It can be challenging for consumers to know what options they have for shopping Black-owned businesses unless they already have a brand in mind or parse through extensive (if helpful) lists like this one from the Strategist. A clever new feature from Google—the search engine of choice for a lot of shoppers—puts Black-owned products front and center with a new UI that Instagram would envy.
It’s a shoppable artwork by Baltimore-based mixed media artist Amani Lewis made in collaboration with Google Shopping. The artwork integrates products sold by Black businesses. Hover over the painting and Google’s new Black-owned icon, a rotated black heart within a striped orange container, appears over all the shoppable items in the artwork. Users can shop the painting starting today.
There has been a surge in interest in shopping Black-owned brands among consumers following the protests for racial justice throughout last year. Google searches for “Black owned businesses” between January and December 2020 increased 600% compared to the same time span in 2019. Google Shopping is responding by making it easier for consumers to find what they are looking for. That means new features, this artwork included: Earlier this month, the company rolled out a new element in Google’s shopping tab that allows merchants to self-identify as Black-owned businesses (see the tag on the right side of this post, for instance). The attribute is visible on the shopper’s side too, so shoppers can more easily find and support Black-owned businesses. Google is also rolling out a social media campaign in which Black artists including Jade Purple Brown, Reyna Noriega, Pink Lomein, Arrington Porter, Brianna Pippens, and Joshua Kissi will share an artwork on their feed that supports a favorite Black-owned business.
Lewis’s piece is a vibrant and painterly collage of color and textures. It depicts three fashion-forward people sitting around a lilac and pink table accompanied by Black-owned products and brands such as a light pink Diarrablu wrap dress, a steaming cup of Blk & Bold coffee painted in a bright seafoam green, and 3rdEyeView sunglasses in vivid orange. Google worked with Amani to create a shortlist of merchants and products, and Amani selected the final products you see in the composition. “The goal for this piece of art is to have the products be naturally integrated into the painting, as part of the livelihood of Black comfort in a caught moment of reality,” says Lewis. “The figures are sitting outside surrounded with the products in a space that is frequented by people everyday.”
So why did Google opt for a shoppable painting, as opposed to a simple list? “We wanted to creatively bring these merchants to life and have something that’s more interactive for users to interface with to shop these brands,” explains Stephanie Horton, director of marketing for commerce at Google. The artwork is part of an effort to bring visibility to the tag, which allows merchants to self-identify as Black-owned, by elevating it from just another functional search tool to a visual celebration. It also echoes an increasingly common way for people to shop: through Instagram posts.
The artwork will only be up on the site during Black History Month, but Horton views the project as a launching pad to bring visibility for other UI features that highlight Black-owned businesses, such as the Black-owned business attribute and icon. “We don’t want to just do things for Black History Month,” says Horton. “This is a good opportunity to kick things off, but our goal is to have people directed to this and utilize the tab and the feature, but also look to Google to shop Black-owned businesses and Black merchants in perpetuity.”
I asked if that 600% increase in search interest inspired the project. Horton notes that while she feels Google has “always been forward-thinking” when it comes to inclusive shopping, the events of the past year “accelerated what we wanted to make happen.” She adds that Google’s goal is to”make sure that people would be able to shop the way they want to shop. So if they’re looking for Black-owned businesses, the expectation is they should be able to find it on Google.”