Google quietly takes over the fashion world — with celebrity help
Boutiques.com, the latest addition to the Google empire, launched quietly Wednesday in a silent bid to destroy retail sites like ShopStyle.com.
Now, Google didn't expressly state their intent to squash other retail-dedicated sites, but that's what Boutiques.com will surely do. This writer had set up an account and a staggering wish list before she made it out of the office, boggled by the site's ability to refine searches and follow others' taste and its dead-on specific search results.
The site is a community of boutiques, sponsored by celebrities (Carey Mulligan, Nicole Richie), designers (Tory Burch, Free People), bloggers, stores or even trends. You can create your own boutique by marking items your "favorites" as you browse, and gather followers with a similar sense of style.
A lengthy dissection in the New York Times Style section explains the "visual search technology" that taught dorky Google code writers the nuances that differentiate, say, chartreuse from pistachio:
"In simple terms, what the style experts did was come up with about 500 words for color, shape and pattern — robin’s-egg blue, for instance, and gingham — and then the engineers trained the algorithm to know what each was. They would have pictures of what gingham was and what gingham wasn’t."
Rather than returning matches based on key words that can have multiple meanings and confuse the engine, search results are based on visual recognition of what you're asking for.
Pick a boutique to browse or search directly for an item — in my case, riding boots. On the left there are categories to refine your choices (as on most sites), but if you hover over an item you like, a list of "visually similar" items appear from across the Internet. Brand loyalty be damned; if I like a pair of $400 Fryes, a $100 pair of similar Steve Maddens is free to present itself. Scroll down and you can see suggestions inspired by what the algorithm assesses your style to be.
The move comes as retailers are increasingly seeing their profits come from online shoppers. We predict it obliterates many retail-dedicated sites, but members-only sale sites like Gilt Groupe, Rue La La and others live on because of their exclusive deals.
Tell us: What do you think Boutiques.com means for online shopping?