Launched with technology made possible by Google's summer acquisition of Like.com, a shopping site with a sophisticated visual search program, the new site lets visitors not only browse colorful virtual boutiques set up by celebrities and designers but create -- and share -- their own personalized online shops.
Visitors to Boutiques.com don't actually complete purchases on the site, but it makes it easy and intuitive for shoppers to identify and search for their favorite styles and items. It also lets them follow the styles of designer, celebrity and fashion blogger "tastemakers."
Boutiques.com makes money when shoppers click through to other e-retailers or brands' online stores.
Celebrity 'Tastemakers' Partner With Google for Fashion Site
The site already has about 30 sponsored celebrity partners, including actresses Rashida Jones, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, and a roster of big-name designer partners, including Kate Spade, Oscar de la Renta and Betsey Johnson. (Contrary to previous reports, Sarah Jessica Parker and Katie Holmes are not part of the project.)
"I think Google realized, 'Hey you know what, we really want to innovate here, we want an approach that really understands fashion but is also powered by better technology so we can actually do more,'" said Munjal Shah, Director of Product Management for Google and the former CEO of Like.com. "But it needed to look so different and the experience is so different."
Shah said that for the past 15 years, e-commerce has focused on perfecting the so-called "hard goods" shopping experience, which involves the purchase of books, DVDs, computers, electronics and other similar products.
But the online sale of "soft goods," including clothing, accessories, and home and garden items, has been largely overlooked, he said.
"One of the key insights we had in shopping for soft goods was this idea that we borrowed quite a bit from music and Pandora, which is we believe that in shopping for soft goods, to get it right, one of the big differences it needs to have over shopping for electronics, etc., is that it needs to be an edited, curated experience," Shah said.
Website Created a 'Fashion Genome' to Help Identify Different Styles
The biggest problem? Too much choice.
For example, let's say a site features 500,000 articles of clothing. Shoppers could create a whopping 16 quadrillion different outfits for all those options, he said.
Narrowing the list with curation helps make the online shopping experience easier. But because Boutiques.com didn't want to offer just one style perspective or point of view, Shah said they created the site as a host for scores of virtual "boutiques."
Just as Pandora.com created a "music genome" that analyzes music and categorizes them by genre (rock, country, classical, etc.), Shah said Boutiques created a "fashion genome" to help identify different fashion styles, such as romantic, street or classic.
But instead of creating "channels" based on musical artists or kinds of music, Boutiques.com lets well-known tastemakers and average users create online boutiques.
Boutiques.com Learns Shoppers' Preferences
Each designer, celebrity or fashion blogger boutique includes both items chosen by the individual (or stylist) and items that the site's algorithms have determined are "inspired" by them. Local retailers can also share their virtual storefronts on the site.
Shoppers can also create and share their own online shops.
When visitors come to the site, they are asked to take a style quiz that helps the site learn their personal preferences. Then, as they browse the site, they can choose to "love" or "hate" various items to further personalize the experience.
As shoppers search the site, they can sort by color, pattern, silhouette, style, brand and price. As they use the site, its algorithms -- like a good salesperson, Shah pointed out -- continue to hone in on their preferences.
The personalization features help shoppers keep tabs on new items that they might want to buy (through daily or weekly e-mails) but they also can help users create higher-profile boutiques.
Boutiques.com Invites Creativity, Google Says
Over time, Shah said they expect to see individuals on the site cultivate loyal followings and create boutiques to complement those set up more mainstream "tastemakers."
If you think the site lacks a goth-themed boutique or one with an edgier sensibility, Boutiques.com wants you to create one.
"Everyone's boutique can make its way to the front," said Shah. "We're sure with this platform, we're going to get a lot of creativity."