In-store, a high-end retailer like Diane von Furstenberg can provide a personal, customized experience. But you’re unlikely to meet the designer or get a look at the behind-the-scenes of the design process. Technology like Google Hangout is giving retailers the ability to give customers the kind of special experiences they previously might have only expected in person. Last week, designer Diane von Furstenberg hosted the first ever shoppable Google+ Hangout on Air. During an hour Thursday evening, the designer and Lucky magazine editor-in-chief Eva Chen fielded questions from pre-selected viewers and showcased trends in their product collection. Using the tag #shopthehangout, the event was simulcast on social media, with live Tweets and multiple Instagram posts. It’s part QVC, part behind-the-scenes, and a promising new way to deepen the relationship between a brand and its fans.
The Google Hangouts were created as part of a collaboration between the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and Google. As president of the association, von Furstenberg kicked off the first of the planned hangouts. More are to follow. High-end retailer Rebecca Minkoff will have its own Google Hangout this Thursday, October 10, and ones from Rag & Bone and Rachel Zoe will round out the programming for the rest of October. Retailers will be able to offer exclusive items during the Hangouts in an attempt to drive sales. Sales figures from the Hangouts have not been disclosed.
The Hangout also reflects Google’s expansion and realignment in the shopping space. Searches for “black dress” on Google, for example, return pictures of retailers’ items along with brand name and price. Appearing in those listings used to be free, but now retailers must pay for a “product listing ad,” or PLA, to be included in search results. Google also recently closed its application programming interface (API) for Google Shopping. Previously, many ecommerce players found the API useful for free business intelligence. Now, they’ll have to pay another company, like Semantics3, for similar information.
More evidence Google wants to be present at every point in the sales funnel? The Google Shopping suite not only includes product listings, but also the ability to save and manage product listings as they prepare for a purchase through “Shortlists.” People who use the “Shortlists” product will likely find themselves hit with plenty of remessaging ads that try to encourage them to act on their purchases. People who show up for a retailer’s Google Hangout will also provide valuable information about their fashion preferences.
What’s exciting for retailers is the opportunity to brand themselves in the Google space, which previously was much more of an advertising arena. In a statement to the CFDA, von Furstenberg emphasized the possibilities of the platform to create dialogue and offer “a fabulous way to communicate with your customer.” Google’s Vice President of Global Marketing, Lorraine Twohill, called the initiative “another fantastic experience for our growing Google+ fashion community,” praising Diane von Furstenberg for its “amazing job of creating an unprecedented experience through a number of Google technologies such as Google Glass and Google+ Hangouts.”