Personal shoppers may not be very visible, but they’ve been providing an invaluable service to Malaysians for quite some time. With the onset of the pandemic, business has been booming for these hardworking and enterprising individuals. But what exactly do they do, and how does one go about engaging a personal shopper’s services locally? We asked three anonymous personal shoppers, collectively based in Penang and the Klang Valley, to share their experience in this industry. We even managed to get some inside advice and tips for beginners! If you’re interested in this unique profession, look no further than this guide to personal shoppers in Malaysia.
What Exactly is a “Personal Shopper”?
Simply put, personal shoppers (PS) are ordinary people who help others purchase items on an urgent or near-immediate basis. They usually specialise in certain categories of items (e.g. streetwear) and have set shopping areas or stores they will cover (e.g. Pavilion KL/Genting Highlands Premium Outlets). This helps customers know what products can and cannot be bought by the personal shopper. In terms of how often the PS goes shopping, the frequency can range from once a week to even daily, depending on individual availability. “Why so many trips?”, you ask? Here’s how one of our sources puts it:
“Some of us just really like shopping, so going on frequent trips is actually satisfying and not as tiring as you’d think. For others, it’s naturally incorporated into our after-work or daily routines, such as getting groceries or grabbing dinner, so it’s no trouble as well.”
Isn’t it good to know that personal shoppers are out to optimise both your time and theirs? Demand for their services typically skyrockets when sales and festive seasons roll around (and if that sounds like “every other month” to you, because, uh—Malaysia—you’d be right.) During these shopping sprees, boots and backseats crammed full of purchases are the norm for personal shoppers. Some even rent vans for maximum storage capacity! While we may recoil from the amount of effort required, many personal shoppers relish the deal-hunting process.
Types of Personal Shoppers
In Malaysia, personal shoppers can either be independent or attached to a corporate firm/retailer. Here are some common categories where a personal shopper’s service might be required:
- Grocery shopping – likely what most Malaysians associate with the PS term, as many major hypermarket chains announced the start of this service to help the elderly with buying necessities during lockdown. Besides store-appointed PS, there are also individual personal shoppers who do grocery runs.
- Courier services – some business-savvy local logistics chains, such as Lalamove, have implemented PS as part of their delivery service to serve those with transportation issues.
- Purchase of “special” products – PS in this category target a specific section of the market, who may not have access to certain items. For example, Malaysians living abroad who miss their belacan.
Purchase of luxury fashion items – this also includes higher-end products, from fragrances to designer handbags and shoes. Authenticity is of utmost importance, so PS who specialise in luxury tend to communicate with the client directly via text/video call when at the boutique or outlet store. Some even take orders for overseas trips as prices tend to be lower abroad.
Why Engage a Personal Shopper?
Personal shoppers are most often contacted when one simply can’t make time to go to the mall or certain stores to buy just one thing. If there’s a flash sale or the desired item is limited-edition, employing a PS can help ensure that the purchase is secured in time. In some cases, personal shoppers may be able to get better deals or discounts by combining purchases or using member promotions. They also deal with customer service on behalf of their clients, making gift-wrapping and other hassles a breeze.
Recently, another reason has emerged to encourage the use of personal shoppers: movement restrictions which require people to stay home. With COVID-19 keeping many from going outdoors, personal shopping services have become even more in demand. In fact, one of our interviewees only began his business early last year, after realising the demand for flatpacked IKEA furniture among Malaysians living outside of Selangor, Penang, and Johor. He says that the months since lockdown have seen a dramatic spike in orders—tables, chairs, shelves, and mugs were the most popular items—while requests for the store’s bread and frozen foods have increased as well.
What’s the Process Like?
The above shows how the process of engaging a personal shopper typically works in Malaysia. As our three interviewees explained, one can begin by getting in touch with a personal shopper via their website or social media platforms.
Many personal shoppers make their personal phone numbers public on these sites because it makes giving immediate responses easier (although they do get quite a bit of spam.) Malaysians tend to find out about PS services via word-of-mouth, so naturally, first-time customers will have extra queries and concerns. Communicating directly using messaging apps makes answering these concerns easy and practical.
After the customer has understood the scope of the personal buyer’s ability, they can then specify the items they’d like to order. To ensure fewer mistakes, clear and sharp photos of the items, along with relevant details (e.g. name, size, colour, general price range) go a long way. For those who are unsure about measurements, most personal shoppers will be able to advise on size and fit.
The next stage is getting a price quote. Once the PS has confirmed that the item is available or can reasonably be purchased, a figure inclusive of service fees will be provided. Service charges are usually 10-15% of the total order amount, although some personal shoppers offer discounts for larger purchases. If the customer agrees with the quote, then payment can be made via bank transfer, either partially or in full (depending on the PS.)
On the designated day, the personal shopper pays a visit to the store and makes sure to get the specified products in the best condition possible. A good PS provides live updates during the trip so customers can see the shopping for themselves. But what if an item is unexpectedly out of stock?
Overall, our respondents said that they inform the customer immediately, usually with two options: a) look into alternatives, or b) cancel and refund. One PS shared that most customers are willing to get another similar product if it’s within their budget, so refunds aren’t very common.After arriving home with bags and boxes, personal shoppers will check to make sure every order is accounted for and there hasn’t been a mix-up of the goods. They’ll then sort and wrap the items to either hand-deliver or post via a courier service. Because using the latter in Malaysia can be quite a hazard, PS pack carefully to minimise damage to the order while in-transit. Before you know it, you’ll have received your items, without even stepping out the door.
How Much Do Personal Shoppers Earn?
According to SalaryExpert, the average yearly salary of a personal shopper in Malaysia is RM51,413. That works out to around RM4,284 a month, or RM25 an hour. Coupled with an additional bonus of RM4,612 on average, we’d say this is quite a lucrative job, considering you’re being paid to do what you love.
However, the salary difference between an entry-level and senior personal shopper is large—the additional experience translates to almost double the pay (RM33K vs. RM62K). Therefore, hopefuls should be prepared for lower wages when they’re just starting out, as reputation and trustworthiness as a personal shopper takes time to build
A Little Too Good to be True?
If you’ve read this far and have started thinking personal shoppers are some sort of fairytale occupation, we’re here to deliver a small pail of cold water, courtesy of our interviewees’ personal experience. Some negative aspects of the job as related by our personal shoppers include:
- Encountering “joy buyers” (buyers who place orders but don’t pay for the item/ “disappear”, leaving the PS with a loss)
- Putting up with cold and sometimes rude treatment by outlet staff when their identity as a personal shopper is revealed (not every sales assistant welcomes PS and purchase limits are common)
- Lots of heavy lifting and not enough storage room for huge group buys (takes a toll physically and clutters living space meant for personal use)
Tips to Succeed as a Personal Shopper
If you’re considering this job, you likely already enjoy helping others buy lifestyle items. However, being a personal shopper is much more than being passionate about the shopping itself.
To be good enough at it so it’ll earn you income, you need to be organised and efficient. This is because being a personal shopper can really take up precious time (and by association, deteriorate your wellbeing and overall health) if you don’t keep tabs on just how long you’re spending trekking around malls and stores. Maintaining order lists, updating contacts, learning how to pack odd-shaped items, servicing your vehicle—all these take time initially, but will benefit your career as a personal shopper in the long run.
Besides the technical aspects of the job, it’s important to also know your clientele and their preferences. Here, you can go big or small depending on your interests. The key is thorough research, whether it’s about the stores in your area, or a single type of product (e.g. branded sneakers.) Develop expertise and your credibility grows with it. You’ll be able to make more accurate recommendations and choose better deals for your clients. Updating your knowledge from time to time can also help you anticipate demand for popular items and gauge their potential price ranges.
While a career as a personal shopper isn’t for everyone, it could very well fit your own work and communication style. The personal shoppers we interviewed clearly love what they do and strive hard to provide the best possible service to their customers. If you’re keen and there’s potential for growth where you live, why not try it out as a side gig? We hope the information provided here will come in handy then. Until next time!