Google Delivers Catalog App for iPad; Forests, Mail Carriers Rejoice

Maybe you’ve heard of mobile commerce, but what about tablet commerce?

With the adoption of smartphones and tablets, many retailers are scrambling to understand what e-commerce looks like on the mobile device. As it evolves, increasingly it’s looking like the bigger opportunity might be on tablets — not the phone.

Today, Google released Google Catalogs, a free iPad app that enables shoppers to browse — in an electronic form –the familiar glossy print publications that come in the mail. It launched the app with dozens of the most popular catalogs, including Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, L.L. Bean, Lands’ End and others. An Android version is expected soon.

Google Catalogs product manager Abigail Holtz said Google has built other shopping experiences for the Web that are all about search, but this time it was looking to build something users would browse, like window-shopping in a mall.

“We asked how do we create the inspirational browse-shopping experience, and we thought about whether it makes sense on the Web, but the platform that it is most poised for it is the tablet,” Holtz said.

A Forrester Research report titled “Why Tablet Commerce May Soon Trump Mobile Commerce” found in a survey among retailers that on average 21 percent of their mobile traffic comes from tablets, with several reporting figures north of 50 percent.

Separately, we’ve reported that various retailers had expected revenues from all mobile devices to hit about 10 percent of overall sales by the end of the first quarter, and that later this year, that figure could inch even higher, as more tablets and smartphones get into the hands of more consumers.

Google Catalogs is a single application that provides access to dozens of catalogs. From the homepage, it provides a number of categories: Women’s fashion, jewelry, beauty, home, men’s fashion, kids and gifts. Once you drill into each one, you have the option of seeing dozens of specific catalog titles displayed with their most recent edition.

Because the pages are digital, you can zoom in to see products up close, tap on images of price tags to learn more about the item, or even search for the product in nearby stores. Some retailers have also integrated videos and other digital content.

For instance, in the Williams-Sonoma catalog, one of the listings is for a Cuisinart product that cooks and blends soup in one device that costs $365. The blender ad also links to a four-minute video of a woman demonstrating how to use the blender to make smoky lentil soup.

“It adds a richness to the shopping experience that is really engaging for consumers,” Holtz said. “As I’m flipping through, it’s different from a catalog. You can go deeper.”

From a product page, users can either find the item in a store or buy it on the retailer’s Web site. The app does not handle any of the payment processing, and Google does not charge any of its partners referral fees.

The app is very similar to two other catalogs also available in the iPad App Store. Menlo Park, Calif.-based Padopolis launched Catalog Spree in April and TheFind launched Catalogue in May. Both of the companies have some of the same catalogs as Google and are charging retailers affiliate fees for purchases made on their sites.

Holtz said Google doesn’t have plans to start charging, although it is a possibility in the future. There’s also a chance it could monetize the app in other ways, she said, but declined to be more specific.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald