Pluck, which makes social media software, is rolling out version 3.3 of its SiteLife social media platform.
The latest version of SiteLife, announced June 13, offers functionality to integrate social media capabilities into e-commerce sites.
"There are a lot of ways to facilitate a community in terms of what you're doing on the Web," said Adam Weinroth, director of product marketing for Pluck. "We take an integrated approach. We don't create a community on a separate site or section of a site and point customers to it; we integrate it directly to the core site experience."
Weinroth said SiteLife consists of several social networking modules that allow retailers to incorporate features like ratings, reviews, comments and recommendations, blogs, photo and video galleries, and forums. He said the solution also features integration APIs, a community management workbench that regulates the flow of users and content on the site with minimal impact on end users, and more advanced capabilities for managing abuse cues.
"Many of our improvements are focused on those dimensions," Weinroth said. "We enhanced the properties of services support and the integration of your site and community content therein with the rest of the Web."
A lot of retailers have taken initial steps into social networking, such as posting customer reviews and recommendations, and based on the returns are seeking to further engage their customers, he said.
"We're building out breadth and depth," he said. "We're investing in the forum module to bring deep end-user features into the product. The way customers can participate is highly beneficial to shopping."
Weinroth said Pluck seeks to enable "social shopping," a social networking experience that is fully integrated into the core customer experience of a site and also focuses on areas beyond the shelf and POS (point-of-sale), such as the dressing rooms and aisles.
"This capability is critical for any product that is complex or part of a larger solution," he said.
Weinroth gave the example of a customer buying a high-definition television. The buyer is probably looking for a number of home theater accessories and needs a lot of detailed product information.
"That sort of question-and-answer capability has mostly vanished in the store," he said. "Retailers are [using SiteLife to] present and preserve those interactions in a really high-level way."
Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst with Forrester Research, said the advantages social networking technologies offer online retailers are based on trust.
"Research and common sense indicate that consumers trust the opinions of people like them or their own friends for recommendations beyond all others," Owyang said. "Retailers can benefit from this sacred relationship by allowing customers of products to make recommendations to their network or friends, or at least show the type of information they prefer."
He said that lifestyle communities based around retail sites make members more likely to return and discuss activities related to their needs, as well as offer word-of-mouth recommendations.
Dan Berthiaume covers the retail space for eWEEK. For more industry news, check out eWEEK.com's Retail Site.