Personal Shoppers for the Masses

It's hard to be completely in the dark about store sales, between e-mail sign-ups and being inundated with advertising. But wouldn't it be nice to have someone gather all your favorite stores and brands in one room and point out what's on sale?

That's exactly what Shop It To Me does. The free online personal shopping service has attracted 400,000 users since its launch in 2005 through word of mouth. Users sign up for e-mail alerts about sales on some of their favorite brands and stores like Prada, DKNY, Nordstrom, Ann Taylor and Ralph Lauren, along with smaller, lesser known boutiques. You get an e-mail as often as you want with a personalized list of items on sale at the various retailers. You can click on a picture of the item in the e-mail message and it will take you directly to the item at the store's Web site for purchase.

Charlie Graham, a San Francisco resident, had the idea for the company while in business school and tested it out on fellow students. He has since attracted more than 100 stores and is now fielding at least two requests a day from retailers wanting to be on the site. But he says the company is "fairly picky" about which retailers can become partners. "We want to make sure they fit in with the style and brand we put together," Graham says. "We think the mix is really good."

Shop It To Me has set up a few different ways of making money, including getting a cut of each purchase made. None of the information on sales is secret or exclusive to Shop It To Me subscribers, so the real benefit is being able to get one e-mail with sales going on at stores of your liking. Otherwise you're sifting through a dozen e-mails each day.

Graham says he has yet to find a direct competitor.

PersonalShopper.com will comb through online stores and designers and find items for you based on a personal profile you fill out when you sign up. But it won't e-mail you. The service was launched in 2000 by Laura Silsby, who left Hewlett-Packard to start a business to help working mothers shop more efficiently. It has grown to about 250,000 users and is starting to partner directly with designers and manufacturers to offer a wider selection.

Style for Free, a site that mostly contains information about coupons and sales, has a personal shopper service that will search the Web for just about anything. You pay between $9.99 and $64.99 for the company to personally search for your item of need, whether it be a special outfit for an event or a certain piece of furniture. The fee is based on how many things you need and the site will refund money if the scavenger hunt is unsuccessful.

Have you used any of these services? What purchases have you made through these sites? If you could hire a personal shopper, what would you ask them to do? Post a comment below.

I'm still looking for thoughts on the best shopping cards. Everybody seems to love Wegmans but how good is their savings card? And who doesn't love the $10 off coupons sent by DSW? So send me your comments... which stores have the best shopper cards? E-mail me at shoptoit@washingtonpost.com.

By Tania Anderson |  September 18, 2008; 3:00 AM ET General Interest
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