Google makes fashion image searches more like Pinterest

Google is not taking Pinterest’s search ambitions lying down. The company recently launched a “Similar Items” feature on mobile web and Android to point users to more products they’ll love – like handbags, sunglasses, and shoes, for example – and today it’s expanding that functionality to include apparel. More notably, it’s also introducing a new feature called “Style Ideas,” which will surface inspirational lifestyle images and outfits that show off the fashion product images you had been browsing.

If this all sounds familiar, it should. Pinterest for years has been establishing itself as the home for “inspirational” imagery – often including fashion items and other products – which it then tries to funnel into purchases. It has also been developing visual search technology that helps it to identify specific products within images, or even a person’s camera viewfinder, then pull up related content on its service.

Ultimately, the goal here is to shift a portion of those initial, exploratory shopping searches away from search engines like Google and onto Pinterest itself. That is, when you’re just thinking about buying some new, black boots, you might now go to Pinterest to get ideas. And you may never wind up on Google at all, if you find a pair you like. You could just click through to the retailer’s site directly.

That sort of challenge is likely frightening to Google, which already has to contend with the shift to mobile, where more people are spending their time in apps than surfing the web, like in the desktop era.

That’s where this new “Style Ideas” feature comes in.

Explains Google, now when you’re browsing fashion product images on Android or the mobile web, the Image Search interface will update to show you images that help better represent the product in real life. If you’re eyeing a pair of heels, explains Google, it might show outfits where the model is wearing them.

For fashion product searches, the results will include a set of visually similar items, outfit montages, and real-life images, Google says.

The “style idea” images are algorithmically selected without human involvement, and take advantage of Google’s machine learning capabilities to identify the images featuring the product in question.

In addition to the style ideas, Google will also display an expanded carousel for similar items when you’re searching for apparel. A couple of months ago it had launched similar items for purses, sunglasses and shows, but it has now added six more verticals: outerwear, dress, shirt, pants, skirts, and shorts. This feature can be useful to find items that resemble those you like – including items that may be available at lower price points.

Google tells us that the images that appear in both the style ideas and similar items grids are also algorithmically ranked, and will prioritize those that focus on a particular product type or that appear as a complete look and are from authoritative sites.

This isn’t the first time Google has targeted Pinterest. In late 2015, the company added a “collections” feature to Image Search which also seemed a direct response to Pinterest by allowing users to save their favorites images from search and organize them.