In a deliberate collision between nerds and fashion mavens, Google has created a new
e-commerce site that significantly improves how fashion is presented and sold online. The site, Boutiques.com, which went live almost a week ago, may also change how people shop for clothes.
Boutiques.com has so many capabilities and components that even Google engineers have a hard time qualifying it. It is a collection of hundreds of virtual boutiques merchandised — or, in the new parlance, “curated” — by designers, retailers, bloggers, celebrities and regular folks. You can shop in the style of, say, the actresses Carey Mulligan or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen — among the celebrities who signed up — or you can build your own boutique and amass followers who can comment on your taste.
It is a place, then, to show off your fashion acumen, much as millions of Polyvore users already do in their picture collages.
It is also a source of inspiration. In every boutique on the site, there are dozens of additional choices inspired by a designer’s or celebrity’s style — generated by algorithms — with product photos that are much larger and sharper than on other shopping sites.
And if you don’t know how to wear the leopard pumps you just bought, there’s a panel of street-style photos on the right side of the site that visualizes the shoes in more expressive modes. Indeed, whatever style preference you indicate — classic, romantic, casual — the inspiration panel automatically adjusts for them, like a support group that can read your mind with surprising precision.
That may be Boutiques.com’s ultimate game-changer: how precisely it analyzes your preferences to give you what you requested. As many online shoppers know, search engines tend to give you stuff you don’t really want. A request for fern-colored shoes might yield fern shoes, plus fern-print blouses.
But, as two experienced online shoppers found when they tested the site earlier this week at Google’s New York office, if you ask for cobalt blue shoes, you get them. And if you refine your preferences with a click or two, you get even more specific styles.
The process at Boutiques.com is accomplished through visual search technology, and what style experts like Ms. Goodman and Ms. Holtz conveyed to Google code writers about the nuances of fashion — from color and pattern to silhouette and what looks good together and what does not.
Despite the number of products a search on Boutiques.com kicks out, the download time is very fast, and choices appear on extra-long pages so you don’t have to keep clicking. Virtually every kind of information is analyzed — price, brand, color and so on. The site also includes a system called “Complete the Look,” for which Ms. Goodman wrote “a ton of rules,” Mr. Shah said, “and our computer vision and machine learning guys implemented them.”
Additionally, there is a good sense of discovery on the site; items come to your attention — almost as they do in stores — that you didn’t necessarily plan to buy. Seasonal trends, like fall’s military looks, can be boosted on the site. Again, to Ms. Mulpuru, “that’s where Munjal gets it — fashion is about discovery.”