Google Catalogs offers iPad owners a free tablet-specific app that combines various shopping catalogs into a collective format. With the app, shoppers can browse digital versions of print catalogs from dozens of retailers, including Urban Outfitters, L.L. Bean, William Sonoma, Macy’s and Pottery Barn, among others.
Google is not the first to put forward a shopping app, as Gilt Travel, Net-A-Porter and Gap 1969 already provide users with apps that utilize the tablet’s interface and tactile navigation for a more intimate shopping experience. Yet, Google Catalogs is much more convenient as it brings many retailers to one app.
Interestingly, the Google Catalogs app is only available for iOS at the time of this review, and not Google’s own Honeycomb tablets.
True to its name, the app features the season’s latest catalogs, and it works in both landscape and portrait mode. I personally preferred portrait mode because it most closely resembles holding and reading a physical catalog. When I launched the app, a “Featured” page greeted me, where an alluring model for Athleta’s Fall issue consumed the screen. A row of 14 featured catalogs lines the bottom of the screen. A quick finger tap opens up any one of them. Under the catalog row resides four constant shortcut icons for the featured catalogs, all catalogs, user favorites, and both public and user-made collages (more on that in a bit).
After I steered past the feature page, to the “Catalogs” shortcut, seven category options popped up, including: apparel and fashion for men, women and children; beauty; jewelry; home goods; and gifts. As an avid shopper, I find these categories to be quite limited, though Google claims it will add more in the near future.
When a category is selected, relevant catalogs appear, arranged in chronological order. From here, one tap on a specific retailer’s magazine will open it up. To turn the page, swipe your finger across the screen as you would an eBook.
The Apple iPad 2 had some trouble rendering the relatively high resolution images swiftly, and this problem became especially apparent when quickly browsing through pages before they had time to fully load. I suspect original iPad owners will especially feel the pain of blurry images and stuttering app performance given that tablet’s weaker processer and less RAM.
Shop till you Drop
From all indications, it appears these digital catalogs mirror their physical counterparts. It’s tough to confirm however, because I’m not on Rugby’s mailing list, nor Eddie Bauer’s. This means that in addition to products, there is an abundance of models sporting the season’s latest fashions.
On the actual product pages, certain items don a price tag. A single tap reveals a pop up that features the product along with additional information, including a description, online purchase option, a “find nearby,” and most importantly, price. The “Find Nearby” function is pretty neat as it allows users to see if their desired product is in stock at nearby stores. Unfortunately, it’s not very helpful at the time of this review as certain stores do not appear on the map. It may just be a glitch, but stores that I am certain are in the area do not show as listed on the map.
Also missing is any sort of comparison shopping option, where the shopper can judge an item based on a similar product from another catalog or site. So bargain hunters will have to do their own leg work for the best price on any particular item.
The favorite shortcut, like that on a web browser, marks a user’s favorite product, page or catalog. This function comes in handy when shoppers want to recall their desired items without flipping through pages, considering the large number of products offered per catalog.
Despite lacking a comparison shopping option, Google Catalogs offers a collage feature for users to import their favorite products. You can edit photos, choose backgrounds and alter text to craft your own collection. The collage is an easy way to compose a wish list of items from one magazine or many, and keep desired products organized in one location rather than spread throughout several catalogs. Users can make their designs public and share with everybody on Google Catalogs, or keep them private. Users can send collages to friends and family as a not so subtle reminder of the products they desire.
Users can enable Google Catalogs to alert them when new editions of their favorite catalogs become available. However, it would be more useful if the app had an option to signal customers when items are on sale. This could have been incorporated through a clearance rack function where items from older catalogs are marked as “on sale”, then put in an organized list for users to view.
One of the highlights of this app is its support of videos. In catalogs like William Sonoma, Sephora and Bare Escentuals, video demonstrations are embedded. These videos are a great example of what a tablet shopping app should offer, taking advantage of the screen real estate. The clips are from YouTube and can be set to full screen view, sent to a friend or saved as a favorite.
Google Catalogs currently has 50 partners, majority of which are high-end brands. There is a distinct lack of mid-range retailers at the time of my review, which could be a big issue if Google hopes to make this a success. Granted, the iPad is still a bit of a luxury item, and I can understand the app’s appeal towards a somewhat wealthier demographic, but I would have found the app to be more useful if there was a selection of stores represented besides those at the Bergdorf Goodman price range.
Google Catalogs offers a free, easy and engaging platform for tablet shopping. I loved the video and collage features, but the propensity of luxury brands limits the app’s appeal. This shopper hopes they add more wallet-friendly names to the catalog list.