Google steps into fashion e-commerce with Boutiques.com

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Industry experts predicted that Google's just-launched e-commerce site, Boutiques.com, will give consumers intriguing personalization options and marketers new targeting opportunities. Google launched the site November 17.

The site allows consumers to shop for clothes, shoes and accessories online through a personalized platform. It also encourages visitors to develop their own online “boutique,” or look through those of celebrities, fashion bloggers and designers.

For example, the site shows consumers who click on actress Carey Mulligan's boutique hundreds of items she selected as favorites or those inspired by her style. The items range from a $19.95 shirt at Anthropologie to a Lanvin dress costing more than $2,000.

Jeffrey Grau, principal e-commerce analyst at business intelligence firm eMarketer, said the technology behind Boutiques.com makes the site potentially more valuable for both retailers and consumers than other curated fashion websites.

“At the heart of it is really showing off their technology engine,” he said, comparing Boutiques.com to the music service Pandora. Considering Google's reputation for innovative search technology, Grau predicted the website will have a powerful means for sorting through selections.

The site is only available in the US and currently features women's clothing. However, Souheil Badran, SVP of e-commerce solutions at First Data, an online shopping services provider, says he expects Google to expand its reach.

“I almost envision it like a TiVo, where it knows your preferences and records offerings for you,” said Badran.

He added that the site naturally lends itself to targeted advertising from designers and retail outlets.

“This is not the normal Google service you'd expect to see, but knowing who they are and the billions of members they have, it presents some interesting opportunities,” said Badran.  

The portal encourages interaction, allowing visitors to “follow” individual boutiques, or attract their own followers. It also enables consumers to leave comments, recommend products, and select whether they “love” or “hate” an item. Using visual search technology developed by Like.com, which Google acquired in August, the site “learns” from each user's preferences and recommends items and styles based on their previous activity.

Online shoppers can also browse by retailer, trend, “style genre,” pattern, color families and sizes. Drawing on the input of fashion designers who helped to develop the site, Boutiques.com also allows visitors to “complete the look,” by figuring out which pieces will fit best with items they already own or plan to purchase.

“The Web works well for buying cameras and other hard goods, but for soft goods, such as clothing and accessories, it's not the same as shopping in a store,” said Munjal Shah, product management director at Google, in a blog post. “So, we set out to create a new way to browse, discover and shop for soft goods online.”

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