New iPad App from Google Gives Catalog Shopping a Digital Twist

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Catalog shopping seemingly received its death knell with the rise of e-commerce, but it is poised for a comeback with Google Catalogs, a free app for the iPad (and coming soon for Android) that lets you flip through digital versions of print catalogs.

Recognizing that mobile technology can make catalog shopping a more dynamic, interactive, and user-oriented experience, Google Catalogs takes a traditional paper catalog and combines it with the best aspects of an e-commerce website, all on a portable tablet.

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The app lets the user zoom in on specific products and click tags to get more detailed information. Users can search for products across multiple catalogs, then purchase an item online or locate it in a nearby retail store. New catalogs can be automatically downloaded as they are released—and in a nod to recreating the social aspect of shopping, users can assemble items into a self-styled collage, which can then be shared with friends.

Participating stores range across a number of categories such as fashion, beauty, and home goods, including: Anthropologie, Bloomingdale’s, Crate and Barrel, L.L. Bean, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Williams-Sonoma.

This is not the first time that Google has ventured into these waters. In 2001 the company launched Catalog Search, which compiled and indexed scanned pages of catalogs, but the project folded in 2009. Last year, Google introduced Boutiques.com, a personalized shopping site that offers designer womenswear curated by a panel of tastemakers.

Tablets are an optimal way to recreate the magazine experience on a mobile platform, so Google Catalogs seems like a logical step. And for merchants, the risk is low: participation is free, users purchase directly from each brand’s site, and they can receive collected data from Google about how users are interacting with their products.

Predicting the consumer response is more challenging. Will catalog shopping 2.0 be embraced, or met with a collective shrug? It remains to be seen.

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