Google Seeks to Redefine Fashion E-tailing

NEW YORK — The fashion industry is cheering Google’s new Boutiques.com site for heralding a fresh era in e-commerce, even if the website does not actually sell product.

Boutiques.com is search giant Google’s latest attempt to aggregate user preferences and drive increased sales to retailers and brands.

Launched last Wednesday, the site is based on the visual search and shopping referral functionality of Like.com, which Google acquired earlier this year.

Among the site’s most interesting features are virtual shops set up by celebrities such as Nicole Richie, Anna Paquin and Malin Ackerman, as well as retailers and fashion brands.

An number of the companies involved in the site lauded the strategy.

Rick Cytrynbaum, president and CEO of Modern Vintage, which produces House of Harlow shoes for Richie, praised Boutiques.com for consolidating data and content in a way that allows consumers to search for their favorite celebrities, the brands associated with them and the places where the products can be purchased.

Although Boutiques.com is still in its infancy, Cytrynbaum said he had already noticed a small spike in traffic to the Modern Vintage retail site after Google’s launch last week.

He also noted there has been increased chatter about Modern Vintage in the blogosphere, but was quick to add that “it’s too soon to quantify any possible increase in sales.”

Sam Edelman, president of his eponymous footwear line, agreed that the benefits of Boutiques.com are potentially tremendous, although he does not yet know “how [the increased] exposure will quantitatively change the face of retail.

“The next six months may create an impact that would have taken 15 years previously. Instant information has reinforced the concept of one global community and … helps designers innovate better products and address feedback faster,” Edelman told Footwear News.

Experts, too, are excited at how Boutiques.com may shake up the list of power players in e-commerce.

“Google’s a pretty powerful brand. If this takes off, it has the ability to supplant some of the other aggregator sites, like eBay or Amazon,” said Anne Brouwer, senior partner at retail consulting firm MacMillanDoolittle.

Google will charge small fees for directing traffic and purchases to other retailers’ sites, such as Neimanmarcus.com or Saksfifthavenue.com.

Users can search for product according to categories including “shoes,” “clothing” and “accessories,” or simply type in a description of a product. Apart from browsing virtual boutiques by celebrities and brands, users can also create their own boutiques to store their style preferences.

Aesthetically, the site features a simple white background, black menu bars and sans-serif fonts. Its functionality, however, is more complex, encompassing elements of social media and price comparison sites.

A search for a particular clog style by Marc by Marc Jacobs, for instance, yields two results from two retailers with two price tags: $264 at Neiman Marcus and $280 on Piperlime.com. (It’s worth noting, however, that the original price of the shoe is $395.)

Then there is the accidental discovery element. “If you have a general idea of what you want and it’s not brand-specific, you may be exposed to brands or retailers you’ve never heard of as you’re browsing,” said Brouwer, “making it an interesting advancement in decision-making.”

Ultimately, Edelman said, the new site works because “fashion is a common language, [and] the faster we can all learn and share it, the more exciting the world of retail will be.”

Even Google’s celebrity partners can’t help but gush about the new site. Anna Paquin, who at press time had 137 followers of her virtual boutique, said the site is fun, especially as she is an avid online shopper.

“There are things [in my boutique] that I own, would buy and some things I just love,” she said.

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