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InsideFMM | October 22, 2014

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Google Boutiques’ Value To Fashion Brands & Retailers

social shopping

For the past two weeks, everyone has been wondering what Google has had in store for the fashion industry. But, let’s take a step back. Google hasn’t moved into fashion in the past two weeks; they’ve been sniffing around for over a year  now.

Do you remember a few months ago when a guy named Tony Wang and his blog, Post.Fashionism, appeared on the fashion scene via Twitter? Wang started reaching out to high profile bloggers such as PR Couture, Bryan Boy, GalaDarling, and even FashionablyMarketing.Me. The outreach said that Wang had been hired by Google to start a test program about the viability of fashion content and Google. Wang interviewed bloggers on his site as well as invited them to Mountain View to speak at Google.

We were very skeptical of Google starting a fashion program (as were many other news outlets). I agreed to a call with Wang to gather more information on what exactly was going on. I am not going to get into all the details of the call, but I can summarize the content of that call:  Google wants to have more online users on their services. The more users, the more ads they can serve, the more data they can collect, the more money they can make from the data used in those ads.

With the launch of Boutiques.com, that is exactly what’s happening. Since this call, exactly who Wang is has come to light.  He is an experienced retail marketing consultant who has worked for Macy’s, BCBG Max Azria and Rent The Runway. We can’t help feel a little bit duped by the position that Wang has taken in order to build trust and FREE insight from some of the most hardworking individuals on the web.

So, the highly anticipated, fashion-centric, Google-made website, Boutiques.com, has launched.  Built from assets it acquired from its Like.com purchase, which included Coutorious and Covet, this venture shows the extent of Google’s obsession with fashion.  The latest player in the curation game, Boutiques claims that it “lets you find and discover fashion goods through a collection of boutiques curated by taste-makers.”

social shopping

Being the fashion-loving-media-savvy-and-oh-so-curious girls that we are, we set up a shop on Boutiques.com.  After playing around with the site for a little while, we made a list of pros and cons:

Boutique.com Pros:

  • Fresh design. Its sleek magazine-style design is on trend with fashion sites right now.
  • Easy to navigate. The design is clean and uncluttered.  The navigation system is straight forward and easy to utilize.
  • Easy to set up. Signing up and creating a boutique takes less than 30 minutes.
  • Customizable. Google did a nice job of asking questions that helped pinpoint our personal style.  After answering a series of “likes” and “hates,” we were pleased with most of Boutique.com’s suggested items based on our preferences.  We also like that we can upload our own photos and add our website link to help personalize our boutique.
  • Social. We can follow and be followed by other Boutique.com users.  We can comment on each other’s boutiques and engage in conversation centered around fashion. Couturious sets are also sliced and diced into the mix for extra interaction. WWD reported that Polyvore, Lookbook.NU and Weardrobe joined within the past few days. Boutiques.com has inked a sweet traffic deal with Polyvore and Lookbook.NU, so we’re excited about the cross community pollination.
  • Interactive. We could spend all day clicking on things we “like” and “hate,” taking quizzes that help define our style and browsing through and commenting on other boutiques.  Each day, it will offer new product suggestions tailored to our taste, which might tempt us to go back.
  • Stylish people are playing. Some of our favorite bloggers and celebrities have already set up shop on Boutiques.com.  It’s interesting to see how our tastes are similar or different.
  • Portable. There is already an iPad application available for download if you want to take it with you.
  • SEO. Product feeds and product inclusion offer transactional link value. Like Polyvore and Kaboodle, we want product manually or physically added to Boutiques, just like we want our products included in Google Product Search or Google Base.

Boutique.com Cons:

  • Bland design. While clean and on trend, the logo and overall site design looks bland, considering it is coming from a company that may be wealthier than God. Where is the guy who draws the uber cool Google logos, surely he could do fashion?
  • Overdone concept. Did Google think we really needed another social shopping site–a curated one, at that?  So far, we’re not seeing anything that is really different other than some celeb and familiar blogger names. Stylecaster, StyledOn, Polyvore and even Amazon’s A-Store offer better recognition tools and incentives for use.
  • Restrictive. Unlike sites like ShopStyle and Polyvore, we can’t create fashion sets that give us that rush of creativity with our social shopping experience.  Google does the work for us, but it feels a bit impersonal. It’s going to be hard to get users to abandon other sites to be a part of the Boutiques.com community.  There are limited social sharing features; you can email or Tweet about a boutique, and that’s it. Facebook was clearly left off because Google may want to compete with Facebook in the brand/customer engagement and sales arena later on.
  • Social Restriction. Since Lookbook and Polyvore are traffic partners, why can’t the assets that  boutique users have in all three communities be better integrated?
  • No Vanity? Why can’t we have custom URLs like – http://www.boutiques.com/fashionablymarketingme? Is it that hard to do?  A little recognition goes along way for 90% of bloggers/writers/stylists out there.
  • GREEDY. Our biggest issue with this site is the fact that Google is benefiting from the people who take the time to set up a boutique or click on the links to buy through Boutiques.com.  Fashion lovers are curating collections for them and receiving a link to their website (if they have one) tucked quietly into their little boutique.  We would have felt more supportive about Google’s venture if they took an Amazon or ShopStyle approach.  The former allows you to set up your own shop through Amazon and offers a commission on each sale you make, while the latter allows you to create Polyvore-esque collages and sets that offer pay per click rewards through their ShopSense affiliate program. Why can’t we embed our store to a page or post on our blog or website? If you want to serve ads and drive traffic that makes you money, shouldn’t you wish to monopolize–ooops–maximize every online asset we have?

The Bigger Picture

Boutiques.com has amazing benefits for retailers and online commerce, but for the people using the services (stylists, bloggers, etc.) there are fewer pros than cons. While we love the content curation trend that many brands have embraced over the past year, we can’t help but feel that Google is going to become the Forever 21 of fashion. Will Google copy, knock off and dilute the brilliant creations through technologies that many sites have worked so hard to create? Or will they work on evolving some of the amazing technologies they purchased, truly making them the Fashion 4.0 notable and worthy of our use?

Will Google monetize online fashion content and commerce through true curation or bastardization?

Comments

  1. SNAP! well said, macala. talk to you soon!

  2. Wow, well said and thank you for breaking it down for us!

  3. Thanks everyone. The battle of fashion and technology rages on. It's kinda like Biggie vs. Tupac, Los Angeles Vs. New York – East Coast vs. West Coast.

  4. SerialShopper

    Very thorough review Cala – really enjoyed the read!

  5. disneyrollergirl

    Good read, I would be more interested in having a profile on there if I could get a kickback from sales…

  6. That's exactly what I wrote it right? As a writer/blogger/online personality, you want to be able to show your readers your preferences right?

  7. Thank you!

  8. Wow, very interesting. I had no idea about that end of the launch. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Madison Buyer

    Heard about this but haven't had time to check it out. Thanks for the great in-depth review!

  10. THANK YOU!
    Smart for Google but dirty for us. The fashionable products and questions tempt me. Next thing I know another hour is down the drain and I have nothing to show for it! GRR. Like I'm not overwhelmed enough?

  11. Julie

    Thanks for the excellent summary!

  12. Great, great article. I especially loved the way you laid out the pros and cons. On another point, it seems me to me like the utility for almost anyone besides the shopper is somewhat limited given how the boutiques are set up. While there seems to be little but SEO value for an independent user, blogger, etc, even if you are a retailer or a designer and you set up your own boutique if a user simply scrolls down past the items you're selling that you “recommend” they are greeted with a wealth of choices from other brands, and retailers' offerings that reflect the stylistic sensibility of your selections. In addition, I believe they are doing CPC so a retailer is essentially paying any time a casual user happens to click on to their site. Not sure how this works with a blogger or other person selling something from their site, but once again, while it may bring traffic to a retailer's site and might be a relatively small fee for doing so, it does seem like with the robust offerings via Boutiques, sales are going to be harder than with something let's say more curated.

    Any thoughts?

  13. Emeka – I think you've hit the nail on the head. The search is highly intuitive. They did a good job with the fashionistas they hired to “sort things” as WWD reported. That point is that there is no value for a blogger for this or individual site holder. It's mostly for retailers. Yeah, while I can see my favorite blogger's choices, that blogger receives no incentive to promote their boutique. Google missed pieces of the puzzle with this one. I'll let you know how this converts at a later date, we have two clients all over it right now :) Thus far, doing a bit better than adwords.

  14. You're welcome!

  15. Hey Macala, thanks for the great feedback and I agree. They do a good job with what they're good at…search and managed to do a decent job in using human input in order to make their search capabilities work with a “fashion sensibility”. However, they really missed their target, it's definitely mostly for retailers and even then it seems like the payoff is negligible. Really super curious to hear what happens as time goes on tho and especially interested in hearing your take on it all.

    On another note, somehow I anticipated this all even before I even got to immerse myself in the initiative. No disrespect to the guys, but Google is notorious for bombing at social. Buzz, Wave, etc just didn't get it and therefore didn't cut it and several of the social companies they've acquired didn't end up going anywhere. I'm actually thinking that at most, it might end up being kind of fun dissecting Boutiques during the autopsy and learning from it and resurrecting what actually works in a new product or idea, Google driven or not.

  16. ShoeGal

    I am so happy you put emphasis on that con “GREEDY”! I remember hearing about it a few days after it launched, got all excited and set up shop only to realize that all the product links were affiliate links.I was so peeved, as if Google doesn't already have enough money- they want us working for them for free? no way! I immediately deleted my profile. I don't need followers or recommendation, FB and twitter are enough to keep up with. I hope people will notice this and give it a miss, we might be just creatives and not place as much emphasis on financial stuff but there is a limit and its about time bloggers get a bit of credit(and cash) for the all the hardwork they do!

  17. Absolutely infuriating. We're with you!

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