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When adding shopping carts and other e-commerce services to your mobile site, you can choose from many options. Many familiar brands, such as PayPal and Google, have made major efforts to migrate their online commerce technology to the mobile platform.

And a crop of new companies is emerging, with dedicated mobile services that include everything from m-commerce to Short Message Service (SMS, or text messaging), mobile coupons, and other mobile features.

With mobile commerce, you have a wide range of options. The following helps you appreciate the four main ways you can add m-commerce to your site, each with its own pros and cons:

  • A Buy button or simple shopping cart: Google and PayPal offer one-click Buy buttons that make it easy to sell one product, service, or digital good, such as a subscription or e-book, via your website.

    • Pros: You can complete this task in a few minutes without any upfront costs. Plus, everything you need is in one package, so you don’t have to worry about setting up credit card processing or other transaction services.

    • Cons: You can sell only one item at a time, there are no shopping cart features, and you have few options about the way this button looks on your site.

  • A wide range of shopping carts combining mobile features with a payment service: At the low end, Google and Paypal offer simple shopping carts in an all-in-one package. At the high end, the sophisticated shopping cart Magento has rolled out a custom mobile shopping cart with robust features.

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    • Pros: You can better control how your merchandise is displayed, manage more products more easily, and even integrate online and offline inventory management. Some shopping cart services offer added features to help manage customers, product discounts, coupons, and so on.

    • Cons: Using a shopping cart service requires considerable work to set up the software on your server and integrate it with your website. These services are also more expensive and generally worth the added cost and effort only if you sell at least a dozen products.

  • Dedicated mobile shopping carts: More and more shopping carts and m-commerce services are designed specifically to work on the mobile web. Some of the newest m-commerce companies are set up to do all the work for you; others offer shopping carts you can design or customize and build into your site yourself.

    • Pros: Designed from the start for the mobile platform, you can expect companies such as asknet or 2ergo to provide solid support for mobile devices and understand the unique challenges of the mobile web.

    • Cons: This is an exciting area of the mobile web, but like any new technology, you won’t find much history behind some of these companies, so it can be harder to compare customer reviews or find third-party help or tech support.

  • A completely custom-built cart with your own back end: If you want complete control over the look and functionality of your m-commerce site, as well as control over how the checkout and money-transfer process is handled, you can build your own integrated solution from the ground up. Most likely, you would need a team of experts to handle all the complex issues involved in such an undertaking.

    • *Pros: You have total control over the look and feel of the shopping cart. If something goes wrong, you can take matters into your own hands to fix it, rather than relying on someone else’s customer service to pick up the phone or respond to e-mails. All the data about your customers and what they buy is under your control.

    • *Cons: You have to take care of every little nitpicky detail. If you miss something, only you can fix it. And if you’re away and the site goes down while you’re on vacation, you're out of business (at least until you can access your site again). You will need to have your own mechanism for transferring the funds, and maintain your own secure database for your customer’s financial data.

No matter what route you choose, m-commerce sites have some basic elements in common, and the key points in this chapter about how mobile commerce works, and what it takes to add e-commerce functionality to your website, applies to both the high end and low end of web services.

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