What Google has done for the industry is set up a digital listening post. By providing “Designer Analytics,” Google gives the boutique owners a deep dive into the habits of shoppers, telling them not just what they are buying, but why. They are given information about what specific products are “loved” or “hated”, what colors, shapes and patterns are resonating or not. Then there is a totally different, and broader, data set on the consumer trends. Here the designers learn what is happening in the aggregate to all designers, not just themselves. So industry trends in color, shapes and patterns can emerge from the general public.
Besides helping the designers find their audience, Boutiques.com is also designed to help the shopper find what he or she is looking for.
Google describes the service on the site this way:
“Boutiques.com is a personalized shopping experience, brought to you by Google, that lets you find and discover fashion goods through a collection of boutiques curated by taste-makers — celebrities, stylists, designers, and fashion bloggers. Boutiques uses visual technology to help fashionistas discover and shop their look and creates the opportunity for designers to showcase their collections and latest inspirations online.
“Boutiques.com is built on technology developed by our team of fashion experts who work with engineers to “teach” our computer systems to understand various patterns, pairings, and genre definitions. When signed into your account, Boutiques.com learns about your style and preferences and in turn, provides you better results and recommendations over time. Ultimately, Boutiques.com will provide shoppers with a much richer and interactive shopping experience and help drive traffic to retailers’ websites.”
Consumer behavior is fed more directly into production; it doesn't expend itself in the creation of the consumer's self-image. The pleasure consumers take in consuming by way of self-presentation is recaptured by manufacturers and used to shape subsequent designs, tightening the loop, accelerating it. We don't buy a shirt and wear it and that's that. Now the degree to which we are satisfied by the purchase, the various modes of satisfaction, are fed back into the production cycle as a component of the manufacturing process.
Consumption becomes much more directly a part of production. The self we postulate with the shirt in this example is already aware of itself as bearing that R&D responsibility; the personal brand is at stake in the degree to which one's personal efforts to be fashionable are recaptured. The success of the self depends on the success of its usefulness to industry as fashion R&D. Accordingly, the self is an ongoing experimental space, not ever anything secure or established -- it is always a capital stock to be risked in ventures, not something that exceeds or exists outside of the dynamics of the market. This is a triumph for neoliberalism and its imposing a fundamentally entrepreneurial subjectivity. We exist insofar as we see ourselves profiting, we see our personal brand equity growing (or, alas, shrinking). We don't exist when we refuse to see how our brand plays in the market-driven world.
The online repository becomes the site of the self -- the way in which the recommendation engines and tracking databases know better than we do what we want, what we should see, what we are going to do, what sorts of choices we would like to have presented to us to give us a sense of control over the actual surfeit of possibilities. The self naturally requires markets and retailers to supply it with the terms by which is can express itself, realize itself, give itself instantiated being. We rely on those accelerated exchanges, which are our opportunities to speak the self.
So we end up in symbiosis with digital devices which archive our identity-making gestures. Because the devices can record all our gestures, they all become identity making in the end -- no activity that is not overtly self-defining. To overstate it: One's identity can never be so strong as to render particular gestures negligible. The identity is always tenuous, always being rewritten anew by each addition to the archive. So it is cumulative at the same time it is totally discontinuous. Each addition generates an entirely new formulation from a selected set of gestures from the archive.
The neoliberal self is the personal brand, which depends on accelerated opportunities for consumerist exchange to augment and evaluate itself, know it exists.