On the surface Boutiques may resemble other “social shopping” sites such as Polyvore or Stylehive, among others. But the underlying technology, I’m told, is much more sophisticated than comparable female-centric shopping sites. (There’s also an iPad app.)
Boutiques is a highly visual, social and personalized shopping destination built on sophisticated machine learning and visual recognition technology. Munjal Shah, CEO of Like.com, the company Google acquired in August and which built Boutiques.com, likened it to Pandora for apparel. There’s an elaborate taxonomy and structure (“apparel genome”) behind the presentation of content on Boutiques.
Like was already building Boutiques.com when the acquisition happened three months ago. Google presided over the completion of the effort (that’s probably not exactly accurate but mostly true). That may explain in part why the site looks like it does and lacks Google branding — though not entirely.
The apparel content is from both large and independent retailers, though the focus is on e-commerce. The site is directed toward women exclusively. It makes me wonder if Google thinks it’s a male-centric brand somehow.
The decision not to include any reference to Google on the site was a very conscious one and extremely interesting. In addition, search is present on the site but not the focus or center of the user experience. It’s about browsing and inspiration — attempting to replicate the in-store experience to some degree.
Boutiques is built around collections of fashion picked by “taste makers” (celebrities, designers and fashion bloggers). Individual users can also create their own “boutiques.” And any boutique can be followed by any user. More followers equals greater exposure and “ranking” prominence for individual boutiques. Shah anticipates that most people will shop and browse existing boutiques. However some percentage of users can be expected to create their own.
Creating your own boutique is one way to personalize the site experience. And when they do, users are asked to respond to a series of questions indicating style preferences and choosing between different looks:
The site is quite complex but offers an impressively intuitive user experience, given the technical complexity of what’s going on behind the scenes.
When I started asking about the future, Google wouldn’t comment specifically about integration of Boutiques content into general search results or Google Product search. But over time we can probably expect some degree of integration.
Another observation: this is yet another social site from Google. We saw local recommendations tool/site Hotpot go live earlier this week. What’s also interesting is that Boutiques is a branded content destination in a way that is perhaps equaled only by YouTube among Google properties.
I also asked whether the look and feel of Boutiques.com might have an impact on other Google properties eventually. Of course that’s too speculative for Google to respond to. But it’s intriguing to consider how the “culture” of the site might impact Google’s thinking about future product development. Specifically I’m thinking about local, travel, music and other verticals.
This is a very different “look” for Google — and one that holds interesting possibilities for the way Google presents content and user experiences going forward.