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Lisa Hotta @LisaH38

Shopping, Holiday Assistants, and Flexibility

The basics of running errands for part-time work

If you're looking for fun, flexible part-time work, you may be interested in running shopping errands or assisting with gift returns for seniors, singles, or families. Seniors often need help with grocery shopping because they are house-bound due to mobility issues or are unable to drive, and families with busy parents may choose to use an errand service or runner to ease the burden of regular tasks. For singles, the need for help may be due to a health issue or even an extremely tight corporate schedule.

With so many people working long hours and rushing through their days, providing shopping help can offer harried folks a bit of a reprieve. If you're thorough, responsible, detail-oriented, friendly and flexible you may be able to make a good part-time income running a variety of errands. Consider the following three categories of shopping errands:

Gift shopping and wrapping

Are you creative, organized and able to stick to a budget? You may want to offer your services as a gift buyer and wrapper. This could work for many types of clients, such as small and large businesses for special events or holiday parties, over-scheduled Christmas or holiday shoppers, or individuals whose work schedule doesn't allow them time to shop. The basics for shopping errands are:

  • If you're buying for kids, make sure you're clear about the budget and that the gift is age appropriate -- you don't want to purchase a toy with tiny parts for a 2-year-old boy or a Dora the Explorer doll for a 9-year-old girl. Creative and age-appropriate gifts are key! Your employer should tell you what to buy or give you enough information to choose the right gift.
  • Buying a gift for an adult? Make sure to find out the recipient's likes and dislikes including: colors, styles, fashion, sizing, store preferences, etc. Unless your client gives you specifics, you might want to stick to something generic like gift cards or certificates to a large chain or book, music or online stores. You can also check in with a gift consultant, which you can usually find at major department stores.
  • Be sure to ask where your employer, no matter what the shopping task, would prefer that you shop -- which specific stores.
  • When shopping for other people, be sure you have a safe and well-organized plan for keeping track of their money (and yours).
  • When wrapping, practice on your own before offering this particular service. Believe it or not, high-quality gift-wrapping is a skill! When you're ready to "roll," make sure the employer has all the materials you need, or gives you the funds to buy what you need (paper, bow, ribbons, tape, labels, boxes, etc).
  • Making yourself available prior to the holiday season is a great idea. Many moms and dads would love the extra help wrapping gifts.

Grocery Shopping

Many busy moms, dads, professionals and seniors will be thrilled to have a responsible person do their grocery shopping for them. Keep the items below in mind:

  • When performing this service, make sure to get a specific budget and a specific list. If your client is very particular, ask whether you should pick a substitute item or just leave it out altogether if that item is not in stock.
  • Offering this service will most likely require that you have access to a car. If you don't have your own transportation, make sure your employer is willing to let you use their car or that public transportation will enable you to get to and from their preferred grocery store (or that you're in walking distance from it).
  • Ask about any allergies in the family/household so that you can avoid certain products.
  • Before grocery shopping, make sure to work out the payment arrangement for your services. Your employer needs to pay for the groceries as well as your service fee. Make sure they give you enough cash or proper method of payment before you go shopping. Be sure you keep the grocery receipt to give to your employer.
  • You may want to offer to put away the groceries (possibly for an extra fee) for your clients to save them even more time or to help seniors who can't lift heavy items. Ask them up-front if they'd like you to do this extra task.

Returns and Exchanges

Just the thought of making returns and exchanges after the holidays or birthdays is sometimes overwhelming or simply not possible for many people. Whether your employer is a senior in need of assistance or a busy mom or professional, help with returns and exchanges can be a great stress-reliever. If you're running these types of errands, check out the tips below:

  • If you're going to add this service to your repertoire, make sure that you understand exactly what you're client wants (after all, there is a reason the item is being returned or exchanged). Does he want his money back? Was there a defect or problem with the item? Would he prefer the same item but in a different color or size? What if the store doesn't offer money back -- will your client be satisfied with a gift card instead?
  • Make sure you have the gift receipt and store details you need. For clothing, be sure tags are still attached to the item as some stores won't let you return an item if they're not.
  • If you have to drive or travel long distances to perform this service, you may want to charge for travel time and mileage in addition to your fee.
  • If possible, in order to maximize your time, you may want to do more than one return/exchange at once or tack on grocery shopping or gift buying to the trip.

Lisa Tabachnick Hotta is the mother of two young children and a freelance writer, editor and researcher.

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