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Virtual shopping creates a new way to bond

Published October 1, 2005

My daughter and I shop together all the time, which is nothing unusual except that she lives in New York and I live in Tampa.

This is one result of global retail. Stores that used to be in just one place are everywhere. When I lived in New York, I went to Pottery Barn when it was in a warehouse building in at the edge of Manhattan, Barnes & Noble was a warehouse-style discount store in then unfashionable Chelsea, Ann Taylor was a boutique in the East Fifties. Saks Fifth Avenue was ... well, you get the idea.

I was telling a friend who recently moved to Tampa that Sephora just opened in International Plaza last weekend, and she said, "International Plaza is getting to look like the Upper West Side."

She was referring to the stores, not the ambience.

In case you're a guy or you're above this sort of thing or just clueless, I'd better tell you what Sephora is. The first Sephora was in Paris; it sells high-end cosmetics, beauty products, perfume - European brands as well as American. And you can try everything there in one fell swoop. Unlike department stores, Sephora gives you direct access to all the brands, so you don't have to go from counter to counter asking a different salesperson to show you something. You can just pick it up. It's great.

I had been to Sephora stores in New York and South Beach and felt smug about it until I went to International Plaza Saturday, and about a million women were there. I'm talking lines at the checkout counters. I wanted to pick up a brush to use with the brow powder I had bought at the Upper West Side Sephora. It cost $12. The willowy blond 17-year-old in front of me spent $120.

Sephora is the most recent in a long line of stores you used to have to leave town to shop at. Kenneth Cole will be one of the next.

Since we have the same stores, my daughter and I can discuss a skirt she saw at Talbot's or the new jackets at J. Crew. I know what brands she likes. I called her on my cell phone from Dillard's as I combed through racks of Eileen Fisher at 60 to 75 percent off. And from Nordstrom's lingerie department during a semi-annual sale. Did she want anything?

Sometimes she'll call me from a dressing room. Should she buy these pants?

When she got married earlier this year, she registered for wedding gifts at Bloomingdale's. We don't have one here, but the same company owns Macy's, and it has most of the same stuff. As she was deciding on a china pattern, I went to Macy's in WestShore Plaza to look at the ones she was considering. I checked out the cookware she wanted at Williams-Sonoma in Old Hyde Park. Then went back to Macy's to look at a crystal vase. And so on.

The stuff I couldn't find here I looked at on the Web site.

I always send her coupons I get in the mail from Bed, Bath & Beyond. I would shop there, but it's too far to drive.

Earlier this week a New York friend e-mailed me coupons for a Friends and Family Sale at Brooks Brothers. I forwarded the e-mail to my daughter, who likes to shop at the Madison Avenue store. In fact, when he her husband got the e-mail, she was on her way there. So he called her on her cell phone and suggested maybe she should just look and wait to use the coupon.

I have done virtual shopping with her for bookcases at Crate & Barrel and Design Within Reach. While I had my phone on loudspeaker, she told me where to find certain styles on the store's Web sites, I called them up and we discussed the pros and cons.

When she wanted a particular sneaker, and told me to check it out on the Tsubo Web site.

This all sounds very materialistic, I'm sure, and you probably won't believe me when I say I hate to shop. But my daughter loves to shop. And traditionally, mothers and daughters go shopping together. It's a way to stay in touch.

Now if I could just figure out how to do virtual lunch.

Sandra Thompson, a Tampa writer, can be reached at City Life appears on Saturday.

[Last modified September 30, 2005, 18:21:01]

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