Google Inc. today launched an e-commerce site where female shoppers can buy clothes and accessories from “boutiques” designed by fashion taste-makers, and with algorithms designed to learn shoppers’ styles in order to provide personalized recommendations.
The site, Boutiques.com, enables shoppers to follow links from products pages to purchase items from online retailers. Google so far has opened the site only to women’s fashion and for online apparel retailers. Manufacturers and designers can take part only if they also sell apparel online. Merchants pay to include their products on the site. Consumers can download a Boutiques.com app to their iPad tablet computers.
Google aims to differentiate its new store by matching shopper preferences with fashion products. The goal is to help shoppers navigate more efficiently through products that can be used in seemingly infinite combinations, Google says. “Try a search for yellow pumps and you’ll see matching outfit ideas to the right of the search results,” writes Munjal Shah, Google’s product management director, in a blog post this morning. Product suggestions are based in part on the rules set by fashion experts Google hired to help build the site. “Our designers wrote hundreds of style rules—like ‘heavily patterned handbags don’t tend to go with heavily patterned dresses’—that we used to develop a tool to suggest items that match,” Shah adds.
Shoppers can search products not only by item type—shoes, bags, clothing—but by genre (for instance, Classic, Boho, Edgy), silhouette, pattern, color families and sizes. Besides shopping in boutiques set up by popular actresses such as the Olsen sisters and Carey Mulligan, consumers can create their own boutiques, with other shoppers offering product recommendations that match items in those personalized sections.
Google says it plans to expand the e-commerce site to include more than women’s fashion, but the search engine company gave no details.
The launch of Boutiques.com follows Google’s acquisition in August of comparison shopping site Like.com, which was founded and lead by Shah, and whose employees now work for the fashion site. Visitors to Like.com could search visually for products using photo-recognition technology, a capability that Google offers to shoppers at Boutiques.com.
The new Google fashion site suggests that the search engine giant is serious about online retailing after focusing for so long on advertising, its YouTube video service and mobile, says Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor Corp., an e-commerce services firm. “It’s great to see Google getting more aggressive in the world of e-commerce,” he says. “EBay and Amazon have been dishing it out in fashion. It’s interesting to see Google step into this with a solid product. Google is applying its search expertise to the fashion category.”
Boutiques.com shows that Google wants to provide destinations for shoppers rather than just a way station for consumers conducting searches, says Andrew Girdwood, head of media innovations at Bigmouthmedia, a digital marketing firm. “It edges Google even more closely into being a content provider, in this case an aggregator,” he says.
Girdwood sees a few technical drawbacks, though he considers them minor. He says that because some high-end fashion retailers build their sites in Flash, some products don't have unique URLs, which hampers links from Boutiques.com. Wingo, meanwhile, would like to see Google make the sign-in process simpler. Consumers have to enter their information at the site instead of transferring the data they use to access other Google services.