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How to create and deploy a mobile commerce site

NEW YORK - Retailers and marketers have to take account of the different mobile phones, screen sizes, operating systems and browsers to create a mobile site that enables not just easy searching and shopping, but also transactions.

A mobile commerce site simply isn't a paring-down of the retailer or marketer's wired Web site. An iPhone site requires different attention from a mobile site geared to the BlackBerry phone, for example, but a mobile site is the first and perhaps most important requirement of a mobile commerce operation, according to a panel at Mobile Commerce Spotlight, an event co-hosted by Mobile Marketer and the Direct Marketing Association.

"As far as the steps to build a mobile commerce site, there are three different levels: first is the conception of it to determine where you are as a company and where your Web site is," said Marci Troutman, founder/CEO of Siteminis. "Online catalogers need to sell via mobile right away, whether it's via the mobile Web, an app, SMS or coupons, they need to be in the mobile space somewhere.

"Make sure you have a destination point on the mobile Web and use SMS to create a transaction through coupons," she said. "Take consumers via a link to make that transaction happen on a mobile Web site, either via WAP, an iPhone app. or via Siteminis software which is custom and works on the regular World Wide Web.

"The redirect piece is key, optimizing mobile sites for all phones -- the Internet is faster and cheaper in Asia and Europe, and we're trying to make that happen here in the States."

Marketers need to make sure their Web site redirects so that it fits consumers' browser window is optimized for their phone so they see the Web site the way it is meant to be seen.

"The first step is to determine what the brand's mobile strategy should be, who their customers are and what they want to do," Ms. Troutman said. "A good entry point is a gaming system, a coupon or a quick quiz that is going to engage their customers so they bookmark the site or add an icon on homepage of their phone, something that loads it automatically.

"It's important that it looks great across all the platforms, because who knows what type of phone a consumer carries around," she said. "You have to make sure the functionality works across all phones -- that's the most important piece."

The store locator is also an important feature for retailers, and it is made easy because integration with Google Maps takes care of it for marketers.

In addition to Siteminis, specialists in mobile commerce Web site creation include iLoop Mobile, Usablenet and Netbiscuits.

"Optimizing for different devices is important to reach the largest part of the market that you can," said Ran Farmer, managing director of North America for Netbiscuits. "There are software distinctions between the devices, and the different carriers create headaches, so one of the good reasons to work with a platform is that we've gone beyond that so those are now minor annoyances."

Netbiscuits clients include eBay, Yahoo and MTV, all of whom have invested in mobile early and often.

"We've added all the features marketers need, from billing and text campaigns to downloading scanning software, which are all built into the platform," Mr. Farmer said. "Brands can go to one place so they can focus on creative front end, what their goals are how they want to get there.

"We're the geeks in the back room that make sure the platform has all the tools marketers need," he said. "Get to the action steps that the user wants as fast as possible, preferably initiating a transaction on the first page of a mobile site.

"Discoverability is really important, so think through how to promote the site -- it ties back to the relationship between the fixed Internet and mobile space, so your tactics should be coordinated so they relate to one comprehensive strategy."