Will Google Catalogs Be the Last Nail in the USPS Coffin?

While the US Postal Service struggles to be viable in an age of smartphones and tablets, Google has resurrected its Catalogs app on the iPad.

(Google shut down its Catalog Search service in 2009 and has now released it as an app).

Targeted at “couch shoppers”, Google Catalogs offers several major brand catalogs in a digital format. Users can browse, favorite and even create collages of items from various brands. Catalogs goes a step further and lets users buy items through parent brands’ websites.

Not really bothered with re-invention

Despite its reputation for innovation, there seems very little effort on Google’s part to re-make the catalog model. Or even make a decent catalog app for that matter. Right off the bat, I could see a few things that could have tremendously improved the user experience.

1. Allow users to purchase straight from the catalog

Why does Google redirect you to the partner website to buy anything? Seems like an extra step that complicates the purchase process. It may be only one extra click, but in a world of clicks, it’s enough to deter the consumers from impulse buys.

2. No sharing? No Bueno!

Rather shocked to see that the only way to share any items on the catalogs was via email. What is this? 1998?

3. Poor navigation and offline functionality

Being a woman, nothing pleases me more than playing dress up on my iPad. But why Google, can we not browse these catalogs offline? It would have been the perfect time-waster while waiting at airports.

I understand that purchasing an item requires an Internet connection, but making simple browsing dependent on WiFi kinda beats the point of a digital catalog.

Also, a quick “Home” button or thumbnail menu of all the catalogs feels obvious but is sorely missing on the GCats.

Granted it’s just a month old, so Google may still be tinkering and updating the app features. However, one would think that shopping being the biggest use of the tablet, Google would have applied lessons from shopping apps like Net-a-Porter, Gilt and one-upped all of them.

At the very core, Google catalogs feel nothing more than a repository of catalogs in one tiny place. And given its lack of features, people might just prefer hassle-free physical catalogs over Google’s app.

Relax USPS; perhaps direct mail can still be your knight in shining armor.