Shopping and tours are close friends.
On vacation, it’s natural to want to spoil yourself or to make sure that you bring back something characteristic of your destination. But the best way to maximize the experiences is with guided shopping tours.
Whatever your group is seeking — designer showroom access in New York, prized antiques in New Orleans, star-quality duds in L.A., advice directly from a fashion editor in Montreal or a private outlet shopping experience — local experts know how to point your group most quickly and personally to what you need.
Visit Designer Showrooms in NYC
For traveling fashionistas, New York is a can’t-miss stop, whether for its everyday shopping or its annual runway shows. But if you’re just shopping in stores in New York, you miss half the fun.
Karen Parker O’Brien started the Style Room after working in the fashion industry because, as a frequent guest on her husband’s incentive trips, she understood the industry and how people want to be treated.
“If possible, it’s great to get photos in advance so I can see their style,” she said. “Then we pick them up in a limo with champagne and gourmet treats because they’re on vacation and they want to step it up.”
While you can have the New York socialite shopping experience going to Bergdorf Goodman and hiring a personal shopper, for Parker O’Brien, it’s about meeting emerging designers while they’re being sold in top stores but still humble.
“Guests are going behind locked doors, meeting personal friends who are designers, getting into showrooms — not just shopping but hearing from the designers their inspiration from their world travels and how they became designers,” she said.
Shop Like a Star in L.A.
Do people in L.A. really shop on Rodeo Drive, an experience immortalized by Alicia Silverstone in “Clueless,” Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” and countless other films?
Not if they want the hottest local fashions. Yuriy Altshul from American Riviera Tours offers two types of tours: a daylong tour of three of L.A.’s top shopping areas and one to the Camarillo Premium Outlets.
Shopping in Los Angeles proper is a mix of major shopping streets and the new Grove at Farmers Market shopping complex, across the street from the farmers market, which is a prime place to begin the day with breakfast.
To find the new boutiques and independent designers that will soon end up on the style pages, Altshul then takes visitors to Melrose Avenue, where it’s not uncommon to run into Hollywood’s hottest stars trying on dresses.
“Our most popular tour is the outlets tour,” said Altshul. “We pick up from hotels around Los Angeles, and the outlets are an hour away. Between shopping, the food court and the drive, we take about seven hours.”
Antique Historic NOLA
Whether it’s the local culture or the fact that homes in the French Quarter, with their high ceilings and grand windows, lend themselves to glamour, one thing is clear: New Orleans has become one of the top places for antiquing in America.
“Shopping is a wonderful way to see the city, especially the French Quarter, because most of the shops are in historic homes or buildings,” said Macon Riddle, who runs New Orleans-based Let’s Go Antiquing.
Riddle’s tours max out at 20 in a minibus or 15 to 20 for a walking tour with her associate, though even with that many people, it’s difficult to take the whole group from store to store because of the small size of the area.
“If I have a group, I won’t keep them together,” she said. “I tell them what’s in the area, and I let the shops know these 20 people will be coming through; then I help them get the best price and line up shipping.”
With a larger group of 40 people or more, Riddle delivers a talk over lunch or breakfast, or at the group’s hotel, about the history of antiquing in New Orleans and how to do it on their own.
Shop Like a Fashion EditorSave Big at the Premium Outlets
Like Paris, but closer, Montreal offers that quintessential Parisian look of being polished but not too put together — that fashion’s “je ne sai quoi” that is hard to put your finger on, but you know it when you see it.
“There’s a great mix of polished, really high end stores and designers, and a lot of edge. Montreal has a knack for mixing those together,” said Janna Zittrer, who runs Montreal Shopping Tours. With a background in fashion journalism, Zittrer writes for top style magazines including Flare magazine, Canada’s homegrown Vogue.
Zittrer has curated a list of personal picks, 55 to 60 boutiques and stores that are independently owned or outposts of local designers, from which she customizes an itinerary based on age, job type, shopping goals and tour theme preference.
Tours average around four hours because she found that stopping for lunch is not a high priority of shopping tours. “When they’re in shopping mode, clients are focused and want to keep going,” she said. “But if people are hungry, we visit Atwater Market, a Montreal landmark, or St-Viateur [Bagel] for a famous Montreal bagel.”
Save Big at the Premium Outlets
One of the most comforting aspects of visiting a chain is a uniform level of service, and the Premium Outlets aims to provide just that to groups.
“We are consistent across platforms,” Colleen R. Conklin, senior vice president of marketing, said. “For groups of 15 or more, each individual receives a coupon book for additional savings off outlet markdowns. Very often, we’ll do walk-ons when the bus arrives.”
Through the website, group leaders can make an online reservation detailing the preferred property, the number of guests, the window for visiting and any special needs to have someone from the property reach out to them directly and create a customized program.
“The Premium Outlets have an average of 100 to 120 stores, so we recommend at least half a day, with a meal in there to recharge,” said Conklin. “For dining at most of our centers, most food court merchants have discounts, and we can also arrange vouchers to distribute.”
For groups, one of the most unusual aspects of the Premium Outlets tourism program is the overnight component. As outlets are typically outside the city the group is primarily staying in, the contact can help set up a hotel in the area, which often comes with shopping gift certificates.