Google’s new fashion site, Boutiques.com, set to launch today, is poised to quickly become one of the biggest fashion sites online — turning the Web giant into an even bigger force in driving sales to retailers and brands.
The site is based on the visual search and shopping referral site Like.com, which Google acquired earlier this year.
Several dozen celebrities are setting up their own shops on Boutiques.com, including Anna Paquin, the Olsen twins, Elisabeth Moss, Iman, Kelly Osbourne, Olivia Palermo, Ashlee Simpson-Wentz, Carey Mulligan, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Rashida Jones.
More than 30 designers are involved and will have designer boutiques on the site, including Alice + Olivia, Andrew Marc, Anna Sui, Badgley Mischka, Mark + James, Catherine Malandrino, Christian Siriano, Cynthia Rowley, Cynthia Steffe, Derek Lam, Elise Overland, Erin Fetherston, Geren Ford, Grey Ant, Isaac Mizrahi, Kate Spade, Lulu Guinness, Marchesa, Oscar de la Renta, Rag & Bone, Rebecca Taylor, Tracy Reese, Betsey Johnson, Diane von Furstenberg, Halston Heritage, Karen Millen, Nicole Miller, Temperley, Tibi, Tory Burch and William Rast.
Bloggers include Susie Bubble, Jane Alridge of Sea of Shoes, Judy Aldridge of Atlantis Home, Bryanboy, Rumi Neely of Fashion Toast, Gala Darling, Karla Derass of Karla’s Closet, Alix Bancourt of the Cherry Blossom Girl and Phil Oh of Street Peeper.
Some of the celebrities and bloggers were paid for their participation; others did it for the exposure, said Munjal Shah, Like.com founder and Google Inc. director of product management.
Google will not actually sell clothing on the site, but will charge small fees for directing traffic and purchases to other retailers’ sites.
“What we set out to do is rethink the entire process of shopping for soft goods,” said Shah, who compared Boutiques.com to Pandora, the music site that plays selections of music based on what others with similar tastes like.
“Boutiques.com nicely complements our existing digital strategy, which includes Foursquare and other social media platforms,” said Peter Arnold, president of Cynthia Rowley, which is setting up a shop on the site. “The combination of a behavioral marketing model and Google-sized resources will bring significant change to the way users interact with fashion online.”
One of the most striking and unusual things about Boutiques.com is that it allows users to browse and search for fashion across a variety of fashion communities and streetwear sites at once, including Polyvore and Lookbook.nu. Ordinary people sharing and talking about fashion is one of the most quickly growing and influential areas affecting the industry today.
The launch appeared to be tightly controlled and had a last-minute feel. Designers were not immediately available for comment. Some participants who were contacted said they had not yet seen the site. Contracts with some of the celebrities were still being signed as late as Tuesday, said Shah.
A quiz on the site called Stylyzer helps sort users into style categories of classic, edgy, street, romantic, boho and casual chic. Shoppers can visually search for items by color, silhouette and pattern. The site will automatically recommend new boutiques and new items based on the tastes of similar users and its visual search technology. Items in celebrity shops will be automatically updated as they become unavailable. Boutiques will be “trend aware,” meaning items will be more prominently featured if they fit frequently searched terms, such as “floral dresses.”
Videos will be part of the “inspiration” section.
An iPad app also launches today with apps for other phones to follow. It will automatically recommend one new boutique a day via an alert.
The company is exploring integration with YouTube and Google search. How exactly that will work has not been determined, but if the site comes up high in Google’s search results when users search on fashion related terms, it will send significant traffic to Boutiques.com. In any case, said Shah, “It will get a lot of traffic. It will be massive numbers and I think that’s why everybody’s involved at the launch.”
Earlier in the year, Like.com brought in an army of “fashionistas” to hand sort 50,000 items according to style categories such as “classic” and “edgy” so Like.com’s system could “learn” how to classify items by genre automatically.
“We have millions of items coming in every day, we can’t hand tag every one, so we created a genre classification system,” said Shah.
The community sites such as Polyvore and Lookbook.nu have given their permission to participate, said Shah, because of the traffic Boutiques.com will drive. Another participant, Weardrobe, is part of Like.com.
“It’s only a good thing,” said Jess Lee, Polyvore vice president of product management. “Having a technology giant like Google enter the fashion world just indicates the size of the opportunity online, and it’s really interesting. It validates some of what Polyvore has been doing. Clearly there is huge room for growth.
“I’m really excited about Google entering this space, it means that this space is really heating up,” said Lee, who previously worked at Google.
Other sites in the Like.com family are recommendation site Covet.com and styling site Couturious.com. Like.com reportedly had yearly revenues of about $50 million and was purchased by Google last August for about $100 million, according to TechCrunch.com. It has about 700,000 monthly unique visitors, according to Google Analytics.
In the future, Like.com will transition to the new site, and traffic to Like.com will be referred to Boutiques.com.
Traffic for non-e-tail fashion sites is relatively low compared with other categories online such as social, search, politics, celebrities and gaming. Apparel, accessories and footwear is one of the biggest categories for e-commerce online, although online sales represent only about 10 percent of all sales, much lower than other categories such as music, books and computers. At the same time, fashion online is growing much faster than sales in brick-and-mortar stores. By moving into the category, Google could make online shopping and fashion easier to find and more popular.