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"Can a Retail Web Site Be Social?" That's the question posed by Liz C. Wang, an assistant professor in the College of Business at the University of Dallas, and three other Texas profs in a 10,000-word piece that appears in the latest Journal of Marketing. You could try to read the whole study, but there are just too many numbers -- and some of us got into journalism because there was very little math. So we'll stick with the executive summary, which says: "This research shows that using lifelike characters can enhance the consumer's perception of social interaction often missed in online (versus bricks-and-mortar) shopping, leading to positive feelings about the online experience and higher perceptions of value." In other word: yes. --Robert Wilonsky