Santa's real life little helper
It is one of the dilemmas of the Christmas countdown just what do you get for that person in your life who has everything. A personal shopper might just have the answers. Mike Hill reports
Feeling the strain of the Christmas shopping season?
Is pressie-hunting becoming a festive chore?
For many of us, approaching the task with a sense of impending dread, Jenny Norton is a real gift.
She is a professional gift finder and is all geared up to take the strain out of finding the perfect present.
When once it was only the likes of Harrods who offered someone to help customers find their way around the store and pinpoint the perfect gift now there are more and more of life saving shop assistants on the high street.
For Jenny and the personal shopper team at Debenhams in Preston’s Fishergate Shopping Centre this is the busiest time of the year.
She says more and more people each year are taking advantage of her skills to deliver that perfect gift-wrapped Christmas.
The 54-year-old from Preston has been a personal shopper for 13 years and just loves working flat out during the busy festive season.
It means getting into the Christmas spirit early. She says: “It starts in late November and early December with women looking for help to find the perfect outfit for their Christmas or New Year party and then moves into gift finding.
“We have a brilliant job and it’s fantastic to get into the Christmas spirit and to really be able to help people. We love coming up with fun present ideas and putting a smile on someone’s face.
“Our aim is to allow people to sit back and relax while we find all the gifts. It is lovely to be able to share, in a way, with everyone else’s Christmas festivities. I suppose I’m Santa’s little helper!”
Some shoppers come to Jenny with a list of family, friends and relatives, some idea of their interests and a budget. She goes away and returns with a choice of presents she believes would be ideal for them.
Others have a complete gift list for her to find. The service is free and it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half to come up with the goods.
Asked what people seek help from a festive gift finder, Jenny says: “All types. It may be an older person with younger relatives who isn’t sure what they would like or what today’s trends are.
“I have a regular annual visit from an older lady looking for presents for her grandchildren. She never knows what to get for them.
“It can also be people who are pressed for time because of work commitments and we do see a lot of men looking for that ideal gift for the lady in their life. Some arrive at the last minute in a bit of a panic.
“Our job is to give them ideas and choices and to take the strain out of the whole present choosing process.”
So what are people likely to get in their stockings this year?
Jenny says: “There are the firm traditional favourites like hats and scarves. The new Alexander McQueen perfume is also proving a really popular choice.
“Lingerie is always a favourite gift from men to their partners and we help a lot of them, steering them in the right direction and making sure they get it right.”
Jenny has words of advice for gentlemen when it comes to making that choice: “Not in red!”
So what present will she be hoping to find under the Christmas tree on the big day? Perfume is her personal favourite.
She says: “My husband Niall does struggle a little bit but I leave lots of magazines open for him to point him in the right direction and he usually doesn’t do to badly in the end.”
However, engaging a personal shopper was once the exclusive privilege of Hollywood A-listers.
Celebrities that have engaged the services of a personal shopper range from singer Rihanna to actress Meryl Streep.
They’ve proved popular with stars that can’t go out and browse the shops on their own without being mobbed by fans.
Premier League footballers ,including Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck, are also reported to have used the services of a celebrity shopper to help them put together their wardrobes and track down the latest must-have accessories.
In this world it is all about the look. Celebrity personal shoppers have to have an eye on new designers and red hot fashion trends.
There’s even a list of the best personal shoppers in West Hollywood online. The competition is fierce.
As one VIP shopper who has worked with a host of football stars explained to a national newspaper: “I know it all sounds very glamorous but I work really hard too.
“My phone is on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It has to be that way so that my service is the best.”
For those who are not just daunted by the Christmas shopping fellow high street giant
John Lewis offers what it calls a Full Festive Works service to take the pain out of preparing for Christmas.
They will send a team who to your home and decorate the whole house right down to trimming the Christmas tree.
While there are an army of festive friends out there to help with every bit of the Christmas experience from meal planning to gift wrapping.
And Harrods even has a toy concierge service providing someone who will takes notes over the telephone of your child’s favourite characters, colours and hobbies and then pull together a sack of goodies which can be picked up in store or wrapped and shipped out.
Or you just take the path favoured by Prime Minister Theresa May who recently described husband Philip as her personal shopper when asked who fills her wardrobe for her.