Geek chic: Google launches Boutiques.com

Google uses search, visual recognition in new fashion e-commerce site

Just in time for the holiday shopping season, Google is making a grab for a bigger presence in the e-commerce arena.

On Wednesday, the company unveiled Boutiques.com, a Web site designed to give users a personalized shopping experience, complete with human curators, visual recognition technology and machine learning. The move thrusts Google into the online fashion industry, along with eBay and Amazon.com.

"It lets you find and discover fashion goods by creating your own curated boutique or through a collection of boutiques curated by taste-makers -- celebrities, stylists, designers and fashion bloggers," wrote Munjal Shah, a Google product management director, in a blog post. "These days, bloggers, stylists and everyday fashionistas are expressing their sense of style online. We invited them to create boutiques so people could shop their diverse styles. But you have a unique and independent style too, so Boutiques also lets you build your own personalized boutique and get recommendations of products that match your taste."

The site is set up to let users filter their searches by size, silhouette, patterns and colors. Google also is offering what it's calling "inspirational photos." If a user searches for brown boots, photos will pop up on the right showing brown boots with matching outfits.

For users trying to figure out what to pair with a particular top or pair of pants, Google turned to people in the fashion industry to first give Google hundreds of style rules, such as not mixing stripes with patterns. Then the company turned to its developers to design computer programs that use those fashion rules to suggest matching items to users.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research, said that Google is smart to get into e-commerce, especially before the holiday shopping season, but he noted that this idea is still a bit out there, even for Google.

"I mean, it's never a surprise when Google gets into something new," he said. "But it seems a bit off from their traditional business. You can say it seems like out of left field for Google, but their left field has become much bigger than others."

Boutiques.com is currently available only in the U.S. and only for women's fashion. Google noted that it intends to expand but didn't provide a time frame.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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