Busy, stressed Santas hiring gift buyers 

Some Bay Area shoppers with more money than time are taking a cue from Santa and hiring elves to do their gift buying for them.

Personal shoppers can reduce the stress of the holiday season for their busy clients and let them avoid the elbow-jamming crowds packing the malls by doing their gift buying for them. They are available both through department stores such as Macy’s and Neiman Marcus or as independent agents.

"A lot of people get stressed out over the holidays and shopping is a big part of that," said Jane Matsui, 55, a personal shopper who has worked with mostly the same 30 clients from San Francisco and the Peninsula for the last 13 years.

For $150 an hour, Matsui does the shopping and the wrapping, with a personal touch that can fool a spouse. "Husbands use me to buy for wives," she said.

Matsui’s clients are mostly well-to-do families who spend anywhere from $1,000 to $45,000 or $50,000. She looks for unique gifts — ranging from electronics to $350 cashmere sweaters to jewelry to individual artworks — everywhere from Best Buy to Chinatown to Gumps.

"In November and December up until the day before Christmas — most of the appointments that we book are just gift shopping," said Jennifer Brown, a personal shopping manager at Macy’s West in San Francisco, which offers its services for free. Macy’s 1,500 to 2,000 clients shell out an average of $1,000 to $1,500 each, she said, but "we’ll work on any budget."

Brown said pashminas, candy gift baskets, fragrance gift sets, cashmere sweaters, jewelry and electronics have been popular items this year.

Cherys Jenkins, who has been in the personal shopping business for 30 years, says "people use in-house personal shoppers moreso than independent ones." Jenkins, founder of San Mateo-based image consultants The Wardrobe Studio and a former personal shopper for Nordstrom, is doing all the holiday shopping for one of her clients of 12 years. "I shop for her grandchildren, her daughter-in-law, her staff, her husband, her friends,’’ she said. The gifts are mostly clothes, but also include items such as vases and candlesticks for a close client.

While most clients savvy enough to hire a personal shopper were done with their shopping long before the holidays, there’s still an opportunity for a last-minute appointment. Brown says she’ll accept orders up until the day before Christmas, and Matsui says she leaves "three or four days open before Christmas. Emergencies always come around."

Where to shop for personal shoppers

Check with your local department stores. Many offer personal shopping services to customers who come prepared with a specific list and a spending amount in mind. Appointments should be made a week in advance, with some exceptions. The shoppers are employed by the store and their services are usually free.

If you’re looking for something more personal and can afford to spend a little more, an independent stylist or shopping consultant will take the time to fulfill store-specific requests and offer tailor-made suggestions. Trust is important — they may go through your closets and ask for descriptions of your loved ones — so make sure you feel comfortable with the shopper you choose. Their services tend to be advertised mostly by word of mouth, but some consultants maintain Web sites or listings in the Yellow Pages, and Web sites such as yelp.com or citysearch.com also include some reviews and listings. The average hourly fee is $150, and services usually include gift-wrapping.

eholt@examiner.com

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