As anyone who's ever shopped online can tell you, finding a general category of items is the easy part. With nothing more than a quick Google search, you can almost instantly blanket your screen with a massive selection of power drills, bottled water, bowling shoes, frying pans, or whatever else your heart desires. The hard part is figuring out which one you want to buy. And it's not just a problem for consumers: A customer that can't find what they're looking for is no different from any other lost sale, from a retailer's point of view. On Monday, April 12, Endeca released Commerce Suite 2.1 with hopes of helping companies combat these conundrums.
For consumers, it offers a dynamic search experience that lets search terms be more finely tuned, and can save user valuable time spent wading through page after page of arbitrarily arranged results. For retailers, it offers the ability to make site refinements without the need to consult the IT department. And Endeca Commerce Suite 2.1 takes that process a step further, with a software development kit (SDK) and other new features that let retailers customize their sites even further.
According to John Andrews, Endeca's vice president of solutions, marketing, and product management, ecommerce is increasingly about the interaction of many different technologies and information sources, from user generated content and reviews to branded storefronts. "The way we see the market moving, and the tooling that our customers have been demanding [from] us, is to really drive more of the dynamic experience within a customer's website," explains Andrews.
Andrews uses Wal-Mart's website, one of the company's clients, as an example of how Endeca helps retailers make sales: "If somebody goes to Walmart.com and searches for ‘avatar'-because they just watched the Oscars and saw a lot of hype about Avatar-the product managers and merchandising managers from Wal-Mart can look at the logs and look at the experience users are having and see that ‘avatar' is a popular search term on their website." From there, says Andrews, Endeca's Page Builder would let the managers create a custom page incorporating a variety of Avatar-related products and content, from t-shirts and books to action figures, rather than just sending users to a standard search page. Special pages could also be created for specific promotions, deals, or advertising campaigns.
With the latest release, Endeca's customers can create their own plug-ins (which Endeca refers to as "cartridges") to pull in elements from sites like YouTube and Facebook, or a user review solution like BazaarVoice. According to Andrews, that sort of content is a major factor in making a consumer comfortable enough with their choice to go ahead and make the purchase.
"The big improvement in this release is what we call Page Builder Editor SDK," says Andrews. "What we've done is allowed for extension points for the tool. We've opened up the APIs so customers, partners, [and] Endeca services folks can create cartridges and editors, and specifically editors, within the Page Builder tool. So if you want to create a Facebook widget on your website and you need to be able to have more granular control... you can build a Facebook cartridge for your site, without needing to wait for Endeca to build that for you."
In addition to widgets, the SDK allows users of the commerce suite to create their own editors to simplify complex site management tasks, putting them within the capabilities of non-technical users. Andrew uses image management as an example. In previous versions of the suite, users had to manually add images by typing in file names and URLs. "With the new version," he says, "you can build out editors to effectively tap into those content repositories and into those content stores to effectively browse and pick that content and then get a preview of it within the tool."
In addition to the SDK, the latest release features a handful of usability improvements and a search engine optimization module that ensures the dynamic sites appear properly in search results. The Page Builder Editor SDK will be available for free to Endeca customers who have already licensed Page Builder and the Merchandising Workbench modules.