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Not long ago, having a personal shopper was as sure an indicator of wealth as vacation houses on the coast and purse-sized dogs. But increasingly, retailers are co-opting the personal shopper concept to make "average" shoppers feel special, and a new iPhone app released last month by Sears provides a great illustration of how potentially powerful that can be.
The free Sears Personal Shopper app uses the iPhone's camera and email functionality to quickly connect customers with a team of "expert shoppers." Users either take a picture of the item they want to buy, or locate an existing picture of the item; the app then creates an email with that photo as an attachment, aimed at the Personal Shopper Crew's inbox, with an area where users can optionally type additional data. A separate link at the bottom of the app places a call to the Crew.
I sent three different requests using the app over the course of one week, and while the results were mixed, the experience was uniformly positive. Making it even more remarkable is the fact that the Crew will send people to competing retailers if it isn't able to find the desired product within its own inventory.
First, I snapped a picture of a copy of the widescreen DVD edition of "Clueless," which is out of print. I got this response within a few hours:
It appears that the specific Widescreen Edition of Clueless is currently out of print. I have located a similar one for you and have included the link below. Does this version work for you?
That was followed by a link to a newer edition of the film, at Best Buy. So far, so good.
I also had good luck with a metal hanging file cart, which the Crew also located quickly. This time, Sears had the product in stock. A little comparison shopping found that their price was competitive with Staples and Office Depot.
The one misstep I had highlights an inherent limitation of the app, and that is its reliance on photos for accuracy. My picture of a $199 office chair garnered me a link to a $749 chair, one which has many more features than mine but looks pretty much the same superficially.
The app couldn't be easier to use, comes at an unbeatable price, and could keep the retail giant top-of-mind with many customers. Now, Sears, let's talk about that beach house and purse dog.
Next week: The magic of Macy's iShop.