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Monday, May 17, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Shoppers cruise store aisles via video phone

By Elaine Walker
Knight Ridder Newspapers

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MIAMI — Call it personal shopping for the video generation.

Burdines-Macy's and Sprint have teamed up for a pilot program that marries the convenience of online shopping with the service of a personal shopper.

The five personal shoppers at Burdines-Macy's stores in Florida have been outfitted with Sprint video phones. The personal shopper locates merchandise to meet clients' needs and sends them a video clip via e-mail.

The customer can view the clips on a computer and make a purchase without ever going to the store. They don't even have to live in Florida where the pilot stores are located.

"It's walking the line between the Internet and the in-store experience," said Elaine Karnisky, director of the bridal and gift registry at Burdines-Macy's, which also includes the personal-shopping program. "It's personal, but it's still saving people time."

Burdines-Macy's personal shoppers got the phones about two weeks ago. Already, they have used it to help clients pick out everything from Mother's Day gifts to clothes.

The pilot program, which is only being offered with Burdines-Macy's at four Florida stores, is scheduled to last two months. Depending on the results, Burdines-Macy's will decide whether to purchase the phones and expand the service to more stores.

The video phones, which came on the market in December, typically retail for $300 to $350.

"It's much more enticing than a phone call," Karnisky said. "I see a lot of benefits to this. I'm hoping we can really run with it."

Sprint, which offered the phones on a trial basis, hopes this helps businesses realize that video and camera phones are more than just fun accessories for personal use.

Other Sprint business clients include lawyers taking pictures of witnesses at depositions and electricians taking pictures on the job to get assistance from the home office on repairs.

"We're finding more and more that this is a valuable business tool," said Nanci Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Sprint. "Our customers are seeing great success and finding that it gives them a competitive edge."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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