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November 17, 2010 5:57 PM

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A Closer Look at the Google Fashion Site

Is Boutiques.com fashionable enough for the fashion crowd? It still feels like a machine rather than a fashionable friend is recommending items, and the look of the site could be improved with more pretty pictures, but it gets the job...

Is Boutiques.com fashionable enough for the fashion crowd?

It still feels like a machine rather than a fashionable friend is recommending items, and the look of the site could be improved with more pretty pictures, but it gets the job done. 

I tried several different searches on Boutiques.com and competitor ShopStyle -- including stacked heels, Belle by Sigerson Morrison and a color search -- to find a black shoe with a stacked brown wooden heel, which failed. The results from the two sites were not that different. Maybe the ShopStyle results were a little more stylish at the top, and maybe Boutiques.com had a wider range of merchandise with some surprising offerings thrown into the mix. 
Using some very impressive underlying technology, Boutiques.com has automated recommendations, whereas ShopStyle, Polyvore and many other sites rely on an unpaid army of social-media volunteers who choose items to their taste and link to other people with similar tastes.


That actually works very well, except few have the time to update constantly. Boutiques.com does it automatically, yet the number of inappropriate, random or unappealing suggestions it throws out is overwhelming. But once I found the right style preference, I was on a better track, and soon I was finding plenty of things to like among the noise.


It reminded me of what my dad says about online dating: "It's just a way to meet a lot of people quickly," so you can narrow down your search to a few likely prospects.


A retailer I spoke with expressed concern that the visual search would make it easy to find knockoffs and cheaper versions of designer clothes. The site certainly does offer that capability, but most women have a set price range they buy that won't change because of Google. What the site does do that might be more threatening is make it very easy to find things on sale.


In fact, I was amazed to see the site recommend a dress I had very nearly already bought -- a green and black vintage-inspired number from Tracy Reese at Anthropologie. I had hesitated because of the price. Surprise -- suddenly now it was half off.


Dear reader, I bought it.


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