Google Shopping got a big relaunch on Thursday that makes use of Google Lens image recognition technology to help fashion shoppers find style ideas for the products they view, turning Google Shopping into a hybrid commerce and discovery platform. The new feature puts Google Shopping more directly in competition with Instagram, which recently rolled out its own fashion-friendly feature updates.
The update adds other new features to Google Shopping, including giving users the ability to upload a picture of a style they already have and find style ideas for pieces to wear with it. A user can also upload a photo found online of a product or outfit to find similar pieces and other ways to style it. Features including price tracking and a tool to find where products are currently sold at nearby stores were also added.
The style recommendations play into what has become a big trend in both fashion and beauty. Younger customers are placing more emphasis on fashion advice and recommendations given by real people. While discovery is one step of the journey, showing customers looks and styles using the product they’re considering is meant to push them over the line to make the final purchase.
“We’ve seen significantly diminishing returns from paid influencer marketing over the last two years,” said Natalie Mackey, CEO of Glow Concept. “Gen Z really prioritizes recommendations from peers.”
This update comes just a few days after Instagram rolled out its own big update to its online checkout platform, with a product drop feature allowing brands to tease big releases before they come out and customers to jump on new products the moment they drop.
Both platforms have been emphasizing their shopping options, but they each come with distinct advantages and disadvantages. Google has the advantage of search volume. For most of the world, it is the go-to search destination for just about anything. But Google Shopping has some drawbacks, compared to Instagram Checkout.
“While [the Google Lens style recommendation] is a nice addition to Google Shopping, it requires consumers to download a separate app to use this feature and the app is not available on iOS yet,” said David Naumann, vp of retail marketing at retail software company enVista. “Many consumers have reached app fatigue and are very selective in terms of which apps they will add to their phone. It would have been cleaner for Google to embed this feature in the shopping app to increase adoption.”
The difference between the two, according to Apu Gupta, CEO of social commerce platform Curalate, comes down to the way people use the platform. Google is more for finding something when you already have an idea of what you want — whether that’s searching for a specific term or uploading a photo through the new Google Lens feature. Instagram, on the other hand, caters more to open-ended exploration.
“Instagram today generally doesn’t begin with a search — it begins with a scroll, and eventually something appears that makes your thumb stop,” Gupta said. “Increasingly, that content is shoppable, and Instagram is doing more to take advantage of that moment. Google essentially touches everyone’s lives every day, for a wide range of reasons. For one of those reasons to be shopping, Google will need to create more opportunities for engagement on Google to result in shopping experiences. Google will need to do more to capture those inspiration-seeking moments.”
Despite Instagram Checkout still being a recent development, early signs point to it being an e-commerce juggernaut. Brands like SoulCycle and The Arrivals have already made use of Instagram for e-commerce purposes with successful results. Deutsche Bank analysts found that nearly half of Instagram users plan on using Instagram Checkout and more than 80% that already have said they would do so again, far surpassing Deutsche Bank’s initial, already optimistic, estimates.
For Google to keep up, it is doing a lot to change the way people think about its relationship to fashion. The company had a major presence at Milan Fashion Week this year when it partnered with Versace for a show-stopping appearance from Jennifer Lopez that earned $9.4 million worth of media mentions. Instagram is the go-to fashion and style social media app for many people, but Google’s style recommendations are one step toward changing that paradigm.
“Instagram Checkout is a seamless way for consumers to find design styles that appeal to them and quickly purchase items,” Naumann said. “The advantage Instagram has over Google Shopping is that it has been a style- and design-focused app from the beginning, and consumers often start their fashion search on Instagram. Google is the best search engine, but consumers don’t see it as a source for design ideas. It is hard to change consumers’ perceptions.”