The mural, which is located at Ocean Front Walk and 19th Avenue in Venice, is shoppable using Google Lens from Android or iOS devices. PHOTO Courtesy of Google

Venice mural supports local artist and small businesses

By Jenn McKee

There are many vibrant murals around Venice Beach, but only one offers the chance to get some holiday shopping done while looking at it.

Google and American Express have teamed up to commission four “shoppable murals,” each created by a local artist in a foot-traffic-heavy locale (Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York) to highlight offerings from several small local businesses before the holidays.

“Each mural is shoppable with Google Lens, so you literally just point your phone, take a picture, and it pulls up the item and you buy it,” said Stephanie Horton, Google Shopping’s director of marketing.
Local artist Crisselle Mendiola designed a bright, fun, beach-manga style mural – located at Ocean Front Walk and 19th Avenue in Venice – featuring products “ranging from scented candles to teas to beauty products,” Horton said. “All things that are great for gifting this holiday season.”

But this wasn’t the only criterion for inclusion in the mural.

“We definitely wanted to have a nice range of diversity,” Horton said. “So women-owned, black-owned, LGBTQ-owned [businesses] – crossing the spectrum of people who find it harder to get noticed, and who find it harder to publicize their businesses.”

This is in part a response to tracking what consumers now prioritize when “shopping their values.”

“We have seen searches for black-owned businesses increase over 600%, so we know there’s a definite demand, and that people are looking for these types of opportunities,” said Liz Schulten, a member of Google’s communications team. “We also know that 60% of U.S. consumers who are planning to shop for the holidays say they want to shop small and local businesses. So one of the things we want to do is meet the consumer where they are.”

The goals of the shoppable mural project also align with Google Shopping’s ongoing partnership with the 15 Percent Pledge, a nonprofit that challenges companies to commit 15% of their shelf space to products from black-owned businesses. (Fashion designer and activist Aurora James, following George Floyd’s murder, launched the 15 Percent Pledge via an Instagram post.)
Thus far, 28 retailers have signed on, and James has, in the interim, amassed 1,200 black-owned businesses into a database.

“But some of them haven’t had the training, the skill set, to really understand the digital landscape and how to capitalize there,” said Horton. “ … So one of the things we’re doing is creating a series of trainings for all the black businesses in (James’) database, so that they’re up to speed on everything they need to know. It’s a two year partnership, and we’re really excited to be able to help there as well. It’s a great initiative.”
The murals, of course, offer a far more visible means of connecting consumers to small business owners. Yet you might wonder how much freedom Mendiola (and the other three mural artists) had when creating the design.

“We actually gave them a lot of leeway,” Horton said. “Really the only requirement from our end is that Google Lens would be able to pick (the image) up, so things had to be identifiable. But I think one of the great things about this project is that they’re each so endemic to each city, because it is that artist’s style.”

Aesthetics aside, the artist also, in each case, had to educate consumers about how to use the mural for its intended purpose.

“We looked at a draft of the first one, and we were like, ‘There are no directions. How are people going to know what to do?’” Horton said. “So there’s a part of the mural that’s dedicated to, like, this is how you do it, step by step, so that it’s pretty well documented in a big space on the corner of each mural.”

The murals have only been up a few weeks, but anecdotally, the featured businesses are seeing positive bumps in online traffic.

“And one of the New York businesses actually got a corporate order from someone seeing (the mural), so there’s definitely been some nice notoriety, and people are noticing businesses they never knew about,” Horton said.
Google Shopping and American Express will do some real number crunching after the murals come down, to assess how much positive impact they had on the businesses featured.
In the meantime, it’s hard not to wonder whether the murals point toward our collective shopping future.

“Consumers are definitely discovering things more digitally these days, so I think a business’s aptitude and digital presence is really important,” Horton said. “Brick and mortar is always here to stay, but I think people now want choice. Our part in this is to make sure these small businesses have the opportunity to connect with even more consumers, because we do see that the COVID trend of people shopping more online is definitely here to stay, so you want to make sure you have all the tips and tools to be able to maximize your impact there.”