hourly rate isn't realistic. Sometimes you may
only be shopping for $50 worth of merchandise and
charging an hourly rate of $30 to $40 will not be
appreciated by the client. Your rate should be such that
every client feels it's worth the time saved to pay you
to do their shopping. For shopping services only, a
service fee based on the total price of the merchandise
is more practical, and ultimately more profitable than an
Any personal shopping service's client list depends,
in large measure, on the variety of shopping and
consultation offered. As pointed out earlier in this
booklet, some personal shoppers also serve as wardrobe
consultants, giving advice as well as selecting clothing
items to show the client. Wardrobe consulting could be a
profitable feature for a personal shopping service if the
market has the potential clientele.
Generally, if you are located in a market of less than
100,000 people, there will not be much demand for
wardrobe consulting. That's why most personal shopping
services are located in, or near a relatively large
population base with an abundance of working people, and
a variety of stores. The services offered in such a
market can be varied to cater to specific client needs.
If shopping for personal clothing is your forte, your
client list will most likely be comprised of women. Many
of these women will be making a transition into
professional life and are in need of a business wardrobe.
Your ability to consult with these clients -- to advise
them and select an appropriate wardrobe will go a long
way in determining your success as a personal shopper and
consultant. If you do the job well, the chances of adding
men to this particular client list will increase. In many
cases, men are becoming more open to the idea of getting
help in selecting their "professional" attire.
Some of your personal clothing shopping will be done for
parents who need help getting their children ready to go
back to school. You may also get women who are soon to be
married and need assistance in selecting gowns for the
wedding. Some people, planning exotic vacations, may
require your help in choosing a special
In most cases, the previously mentioned clients are
limited to large markets. If your market area is moderate
to small, depending on "wardrobe" clients as a
major source of your income is probably a mistake. You
should rely on more generalized shopping. Personal
gift-shopping is a good way to realize profits in any
When you are shopping for gifts, most of your clients
will be men. Many of these will be husbands who know what
they want to get their wives but don't have the time to
shop for themselves or have little, if any, idea where to
shop. It'll be up to you to track down these items,
usually in a limited amount of time.
Other clients on your gift shopping client list will
include executives who need to get gifts for their
clients and employees.
In most cases, these clients will also be men. As a rule,
it seems that men prefer to have someone else shop for
gifts rather than spend the time themselves going from
store to store. So a personal shopper can usually count
on men as a good source of clientele for this type of
Your client list will also include some elderly people,
or physically disabled people who aren't able to do their
own shopping. These people are most generally interested
in a grocery shopping service. This type of client, while
not a major source of your income, will be a steady
One major source of income for many personal shopping
services is the corporate client. This type of client may
take a great deal of time and effort to land, but the
results will make it worthwhile. That's because corporate
clients normally make large volume purchases, and if they
are pleased with your service will be a source of repeat
There's no doubt you'll have to work hard to get
corporate clients. It requires a rather comprehensive
study of your market in order to be familiar with all the
potential clients, followed up by an impressive and
convincing sales presentation. But if you can convince
many of the businesses in your market that you can save
them money, time and hassle by doing their necessary gift
shopping for them, you'll have a valuable client list
with a high profit potential. So you should be determined
and persistent when pursuing these clients.
In the most basic of terms, a personal shopping service's
clientele depends on the types of services offered as
well as the market's need. The client list will include
busy professionals -- both women and men, corporate
clients with business gift needs, and senior citizens who
are unable to do much shopping for themselves.
Your market will dictate which segment of potential
clients you should rely on. You'll need to know the kinds
of people in your market area and what they need in a
personal shopping service. Your service should cater to
Even though your talents as a shopper may be
formidable, you won't get much business if you don't let
people know your service is available. That's why it is
essential to develop an effective advertising and
Since personal shopping services are a relatively
recent innovation, many people aren't familiar with them.
These people need to know what a personal shopping
service is and how it can be of benefit to them. It's up
to you to let them know what you offer and how you can
save them time and get better merchandise. The success of
your service depends on how effectively you "spread
the word" about what you are doing.
Determining the best advertising campaign for your
service will require some research of your market to
understand the best way to reach the widest segment of
potential clients. First of all, you'll need to have a
good idea as to who your potential clients are, and how
many of them there are. You'll also need to offer them
something that isn't already available and then convince
them to take advantage of your service.
This "pre-marketing" research doesn't
necessarily have to involve a great deal of expense. One
good and inexpensive method of obtaining information
about your potential market is to conduct your own
survey. Discuss your personal shopping idea with all of
your contacts -- business and personal. You can also get
a sampling of opinion by going through the phone
directory and calling as many businesses and people as
time will allow. Be prepared to ask specific questions
that will allow you to obtain usable information. Some
questions worth asking include:
1) Would the person or business pay a service to do their
shopping? If the answer is yes, you should then find out
if they would use the service on a regular or repeat
2) What kinds of shopping would these potential clients
pay a service to do? Try to get them to be as specific as
possible about wardrobe consulting, gift shopping,
grocery shopping and so on.
3) What's the potential client's idea of a reasonable
service fee? You may have to do some prompting here. That
is, you may have to suggest something like 20 to 25
percent of the retail price. You should soon get an idea
as to what the market would be willing to pay.
This isn't a scientific survey, but it should enable
you to better plan and instigate your advertising
campaign. You'll have a good idea as to who your
potential clients are and what they would expect from a
personal shopping service. The next step is to come up
with an advertising budget you can afford and then find
out where your advertising dollars can best be spent.
You'll have to use your own judgment as to how much you
allocate as an advertising budget. However, you should
keep in mind the importance of advertising to the success
of your service. Many businesses, both small and large,
budget anywhere from 1 to 5 percent of their projected
gross sales for advertising and promotion. You should
have at least some idea of projected gross sales from
your pre-start-up research.
The important thing to remember is to be reasonable.
Don't spend more than you can realistically afford.
You'll need to be as financially sound as possible until
your business is bringing in a healthy profit. At the
same time, you don't want to undermine what an effective
advertising campaign can do to help your business.
Once you have decided how much you can afford to spend on
your initial advertising campaign you'll then have to
select the media which will bring you the best results.
Generally, for a personal shopping service, advertising
in newspapers, the yellow pages, and by direct mail gets
the best results.
A less expensive, but more time consuming, means of
advertising is through personal contacts. This form of
advertising usually works better in small markets, but
can be effective in larger markets as well. You'll need
several hundred professional business cards to pass
around. Impressive business cards are not at all
expensive and are a good way to get your name and service
known. You'll also need to set aside a good bit of time
making personal calls on prospective clients. This is an
excellent way to let people know that your service is
When calling on a prospective client you must be well
prepared. This means being able to explain your service
in a clear and professional manner. Let your prospective
clients know exactly what your shopping service offers
and how it can be of benefit to them. And before you
leave, make sure they have your business card as well as
any brochures or flyers you may have detailing your
service. Ask them to consider your shopping service, then
follow up your presentation with a phone call a couple of
weeks later. Don't let them forget about you and the
service you are offering.
Newspaper advertising can be effective for a personal
shopping service that gets most of its clients from the
immediate community. Again, this type of advertising may
work better in smaller to moderate markets. Most
newspapers charge reasonable rates for display and
classified ads and reach a high concentration of
Another effective means of advertising your personal
shopping service is in the yellow pages. Make sure you
choose the most appropriate category for your listing or
advertisement. You can have an illustrated quarter page
spread or simply a one line listing with the name of your
business, address and phone number.
The yellow pages can be one of the most effective
methods of advertising at your disposal, so it is a good
investment, especially when your service is just getting
started. You'll have to be careful and get your ad in
before the stated deadline, otherwise you will most
likely be waiting an entire year before you can advertise
in the yellow pages.
Other forms of advertising you should consider include;
direct mail, which allows you to distribute information
about your service to a selected group of potential
clients, newsletters, flyers and brochures. All of these
methods of advertising can be effective and are
Knowing your market is the determining factor, along with
your budget, as to the type and amount of advertising you
do. It should be obvious however, that the more
advertising you do, the better your chances of reaching
the greatest number of potential clients. And that is,
along with convincing those potential clients that your
personal shopping service is the best in the market, what
your advertising campaign should strive for.
Eight contributing factors are measured on a 1 to 10
basis (with 10 being excellent) based on analysis of this
Income in Relation to
Overall Potential for Success 8.38
To some degree, a personal shopper's business will be
seasonal. The biggest profits are usually made from
October through December, but there is still plenty of
business for a highly motivated shopper throughout the
year. The amount of profits depends on several factors
including time devoted to the business, proper marketing
and setting fees that bring the best return for services
Many home-based personal shopping services, operating
part-time, have reported extra earnings of as much as
$1,000 per month. This type of profit is usually realized
by shoppers who take advantage of the service's low
start-up costs. In the beginning, these services are
equipped with little more than a telephone and an
answering machine. Advertising is done through some
personal contacts, fliers posted on company bulletin
boards, and business cards.
These part-time services use their own cars for
shopping excursions, which average about twice a month.
Some of these shoppers get as many as five individual
clients in a month's time. The result could be a handsome
profit that more than covers the initial investment which
does not need to be more than $1,000.
If you are planning to get into the business on a
full-time basis, you'll need to make a larger initial
investment. If, instead of a home-based service, you plan
to utilize a commercial office and at least one helper,
your start-up costs will be substantially greater than a
home-based, part-time operation. You'll likely need more
than one vehicle for shopping trips, and your advertising
campaign will need to be more extensive.
This type of operation could mean an initial investment
of $7,000 to $10,000. No doubt that's a sizable
investment, but once the service has become established,
you can realize earnings of $50,000 and more per year. If
an investment of several thousand dollars is beyond your
immediate means, beginning a personal shopping service
part-time, at home, will allow you to get into the
business with a good chance to expand to full-time in a
year, or so.
Because of the low start-up costs and high profit
potential, a home-based personal shopping service can be
the ideal business for many people. But, in order to be
successful there are several key factors prospective
shoppers should understand.
(1) Shopping can be a tiresome and frustrating
experience. If you don't like to shop for yourself, you
won't like shopping for other people and your business
will not succeed.
(2) If you are not located in, or do not have reasonable
access to a fairly large market, a personal shopping
service may have a tough time surviving. Before you start
up, analyze your market -- know who your potential
clients are and how many of them you can realistically
count on to pay for your service.
(3) Knowing the best places to shop for the finest
quality merchandise at the most reasonable prices, is
essential. You'll need this expertise to convince clients
that you are, indeed, the best person for the job. It's
something you'll have to demonstrate in order to get new,
as well as repeat business.
(4) This is a personal service. You will be shopping for
other people's personal needs -- everything from
groceries to apparel. In order to do this properly,
you'll need to get as much information from your clients
as possible. Let your clients know you understand what
they want, and that they will be well taken care of.
You'll need to be a good listener as well as a good
(5) Your service fee should be realistic -- both for
you and your clients. You will, of course, need to make a
profit. But you'll also have to work within your client's
means. If your fee is too high for your market, potential
clients will usually find the time to do their own
(6) A well planned advertising campaign can mean the
difference between breaking even and making substantial
profits. Develop an advertising budget that will allow
you to make your service known to the majority of
potential clients in your market.
(7) Adjusting your service to fit the needs of your
market will mean greater profits. If you specialize in
gift shopping, you may be overlooking other potential
avenues of income, such as wardrobe consulting. You
should be as versatile as your time, resources, and the
market will allow.
A personal shopping service can be a personally rewarding
and highly profitable venture. It is not, however, a
means to "overnight" wealth. It will take a
good deal of time and work to make your service known and
understood, and to build a client list substantial enough
to return big profits. But, if you like to shop, and you
are good at shopping for other people, a personal
shopping service could be the ideal business for you.