Digital Catalogs - TheFind, Amazon's WindowShop and Google's Catalog

The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2010, there were more than 20 billion catalogs mailed in the U.S. alone. That averages out to approximately 200 catalogs annually per household. People generally love flipping through these catalogs, but until today, consumers seeking a way to virtually browse their favorite catalogs were forced to download countless applications from individual retailers. Enter digital catalogs. Generally speaking, these digital catalogs are either individual (and independent) apps available for mobile platforms (specifically tablets), or they are web-based applications available directly on the browser a domain click away.

Back in 2002, Google launched a Catalog Search. It was later shut down in April, 2009. The short-lived product allowed users to browse popular mail-order catalogs, and search across those catalogs for specific products.

TheFind Catalogue
Since then, other players have come into the picture and have created an updated but similar product, which predominantly (and naturally) focuses on the tablets. Among such new comers is TheFind Catalogue. The app, available for both iPads and Android tablets, allows users to browse specific catalogs and search across all available inventory for particular products. It also allows users to customize a “my catalogue” area as well as save any single item or store catalog to the personal dashboard.

Amazon WindowShop

In a similar browse/search manner, Amazon's WindowShop also offers a rivaling experience. WindowShop, however, has a smaller selection of products from branded retailers. Both, and others discussed in this article, are taking advantage of the magazine-like format of tablets, are reaching to partner with retailers to save on printing costs (and offer dynamic content), and be green while doing it. On TheFind site, I found this: "5.6 million tons of catalogs and other direct mail advertisements end up in U.S. landfills annually. We are doing our bit to help reduce the number of unwanted catalog subscriptions, and save natural resources."

Google Catalogs
This year Google [re-]launched its digital catalog-shopping offering Google Catalogs. Besides browsing, and like other digital catalog offers mentioned in this article, users can search for a particular item across multiple catalogs, zoom in on individual items, but can also watch the occasional video, save items to a “favorites” file among other things one would expect from a digitized catalog. Other features include the ability to find and check inventory at nearby stores and a collage function that allows for shoppers to create a collage of favorite products that can be shared with fellow shoppers within the app. The app makers say that Google+ integration is coming soon.

Clearly, there is (and will be) emphasis on partnerships --especially with merchants. Google Catalogs currently has 50 partners and over 100 catalogs. Google envisions users kicking back on the couch with the app. “I hope that users can use this as a relaxing shopping experience,” said Abigail Holtz, business product manager for Google Catalogs. Further, a recent Forrester study found that shopping has become a killer app for the tablet platform. In a survey of online shoppers and vendors conducted less a year after the launch of the Apple’s iPad, tablet users were already driving anywhere from 21% to 50% of the mobile traffic on retailer sites.

All that said, late last year Google launched, and later launched its app; which so far I can only find for the iPad. The surprising part is that I have not seen a link between Boutiques and Catalogs, despite their similarities. Granted, I see the former more akin to Net-A-Porter, which seems to cater to a niche market. Still, they all seem to be dabbling with the Digital Catalog space. Building on that, call me crazy but I think that Google's Product Search, which I still call Froogle (yes, you can reach Google Product Search using that), can also be bundled up with Catalogs. Visiting today, it's no surprise that I saw Google Offers, and Catalogs, both as clear call-outs on the front page. Google Offers, which I know little about, seems to be a contender for Groupon.

Another company that has made its debut earlier this year in the Digital Catalogs space is called Padopolis, which launched the app Catalog Spree back in April this year; but its CEO said that early on retailers weren’t sure what to make of tablets: “When we started to approach vendors in July and August of last year, people thought that the tablet was going to be a fad,” said Joaquin Ruiz, CEO of Padopolis.

One might argue that Flipdoo fits into this categroy. I, on the other hand, view them more of a platform And they seem to emphasize Flash by Adobe as their backbone. Of course, to a retailer/merchant, they may not care as long as the result is the same; where I might be more picky taking into consideration accessibility, scalability and search-engine friendliness.

I suspect that the number of players in the Digital Catalog space will continue. It will be interesting to find out who makes it and who doesn't, what the differentiating features are, etc. I would like to see a matrix of their offerings; but even more interested in why merchants/vendors/partners select one over the other (regardless of features/offerings). If you or someone you know uses any Digital Catalog offering, please let us know in the comments. I'm sure there are others out there, or perhaps you have an opinion or two on some of the ones mentioned. Chime in and be heard.