Google has partnered with a variety of catalog merchants to launch its next-generation catalog search as an iPad application (with an Android version “coming soon”). The app launches with products from Anthropologie, L.L. Bean, Land’s End, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Pottery Barn, Sephora, Tea Collection, Urban Outfitters and Williams-Sonoma, among others.
This isn’t Google’s first crack at this type of thing. It first launched Catalog Search — which mainly consisted of scanned-in catalogs that were searchable — in 2001, before shuttering it in 2009. This also isn’t the first time something like this has been done for tablets. TheFind launched a similar app — both for iPad and Android — earlier this year.
The new app allows users to search within catalogs as well as across catalogs, retrieve more information (including videos) about specific products, mark products as favorites, and put together collections that can be shared or made public. Users can also subscribe to specific Catalog “channels” and get updates when a new catalog is released by making them favorites. And, of course, they can buy the products directly from the app.
The idea seems to be to tap into the impulse that has made Pinterest or Polyvore popular, and featuring beautiful magazine-like photos in an iPad app seems perfectly natural. Still, the challenge will be to engage new users. Google is positioning the app as a greener way to catalog shop, presumably trying to reach younger, more environmentally-conscious users. The collage-making and sharing features would also seem to be attractive to fashion-minded folks.
Google is launching with an impressive roster of partners and the company has a form where other catalogers can apply to join. Its site says that all publishers of a digital or paper retail catalog are welcome and that Catalogs is “continually” adding new partners.
Merchants who are participating upload a PDF of their catalog and tag it to integrate data from their Google Product Search feeds. They can also add additional images or videos from their YouTube accounts. Any purchases actually take place on the merchant’s web site, via a mini-browser window that pops up over the app.
Catalog merchants can receive aggregated data about how users are browsing their catalogs — what products are often-visited and which ones are passed by. ”Our partners are very excited to see even very high level data of how users are using and interacting with the catalog,” Abigail Holtz, product manager of Google Catalogs told me, noting that paper catalogs go into the mail and generate very little data.
Currently, Google Catalogs is free for merchants — all of which are already Google Product Search customers. Holtz wouldn’t go into detail about future revenue-generation plans, saying the company is focused solely on building an audience, for now. Plans for doing that include doing PR interviews for media exposure and encouraging merchant partners to link to the app on their web sites. The company also plans to introduce integration with Google+ and an Android application is in the works, though Holtz couldn’t specify an expected release date.
Clearly, the importance and value of the Catalog Search app to marketers will be directly tied to its consumer adoption, so, time will tell whether this latest effort will be a success.