The burgeoning mobile commerce channel represents both a tremendous opportunity for retailers to reach consumers and a challenge to deliver the type of online shopping experience consumers have come to expect from e-commerce sites.

The opportunity in m-commerce for retailers is that they can connect with consumers anytime, anywhere. Consumers not only want to use their smart phones to shop and research products online, they want to make price comparisons in-store or while they are out window shopping.

The explosion in smart phone sales is prompting retailers of all sizes to find ways to invest in m-commerce technology because their business can benefit significantly by having a mobile presence. Mobile technology is a great way for retailers to target consumers and draw them to their online store or into the store.

The challenge facing retailers in the mobile channel is twofold. For starters, retailers are constrained by the smaller screen on smart phones, which limits the amount of information they can present on a page. Second, the bandwidth for cellular networks is less than that of landline Internet connections, which means slower page downloads.

A lot of aspirations in the mobile channel can’t be supported by the speed of the mobile network or the limited screen real estate on the device. Mobile technology is catching up to the aspirations of retailers, but in the meantime retailers must build mobile sites to support the variety of smart phone browsers in the market.

Retailers also need to create sleeker m-commerce sites that deliver less content per page than their e-commerce site. The content that is delivered, however, must be consistent with the quality of information on their e-commerce site so that the user experience is consistent.

With m-commerce technology in different stages of development, it is important that retailers create an m-commerce user experience that is as consistent as possible with their e-commerce site, but at the same time meets the needs of m-commerce shoppers.

To take advantage of opportunities in social media and the overall growth in Internet commerce, many retailers say they are planning upgrades to their web sites. But they don’t all have large technology budgets. Retailers looking to stretch their technology dollars must consider making use of existing tech tools, such as analytics.

Translating web analytics into useful insights remains a significant challenge for most retailers. One question retailers should ask themselves as part of any planned technology upgrade is: are they getting the most out of their analytics packages? Many retailers don’t always understand what metrics they ought to be looking at or collecting.

Retailers should step back and break down conversions on a micro level, such as by section, product category and even time of day, as opposed to the overall number of visitors who convert.

Once retailers identify areas within the site and times of day that deliver better conversion rates, they can look at the factors behind why conversion rates are so good for those segments and apply what works there to other areas of the web site. Retailers on a budget should also be re-examining which keywords generate the best conversion rates.

In addition to site design, Ai helps retailers create social networking strategies, provides rich media such as streaming video, and develops mobile commerce applications.

In addition to the many site technologies retailers can choose from, they also face decisions about whether it makes more sense to license the application and operate it in-house or turn to a software-as-service (SaaS) vendor. While each option has advantages, retailers must ask how their businesses can benefit from each.

SaaS makes sense for retailers when they don’t want to build an IT staff from scratch or have their existing IT staff support specialized applications, such as site search or customer reviews. Two big benefits of SaaS applications are that retailers can be up and running on them in a few weeks and vendors provide regular upgrades.

By identifying what influences consumer behavior, retailers can make better purchasing decisions for new technology, even if they are on a tight budget.

Retailers can make inexpensive investments in new technology that yield substantial benefits, provided they take the time to understand where the most beneficial changes can be made and to find the right technology partner.

Alex Schmelkin is president and co-founder of Alexander Interactive (Ai).

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