Earlier this week, Google unveiled its latest effort to help retailers boost sales through mobile devices. On Tuesday, Google introduced a “Shop the Look” program that lets smartphone users purchase apparel and other products through the images that appear in response to search terms. The program, which is powered by partnerships with sites like Curalate, LIKEtoKnow.it, and Polyvore, pulls images and links to products from blogs, social posts, and retail sites. For example, by typing “cocktail attire”, shoppers may see an image of a fashion blogger wearing a black cocktail dress, heels and sunglasses.
Once a user taps on the picture, Google will display that item or similar items along with a link to purchase it in a Shopping ad. Retailers will be charged on a cost-per-click basis, according to Google, which is still testing the program. It’s not clear whether Shop the Look will be rolled out to all mobile users.
We’ve been down this road before. Buy buttons were rolled out to much fanfare, but as Digiday points out, click-to-buy features like buy buttons are struggling to gain traction and have generated low sales volume for retailers. At the same time, image-based commerce is rising. According to Mary Meeker’s latest Internet Trends Report, 55 percent of Pinterest users reported using Pinterest to find potential purchases. Analysts like Altimeter’s Susan Etlinger also point to images as a treasure trove of insights into consumer behavior.
But Meeker also notes that e-commerce, including mobile commerce, represents only 10 percent of all retail sales in the United States. Part of the challenge is that discovery engines like Pinterest and Instagram are glutted with so much content that it’s difficult for individual pieces of content to stand out.
A program that curates shoppable images like Google’s could be promising, but clear guidelines are needed to understand which images will be displayed. Even then, the program could still fall prey to the same SEO-gaming techniques that brands use to improve search results. It will also be difficult to profit from the program since Google, its partners, and the influencers who create the content will all want a piece of the proverbial pie.
And finally, shoppers may want to see more than one image before making a purchase. A photo of a blogger wearing a dress wouldn’t be enough. Shoppers will want to examine the merchandise from various sides, zoom in on the fabric, and consider alternate color options. This isn’t to say that Shop the Look is doomed, but it will take a lot more work to make it a viable shopping tool. The question is whether Google and shoppers have enough patience before moving on to the next shiny invention. Virtual reality malls, anyone?