Will Boutiques.com Bomb in 2011?


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When Google launched its first-ever fashion and shopping portal, Boutiques.com, in November, the site received a slew of mostly positive press. Both the fashion and tech communities were impressed with the way the site used visual search technology (aka algorithms) to tailor shopping results to users’ preferences.

The Boutiques.com homepage.

Two months later, it’s clear that, though Boutiques.com is indicative of a new trend in e-commerce (as also evidenced by startups Svpply and The Fancy), Google’s big new shopping site is not the breakout hit it should or could be.

Why is this? Because of the site itself: Mechanical, impersonal, and exhaustive, it feels like a shopping site built by people who don’t shop — in other words, a fashion site created by tech-heads.

Nicole Richie’s boutique on Boutiques.com. Much of her “inventory” is made up of products from her own clothing and accessories lines, Winter Kate and House of Harlow.

Let’s start with Google’s own description of the site. It reads, “Boutiques.com takes fashion personally. Shop mini boutiques curated by style icons or create your own with designer clothing from the hottest stores online.” All of which presents a great idea — individual boutiques curated by style icons.

The problem is, this statement is only partially true. Google did pay celeb style icons, including designer Nicole Richie and singer Ashlee Simpson Wentz, and enlisted the talents of internet trendsetters like blogger Jane Aldridge of Sea of Shoes, to set up their own boutiques on the site. However, it’s not clear whether the bold-faced names tapped for the site’s launch are maintaining their boutiques at all, or adding new product. Many of Nicole Richie’s selections, for example, are already sold out — will there ever be more?

The promise that the merchandise displayed on the site is from “the hottest stores online” is also questionable, mostly due to the fact that Boutiques.com admittedly “charges merchants to include products on th[eir] website in most cases” (see the small print at the bottom of the site). This means that some retailers get great placement — our searches, for example, turn up a surplus of James Perse, Anthropologie and Frye — while others are barely featured at all. Google has not revealed exactly how their pay-for-placement system works. After registering, we began to receive emails from Boutiques with products “they thought we would like.” The results, as you can see below, were surprisingly non-diverse.

A screengrab from a recent Boutiques.com email newsletter tailored to our style (we were categorized as “boho”) and shopping preferences.

Google’s strength is search, and though Boutiques.com may not have every merchant online, it does offer plenty of options — perhaps too many. Looking through the site “[can] be overwhelming,” said two women — one a web producer for the New York Times — in an extensive article on the site’s launch from the Herald Tribune.

The bottom line: Boutiques.com does not serve to make online shopping easier. A Wall Street Journal writer had this to say in a review of the site: “If you know exactly what brand or style you’re looking for it might be more efficient to go to a more specialized site, say one for shoes, or directly to a retailer.”

Our informal poll of fashion industry insiders revealed that many had not even tried the site, or had set up a boutique only to abandon it. But our evidence that the site is not working isn’t strictly anecdotal — just take a look at Boutiques.com traffic numbers, below, as tracked by Compete. They indicate that the traffic numbers in November — the month the site launched with much accompanying press — were relatively low.

In November, Boutiques.com had 216,098 unique visitors. To put this into perspective: competitors ShopStyle and Polyvore had 1,389,509 and 1,776,913 uniques that month, respectively. Members of Boutiques.com’s staff have not responded to repeated requests for information about the current number of registered users, or the traffic numbers for December 2010.

So what do you think of the site? Are you using it?

[Disclosure: When not blogging, Leslie Price edits copy for StyleFind, Time Inc.'s shopping site. A serious online shopper, she has tried and failed to get excited about Boutiques.com]


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