August 17, 2011, 12:49 PM

Google jumps into mobile catalogs

The mobile software giant debuts an iPad app for customers to shop 50 catalogs.

Lead Photo

Google Catalogs features digital catalogs from 50 retailers.

On the heels of its major mobile announcement Monday that it plans to buy smartphone-maker Motorola Mobility, Google Inc. has unveiled an iPad app dubbed Google Catalogs, which enables shoppers to shop a wide array of digital catalogs.

The app presents 50 catalogs, including those from such retail heavy hitters as Anthropologie, Blue Nile Inc., Crate & Barrel, L.L. Bean Inc., Patagonia Inc., Pottery Barn, Rugby from Polo Ralph Lauren Media LLC, Sephora USA Inc. and Williams-Sonoma Inc. Google divides catalogs into seven sections: Women’s Fashion & Apparel, Jewelry, Beauty, Home, Men’s Fashion & Apparel, Kids & Baby, and Gifts.

Shoppers can flip through the pages with the swipe of a finger on the tablet screen. Small price tags appear on product images; touching a price tag opens up a window with products details. On the details screen are two buttons: Buy on Website and Find Nearby.

Touching Buy on Website opens up the product page on the e-commerce site of the retailer without leaving the app. There customers can buy the product. Google does not charge retailers to be included in the app, nor does it take a cut of sales generated by the app. That structure may change in the future, a spokeswoman says. Touching Find Nearby activates the iPad’s GPS technology and displays a map with a listing of the retailer’s nearby stores.

Consumers can tap on products to zoom in for closer inspection. They can create collages of favorite catalog pages and products and view collages created by other Google Catalogs users. And they can share product pages and collages with friends via e-mail.

“For years, shoppers have enjoyed flipping through glossy print catalogs to be inspired, discover new trends and find great products,” writes Kinnari Jhaveri, strategic partner development manager for the Google commerce team, in a Google blog post. “Today, mobile technologies can make catalog shopping more engaging, social and creative. Google Catalogs enables you to browse all of your favorite catalogs and interact with new layers of rich-media content.”

Google created the popular Android mobile operating system for smartphones and tablets yet opted to launch Google Catalogs for competitor Apple Inc.’s iOS mobile operating system, which runs the iPad, along with the iPhone and iPod Touch.

“We develop mobile applications for a variety of platforms, including iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Nokia,” the spokeswoman says. “As with all of our mobile products, we try to make them available on as many devices as possible. Development of the Google Catalogs app for Android is already in the works and will be available in the coming months.”

Google may have launched the iPad app first because it’s clearly the dominant tablet computer. ABI Research reported yesterday that around 75% of all tablets shipped worldwide in the second quarter were iPads and only 20% used Android software; it did not break out U.S. figures, but said the split was about the same.

Four other catalog aggregator apps have dominated this space to date. They include: Coffee Table, which debuted in June 2010; Catalogs.com, which made its debut in October 2010; Catalog Spree from Padopolis, which launched in April 2011; and Catalogue from TheFind, which was unveiled in May 2011.

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