The rumors have been (essentially) confirmed. After the mysterious invitation sent out by Google (GOOG) touting a union between high tech and high fashion, the search engine giant revealed it will be launching Boutiques.com this Wednesday. The site leverages the best of Google's newly-enhanced Product Search that's simplified the process to find apparel -- a rapidly-growing area in the $140 billion U.S. e-commerce market.
And as Google ups its fashion quotient, it reaps a tidy reward in the form of collecting consumer preferences and generating more targeted ads.
Though many fashion bloggers appear to be mystified by Google's sudden move to shilling style, it appears as though the Googlers have been grooming this application for several months. Back in August, Google purchased Like.com -- the Silicon Valley-based visual search engine that matches photos of apparel and accessories to similar items for sale.
Based on preliminary reports, Google's Boutiques.com will be an online marketplace where anyone can be a buyer/merchandiser and set up their own e-shop by selecting a personalized assortment from brands they love. Sharing the finished collection will enable others to click to buy. Here's where Google conveniently steps out of the equation.
Purchases are redirected to the brand's or retailer's own e-commerce sites. Indeed, by only playing host to the shops, Google doesn't have to slog through complicated buying metrics, fret about overstocks or markdowns, or deal with pesky fulfillment â€" just like the marketplaces of Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY).
eBay in particular better watch its back. The auction behemoth has also been trying on initiative after initiative to see what resonates with fashionistas, some of which have been more meh than marvelous. The most recent collaboration with Derek Lam to crowdsource the designer's Spring collection seems most promising.
That's probably why, to start off with a splash, Google's coaxed style maker Sarah Jessica Parker to start her own shop (perhaps filled with Halston Heritage?). Designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Isaac Mizrahi, Tracy Reese and Erin Fetherston have been invited to set up their own virtual stores, too. Furthermore, fashion's most influential style bloggers have been "invited to curate their own Boutiques.com boutiques â€" in exchange for a one-off payment of (low) five figures," according to Frockwriter.
Though the back-end architecture is the same, Boutique.com's "store fronts" will look considerably more high-end than what Product Search is currently displaying (think Netaporter.com and other luxe online destinations with better search capabilities).
Full details will be revealed at a party in SoHo on Wednesday, but Google's staying mum on the business model, so no word yet if it will get a cut from the retailers on a per-purchase basis. But considering Google drives revenues on ads, the accumulated clicks can only be a rich resource for the complicated algorithms the search giant uses to display the most relevant content. Can you say, "Looks better on me?"
Image Google Product Search