Why Google's Boutiques.com Falls Short of the Sale

Last Updated Nov 18, 2010 11:25 AM EST

Google's (GOOG) Boutiques.com is up and running, but still has a long way to go to become the go-to shopping portal the search engine giant envisioned at its launch.

I spent the better part of two hours curating (geez, what an overused word) my shop on Boutiques.com yesterday afternoon. But my experience as a vicarious boutique buyer was marred by the kind of problems I imagine real merchandising professionals must face: It's sometimes tough to find a particular designer, difficult to discern if the myriad choices represented their entire collection, etc. Even the "shopping" part was a little wonky.

It starts off simply enough: you can create your own store right away by "loving" or "hating" a pretty thorough list of colors, patterns, silhouettes and designers. The information churns out your style profile (think boho, classic, edgy, and the like) and spits out a number of recommendations.

From there, you can peruse existing boutiques of celebrities, retailers, and style bloggers and click to save your favorites in your own shop, or simply go ahead and buy their favorite picks. Scrolling over any item brings up a window in which you can see the site it's sold on (remember, Google's only the enabler here) as well as a section filled with ideas on how to style it and other products you might like. This should work especially well for comparison shopping by price. But it doesn't quite manage to.

For example, are you coveting Nicole Richie's red-carpet worthy gold Winter Kate sequin dress and have no idea how you'd wear it? Google's team up with Like.com throws you a handful of Couturious (user-generated and styled virtual models) creations. The problem is all the avatars are sporting outfits based around a brown tunic-style dress. So much for Google's much-touted color/pattern refinement. Despite the image recognition technology honed by Like.com there's a double fail here, as the color and the cut of the item is way off.

The "visually similar items" section worked a little better for the Winter Kate dress. The selection featured some actual gold sequin dresses in the mix of mystifying prints and totally different silhouettes. Oh, and it shows the original item in the collection too. You do get an assortment of choices in various price points which, depending on how fixated on the garment in question you are, may or may not be tempting.

The other option is to explore similar boutiques, which leads you completely off track of the original item, but -- like real shopping -- brings you back to the thrill of the browse.

Though there are plenty of ways to refine searches (color, cut, price, etc.), the more you click, the more you realize just how massive this site really is. And woe to you if you are looking for something very specific. Searching by name of both the item and the designer yielded no results for me on a particular blouse, but I did find it scrolling through the brand's offerings. Another mystery: Boutiques has a designer tab in the navigation bar, but it's by no means a complete listing of labels available.

The biggest question I had after my Boutiques intensive was, "Will anyone actually buy anything after all that browsing?" I'm not so sure. While I saw at least 20 things I'd be happy to have (as witnessed by my shop favorites) the exercise was more like putting together a fantasy wish list than filling an e-commerce shopping cart and checking out.

Boutiques.com didn't close the sale for me. Rather, it just left me wanting more: clothes and accessories I don't really need and can't afford as well as a more satisfying shopping experience. If Google is able to cash in on that, at least one of us will leave happy.

Image via Boutiques.com

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