December 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Google unveils an apparel shopping site ...

Google Inc. launched an online shopping portal last month where shoppers can buy clothes and accessories from “boutiques” created by fashion taste-makers.

Google Inc. launched an online shopping portal last month where shoppers can buy clothes and accessories from “boutiques” created by fashion taste-makers. The search engine giant says the site will offer personalized recommendations based on what it learns about each shopper’s preferences.

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 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.

The new fashion site suggests that Google 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.”

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. 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 celebrities such as the Olsen sisters and Carey Mulligan, consumers can create their own boutiques and have other shoppers offer product recommendations that match items in those personal- ized shops.

The launch of Boutiques.com follows Google’s acquisition in August of comparison shopping site Like.com, which Shah founded and led, and whose employees now work on Boutiques.com. Visitors to Like.com could search visually for products using photo-recognition technology, a capability that Google offers to shoppers at Boutiques.com.

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.

thad@verticalwebmedia.com

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