Wrap up xmas from your sofa: The new festive concierge services promise to pick the perfect present for all your family. INDIA STURGIS sent the elves to the shelves
- UK stores are offering virtual shopping appointments with Christmas concierges
- India Sturgis tasked a variety of personal shopping assistants with gift shopping
- She gives verdict on retailers including Selfridges, Liberty and Dunelm
Christmas is coming, your present list is lengthening but hitting the crowded High Street increases your risk of catching Covid and online shopping is joyless. What to do?
This year, there’s a new retail option. In a first for many shops, virtual shopping appointments with Christmas concierges have been introduced to help those who don’t want to go in-store, but miss the personal touch.
Thankfully, virtual shopping is very different to shopping online. First, you’re assigned a personal shopping assistant (a real human) who, after a brief phone consultation or online questionnaire, shows you a curated selection of gifts via a video link — a bit like having your own personal shopping channel.
India Sturgis (pictured) tasked a variety of personal shopping assistants with finding gifts for three of her trickiest family members on a £150 budget
Usually, you’ll be paired with an assistant at your local store, who will be well informed on stock levels, discounts and Xmas offers. From the comfort of your living room, you can inspect items close up and dissect cashmere-to-viscose ratios. More often than not, concierges are free. Some stores will even wrap the presents and write cards for you.
I tasked each assistant with buying for my three trickiest family members; my metrosexual husband, 34, who loves golf; my glamorous 60-something mother-in-law, who lives by the sea and likes a bit of sparkle; and my 16-year-old nephew, who DJs, spends hours building things and is computer-mad.
With a budget of £150 for each store, can a Christmas concierge beat Christmas shopping in real life?
GIFTING TIPS FROM SELFRIDGES
Selfridges, free one-hour appointment with complementary gift wrapping and free delivery when you spend over £30.
India said you need a big budget to do well at Selfridges, after Shuhana Hussain suggested a bespoke hamper (pictured) for her other half
How does it work? A professional and straightforward experience. Fill in a questionnaire about the giftee’s age and your relationship, and choose how to be contacted (phone, email, text) for a pre-consultation. After a quick back-and-forth about types of gift they might like, I made a Zoom appointment with a Selfridges ‘Elfridges’, Shuhana Hussain, who was delightfully easy to chat to.
Great gifts? We went through three options per person; Shuhana held each up to the camera so I could check packaging and contents. We lost audio briefly, but she fixed it in seconds.
While she pointed me towards freebies I would never have found on my own for my mother-in-law as well as Lancome mascara and skincare sets (£27 each), the service fell a bit flat for my husband and nephew.
My other half would love a bespoke Selfridges hamper, pictured, filled with chocolate, coffee and booze (£70.92), but it lacks emotional weight — and the levitating train set (£30) by FAO Schwarz she suggested for my nephew felt too young for a 16-year-old.
You need a bigger budget to do really well here.
Grand Total: £154.92
Triumph or turkey? 3/5
SEAMLESS LUXURY AT LIBERTY
Liberty, free consultation and complementary gift-wrapping, £4.50 delivery within the UK.
India was impressed with Liberty, after Emily Wheeldon selected Black gloves by Wood Wood (pictured) for her husband
How does it work? Use the store’s website to book and fill in a small questionnaire about what you’re looking for. I was sent a Zoom link and put through to Emily Wheeldon, who has worked as a personal shopper at the store for five years. Our chat felt informal and cosy and she’d found six gift options per person, which was ample.
Great gifts? Emily came up with brilliant ideas I’d never have thought of. A nifty portable Lexon Mino Bluetooth speaker for my nephew (£30) hit the mark and she was happy to take it out of the box to check the size, wattage and sound quality. Black gloves by Wood Wood (£35), pictured, were a clever choice for my husband: they have grips for smartphone use, but would be just as handy holding a putter.
She also suggested ribbed socks (£15) by Pantherella and Escentric Molecules body wash (£20) for my husband. Her knowledge of brands was impressive and I didn’t feel pressurised into buying. Who knew my mum-in-law needed a gold ornamental lobster (£54) from Rockett St George. Seamless and fun. I will make a virtual return!
Grand total: £154
Triumph or turkey? 5/5
SPEEDY SOLUTIONS FROM STYLE DOCTORS
Style Doctors, £45 for a personal shopper video call and delivery to one address within 48 hours or £120 for a mood board for up to ten people.
India said Hannah from Style Doctors chose the best gift for her nephew, after selecting a Raspberry Pi Zero W computer programming starter kit (pictured)
How does it work? this is a group of independent stylists who, for a fee, scan multiple shops ‘from high end to budget’ to produce mood boards of hero items for you to browse. If you like them, they’ll buy them and arrange one drop-off for everything. We kick off with a Zoom chat about preferred brands, what I want to achieve from the gifts and whether there are any big no-gos. Customers pay for the presents using Viva Wallet, a top-up digital card that you add your budget to for them to spend.
Great gifts? We decide something tech-based for my nephew is wise given I’m cloudy on his measurements and my mother-in-law would like something spoiling for her home. My personal shopper, Hannah, asks me to text her photos of my relatives to see their colourings. Within 48 hours, a slideshow with three to four options per person arrives on email.
Her choices for my mother-in-law — a John Lewis cushion (£35) and leafy gold photo frame (£18, also John Lewis). Husband — an Under Armour tech top (£34) and Next pyjama botttoms (£16) — are well-tailored and safe, if uninspiring.
She chooses the best gift for my nephew: a Raspberry Pi Zero W computer programming starter kit (£25), pictured, and an Urban Outfitters ribbed beanie (£11).
Useful if you have a long present list, no time and deep pockets.
Grand total: £139
Triumph or turkey? 3.5/5
DECK THE HALLS AT DUNELM
Dunelm, free consultation and free delivery when you spend over £50.
India was impressed with Dunelm, after John Spittles-Jackson selected neon lights (pictured) and a duvet set for her nephew
How does it work? Book a 45-minute consultation online and fill in a form with special requests or products you have in mind. John Spittles-Jackson is my ‘shopping companion’ who, having worked there for eight years, knows his way around the store’s 30,000 products.
Great gifts? Dunelm proves a surprise star-player. John nails all three people with zero fuss and great humour. I get two effective neon lights (£15), pictured — Dunelm own brand — for my nephew and a masculine grey duvet set (£20), a Twenties-inspired mirrored shelving unit (£55) for my mother-in-law and a chrome-effect desk lamp (£45) for my husband — also Dunelm own brand. John emails the list of items across to me for purchase.
Grand total: £150
Triumph or turkey? 5/5
INSIDE SCOOP ON DISCOUNTS AT FENWICK
Fenwick, free consultation and gift wrapping from £4 per item with a £1 donation going to Crisis UK. Delivery from £4.58.
India said Fenwick has lovely gift wrapping, after being suggested a classic pearlescent necklace for her mother-in-law
How does it work? Email your closest Fenwick’s concierge service (details on its website) and select the gift service. A personal shopper will then call you for a consultation.
I spoke to Sophia Nwogu for almost an hour and in great detail about the giftee’s hair colour, eye colour, height, brands they like, interests and quirks of style. I then get an email with a video call link.
Great gifts? Sophia greets me in a private room with a rail and shelving unit full of products.
I’m shown a swathe of vases, cushions, a blanket, gold soap dispensers, candles, photo frames, necklaces, bracelets and a jewellery box for my mother-in-law alone.
I settle on a classic pearlescent necklace (£45), pictured, by Adele Marie after Sophia tries it on for me so I can see how it hangs.
She has maxed out the budget thanks to her knowledge of in-store discounts: my husband’s jumper would usually cost £90 from Edmmond Studios, but I get it for £63 and my nephew’s Mickey Mouse T-shirt, also Edmmond Studios, was reduced from £55 to £45. Despite occasionally patchy audio — I have to ask her to repeat a couple of things — and having to ask her to lift things higher so I could see them, this is a thorough, personable service and great value for money.
The gift wrapping is lovely, too, if your budget stretches to it.
Grand total: £153
Triumph or turkey? 4/5
WIN £500 EXPERIENCE
We’re giving you the chance to win a £500 personal shopping experience, courtesy of Fenwick’s Concierge Service.
To enter, simply answer the following question correctly: According to the famous song, who guided Santa’s sleigh one foggy Christmas Eve?
Send your answer to [email protected] with your full name and phone number, by Wednesday, December 16, 2020.
Terms: Open to UK (ex NI) residents 18+. Terms apply, see page 48.
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