A Quick Look at Boutiques.com

Google recently launched its new Boutiques.com site to much fanfare, revealing the first of what we can expect to be many manifestations of its new visual search engine. (Google purchased visual search firm Like.com in August 2009.)

At first glance, I found the site visually appealing and the user interface slick.  Google seems to have done a decent job of reconciling familiar faceted navigation options with assortments inspired by celebrities, constructed by bloggers, grouped by trend, or culled by specialty boutique retailers.

There were neither promises of 75% off bargains nor timer countdowns to be found. Boutiques.com is clearly more about finding that perfect piece and less about finding that steal of a deal. That’s not to say there isn’t a value element to the experience; Boutiques.com really shines when it uses its visual engine to find affordable alternatives to exclusive designer pieces.

To get some perspective from a few of Google’s targeted shoppers; I asked a couple of my fashionista friends to weigh in. A couple of the initial reactions were interesting:

  1. There’s a learning curve: The alternative approach to presenting product is interesting, but there was initial confusion about what was really expected from the visitor. Is it a shopping site? Is it an online fashion mag? Is it celebrity-flavored fashion voyeurism? The shopping experience seems just different enough that Google should expect shoppers to work through an adoption curve.
  2. There’s an opportunity for editorial:  With these expertly constructed collections and a magazine-esque layout, the site essentially stamps itself as a fashion authority. Is this collection fall inspired? How should I wear these pieces? Who else is wearing this style right now? It seemed that each new boutique just begs for a bit of editorial perspective.

Obviously these are just some initial reactions, and Boutiques.com still has the BETA designation attached. But one fact is for certain: the website demands much more engagement from its shoppers than what single brand boutique sites require.

Savvy fashion-conscious shoppers count on merchandisers at boutiques like J. Crew, Banana Republic and Anthropologie to curate around a style they trust. In addition to comfort with the style, loyal customers of these brands become intimately familiar with the mechanics (e.g., shipping and return policies) and sizing tendencies. Settled in such a familiar environment, the 15-minute lunchtime online shopping excursion becomes a comforting, low-impact pastime.  With all the cross-brand, cross-site complexity, it will be interesting to see if Boutiques.com can push itself into the shopping rotation of these highly desirable gals.

For us digital marketing folks, what will it mean if this takes off? What are the economics of getting our products listed? What are the economics for getting our products listed first? We’re good at tagging and engineering romance copy for SEO, but now we have to lead with images? Does this mean we now not only have to include pretty pictures, but we have to optimize those pretty pictures to ensure that the “look like” other pretty pictures so Google picks it up?

We’re looking forward to seeing where the good folks at Google take this next.

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