How to Do a Competitive Analysis for Ecommerce:
Understanding what and how your competitors are doing business is an important step when entering any market. It answers the question “is there a hole in the market ready for tapping?” However, the question of how to do a competitive analysis is not quite so straightforward, but let’s start with the basics first.
Burger King & Mc Donalds.
Duracell & Energizer.
Master card & Visa.
Every brand has a rival, including yours.
Knowing what those competitors are doing is key to getting the upper hand and maintaining it. You’ve got to keep an eye on your biggest competitors.
The longer you do, the more accurately you’ll be able to predict their actions. Which, if done well, could see you stealing a huge portion of the market away from under them. This is the power of competitive analysis.
To know what your competitors are doing before they do, and steal their best customers away from them.
Table of Contents
Why is a eCommerce Competitive Analysis Important?As a younger man, I spent several years doing fighting competitions in Asia. What I learned was that self-education and training were the best ways to increase my fitness, but I quickly learned that watching more experienced fighters offered two significant benefits.
The first is improving your processes.I could stand for hours at a bag trying to generate more power. Alternatively, I could watch a more experienced fighter hitting the bag and mimic their form. In this case, competitive research is a shortcut. Preventing you from wasting hours discovering something others already know and are benefitting from.
The second benefit comes in the form of besting those competitors.For example, in watching a competitor, I might see he favors his right hand and has little power in the left. In this case, I can understand their weakness and devise a way to exploit it. Competitive analysis in business is no different. It helps you find the fastest path to success, while also highlighting the areas where you can outperform your competition. If you want to make the most of your competitor analysis, you have to keep two questions in mind when diving into your research.
How do our actions / results compare to [competitor] Are our successes good enough, or could they be better?Keep those two in mind, and they’ll help keep you on the straight and narrow. Through my work with Jumper.ai, I’ve seen a lot of brands, some with the right strategies, others with strategies that are lacking. I’ll make notes throughout on what you can change if you want to analyze another element of your competitors’ businesses.
Set GoalsYour goal is kind of like a bullseye. It’s the destination you want to end it. If you don’t have one, it’s too easy to get pulled off course and take actions that aren’t beneficial to your business. Generally speaking, your competitor analysis will have one of three general goals:
- Understanding your competitors and the actions they’re taking
- Highlighting comparative advantages
- Discovering the right approach that’ll help you stand out
- Do you look at their supply chain?
- Maybe their marketing?
- Which area of marketing – social media, branding, email marketing?
CompetitionAll right, so you now know what it is you’re trying to achieve. You’ve mapped out your goal and have a basic understanding of the process you’re going to implement. Next up is figuring out whom to research. Your competition is the core of the whole process. They’re whom you’re researching and whom you’re trying to beat. Often people will tell you this is the most natural step. Moreover, it can be. However, if you want to be thorough, don’t approach this step, thinking it’s easy. There are two steps you need to take when categorizing your audience. Step 1 is figuring out who’s a good target for more in-depth research.
Ranking the CompetitionYour job here is not to dive deep into every brand’s strategy. In an ideal world, you would because even the smallest players can offer some insight into your strategy. However, realistically, you’re only going to have time to focus on a handful of brands. Moreover, so ranking them by their fit will help you identify those who are the best fit. In the downloadable spreadsheet, tab 2 will list a number of actions to rank your competitors on. As I’m running through this from a social commerce perspective, I’ve chosen the below ranking criteria:
- Competitor type
- Primary – They operate in the same industry and with similar products
- Secondary – Same industry but different products or similar products in a different industry. Basically a medium overlap.
- Tertiary – A minor overlap, but worth noting for future reference in case you expand in a direction that increases that overlap
- Size / Revenue
- There’s little point in analyzing the actions of stores which make no sales.
- Market share/brand recognition
- You want to increase your store size, so look at the more prominent players out there.
- Audience overlaps
- Is there an overlap in your audience? The more significant the overlap, the more likely their best actions will translate directly to your processes
- Product overlap
- Similar to the above, you want to see how people are advertising products similar to yours
- There’s little point in modeling your new actions on someone who’s after a completely different audience. If your product is 10,000, then the strategy for a $5 product won’t translate well.
Pick the WinnersAfter you’ve ranked everything, the autosum should give you a total score. Sort by highest, and you’ll have a descending list of the best brands to analyze. Pick the top 5 (or however many you’re comfortable analyzing), and add their names to the next tab. In the left-hand column, you’ll see the more specific elements to analyze, along the top, you’ll find the competitors names. You’ll also notice you’ll see a space to put your name up there, because yes, we are also analyzing your store.
NOTE – this is another of those sections where the left-hand items to analyze can change depending on what you’re looking to compete on.Here’s a quick breakdown of key metrics you want to analyze broken down by overall business operation. We’ve also added in a couple of tools that could help you understand how the competition is doing.
SEOGood rankings are what you should be aiming to improve. If you can rank better, you’ll see constant traffic with little ongoing effort and investment. Below are some ways to see what your competitors are doing to drive traffic.
- Traffic and visibility
- SEMrush – one of the best tools out there for technical SEO audits, tracking positions, and getting a good idea of what your competitors are ranking for.
- Ahrefs – The gold standard of backlink checking tools. There’s much overlap with SEMrush, but in the author’s opinion, Ahrefs is a better all-around tool for organic search.
- SEMrush and Ahrefs for the reasons listed above
- Moz – Another great tool that will give you an insight into the kind of content and keywords your competitors are targeting.
- Content length / formatting
- Heuristic analysis – Basically, go and check out their best content yourself. You can use something like BuzzSumo to find their top performing content.
- Content type (video, text, images, etc.)
- BuzzSumo – Use BuzzSumo to find the top performing content of a site and see what format it falls under.
Social Media MarketingSocial media is huge. It’s one of the best ways for you to reach a massive audience with little effort. However, only if you know what’s working. The below will help you analyze what your competitors are doing to make an impact on social.
- Social channels active on
- Often you can go to their site, scroll down to the bottom, and look for relevant icons/links.
- BuzzSumo also offers the right solution for this.
- Activity (posting schedule, response time, etc.)
- Again, the heuristic analysis will help you here. Head to the networks they’re active on, follow them and see how they interact with users. Go back through their post history and compare the data.
- Post format
- Heuristic analysis.
- Hootsuite – You could also something like Hootsuite to create a column of only that competitor to give a quicker overview of the content they favor and how others are mentioning them.
- Heuristic analysis and tools like Hootsuite will help get a quicker overview of this
- Sociograph – To get a better understanding of how people are engaging with content.
- Checking current Facebook ads:
- Head to their main Facebook page and click on the Info and Ads menu item at the bottom to see their currently running ads.
Product PhotographyThe way you display your images is fundamental. Online shopping lacks the tangible benefit of being able to hold and feel the product. The next best thing is to demonstrate the product in as high quality as possible. Below will help you analyze what’s working in your industry.
- Number of images
- Go to the competitor’s site and look through how many product images they use per product on average.
- Heuristic analysis – Most brands favor a plain white background for product images. However, check what those in your industry are using as this isn’t always the case.
- Usage and display
- Heuristic analysis – Do your competitors leave the product on a plain white background? Alternatively, do they do something similar to Ted Baker above and show the product in action?
Site Design / UXUser experience is super important nowadays. The easier it is for your user to find what they want and take the action you want them to, the more money you’ll make. Thankfully there are some excellent tools out there that will help you analyze what it is users are doing or struggling with.
- Value proposition
- Heuristic analysis – Does your value proposition quickly demonstrate the value you offer to your customer at a glance?
- Peer review – Ask a couple of friends, and if what you offer is clear from your USP.
- 5-second test
- Heuristic, peer, and user review – Take 5 seconds yourself or give 5 seconds to your friends/users and ask them to complete a simple task like” navigate to the X page.” Can they find the right step in 5 seconds?
- UsabilityHub – If you want more comprehensive data, then use Usabilityhub to gather a greater reach and depth of information to inform your research better.
- Site flow/design
- CrazyEgg – Great for analyzing the interaction and engagement with individual pages thanks to their scroll and heat maps.
- Again, use something like UsabilityHub to get more people onto your site. Give them a specific goal and go back through your analytics to see where the drop-offs are.
- User opinion
- Qualaroo – Sometimes, the best insights come from just asking your users how to improve. Use something like Qualaroo to get ideas directly from your user’s mouth.
CopyThe copy is a little more complicated as there aren’t many tools that can quickly and accurately analyze the copy you or your competitors are running. The best solution would be to hire a copywriting expert who has a strong focus on research before running their copy through multiple user tests like A/B tests and user feedback forms. However, for a more general view of what can be improved, try the below.
- Headlines (length, impact, format, formula)
- 5-second test – Is the headline unique, useful, ultra-specific, and urgent? Moreover, does it convey the main benefit within 5 seconds?
- A/B testing – Run two different headlines and see which one gets the best CTR.
- Tone of voice
- BuzzSumo, Ahrefs, SEMrush – Look into the top performing content and pages and analyze the tone. Is there’s a specific tone or trend among these top performers that offer insights into how your audience wants to be spoken to?
- Flow / structure
- BuzzSumo, Ahrefs, SEMrush – Again, look for the top content and then analyze it. Look to see what length generates the most links, shares, and? (if the data is available) Clicks. Look at the flow and structure and whether there are any trends there.
- A/B testing – Run tests on different CTAs to see what gets the best results.
- Swipe files with notes – Keep a swipe file of any competitor ads you see. Note the CTA and track how long they use it. If it’s always in use, ignore it. The competitor isn’t testing so isn’t improving. If it changes every so often keep an eye on those that are used for more extended periods. Alternatively, if the competitor rolls out one CTA to multiple campaigns, it’s a sign, it’s a good one to mimic.
- Sales pages
- Heuristic analysis – How long are the sales and landing pages your competitors are running? Are they testing things (if so, take screenshots of each change and track the length of time they’re active), note the tone, the stage of awareness they’re targeting.
- Heuristic analysis – Again, look at everything the competition is doing to format their bullets. Of particular note should be where in the pages they’re using them, how they format them, how they lead in and out of them, and their tone.
Customer ServiceWith the growth of social media customer service has never been more critical. Not only has social rained people to want immediate resolutions, but it’s given unhappy customers a highly visual public platform to badmouth your brand. Below are a few key considerations and actions to ensure your service is as excellent as can be.
- Customer service channels (phone, live chat, email)
- Personal research – Head to your competitor sites and see what customer service channels they offer. Do they have a live chat widget? Are they handling issues via social? Is there a phone number to call?
- Check their social media – Unhappy customers are the most vocal. Head to the brand’s social media, and it won’t be long before you see clues to their preferred channels. Below is a tweet that talks about their phone service.
- Time of response
- Personal research – Ask a question both pre and post buying something and track how long it takes them to respond.
- Hootsuite – Set up another column on Hootsuite for the brand’s customer service account and go through to see what their average response time is.
- General customer satisfaction
- Google Business, Yelp, TrustPilot – Head to review sites to get a feel of the overall opinion of the brand. Sift through and see how many are related to their customer services.
- Time to resolution
- Personal research – There’ll be no public information on this for competitors, so you’re going to have to lodge multiple complaints/requests yourself or through friends and track how long it takes for them to solve the issue.
- Customer interviews
- Any phone service – Find customers who have voiced both unhappy and delighted reviews of customers and ask if you can jump on a quick phone call to understand why they left that review.
Asking Other People for their Heuristic AnalysisWe’ll start with the most simple. You’ve already been through the site. So you’ve got a good idea on how you view the issues and how this brand is approaching the area your analyzing. However, what you should also do is get other people knowledgeable in the industry to offer their thoughts. Turn the areas you’d like to analyze into short Qs (either digital or written) and get colleagues and friend in the industry to offer their take. Then, go through what they’ve said and reduced it down to the first messages before adding them to your master sheet.
Review MiningYou can’t get a good overview of how a brand is perceived by locking yourself in a room and personally analyzing their actions. You need to get out there and see what their customers and target audience are saying. This is the best way to find out where they’re falling short. I’ve written a great guide on this for copywriting purposes, but here I’ll offer the short version. You want to head to review sites and see what the customers are saying about the brand. This is especially important when you’re looking at analyzing any customer-facing areas of the brand (copywriting, customer service, UX, social media, etc.). Here are a few sites you can head to to get new insights: – G2Crowd for SaaS brands – The brands Facebook page – Google my Business – Trust Radius – The company’s Twitter account It shouldn’t take you long to be able to see what real, paying customers to find valuable about the brand. It also won’t take long to find things customers aren’t happy with. Using this, you can build out a better idea of where your competitors are excelling and struggling.
Talk to their CustomersFor a more candid and in-depth analysis of the competitor’s approach, try to get their competitors on the phone for a discussion. The easiest way to kick this off is to find the people who are most vocal on social. These folk are either super happy or pretty pissed and often want to be heard. Offer them a little something to jump on there phone and talk you through what they think about the brand. Then when you’re done, see if they can refer you to anyone else who uses your competitor to get their opinion too.
Give it Some TimeIn theory, you could do all of this within a week. However, all that does is offer you a close look at the brand as all actions are almost frozen in time. Instead, take a couple of weeks or a month or two to revisit these action. You don’t just want complete information; you want to make sure that actions, issues, and successes aren’t a one-off. If you model a new action based on something that was a one-off for the brand, you’re going to struggle to recreate their success. While you’re waiting to collect more data, make sure you’re doing the below to help you understand more about the brand and make it easier to collect that information.
- Sign up for their mailings
- So you know a little more about how they’re running things and their communication processes.
- Buy something from them
- Moreover, get a first-hand experience with them as a customer
- Follow their social channels
- Reach out to their customer service
- Spend time once a week to go through each of their websites
- Listen to anyone from their business on podcasts or watch videos with them.
ReviewSo here’s where I’m slightly different to a lot of the people offering advice on this out there. The majority of the advice focuses on finding these insights and acting on them immediately. However, I believe the best ideas come from your subconscious. You can’t force the idea of a brand new differentiator by sitting and looking at the data. So I’m going to let you in on the process I’ve used to help devise more creative copy ideas that have made for breakthrough promotions. In short, sit on it. Not literally. However, go through the data when it’s all been collected. Go through it in detail. Read it out loud. Sit and think on each point. Make handwritten notes. Then, leave it alone. Do something else for at least 24 hours. Turn your brain to something mundane and boring. Something that stops you from analyzing (and over-analyzing) your competitive differences. When you stop focusing on the issues, you’ll make connections you didn’t know there and, when it comes time to put something into practice, you’ll have better ideas. Speaking of, when you’ve let the information settle for a few days, here’s what you should be doing.
The Same, Only DifferentIt’s easy to look at what MegaCorp is doing and want to model all of your processes after them. But, this isn’t going to work. It works for that brand, and it won’t work for you. Not as well at least. There’s actually an excellent line t tread. You have to look at what’s making customers and consumers happy and engage and think about how you can improve on it. For example, let’s say you’re looking at social media marketing. You might see that brands who respond within X minutes and with conversational, fun responses get the best engagement. Just modeling yourself after that isn’t going to bring you the same results. You need a differentiator. You need to understand what it is customers like (the speed of response) and see how you can improve on it with something unique to your brand. Remember, the same is lame. You’re not going to get the competitive edge only by copying. You’ve got to find the gap your brand can fill.
Implement, Track, and ImproveThis is not a one and done process. It’ll give you an idea of where you need to start, but it’s something you need to keep an eye on. You should monitor the overall results and see how you can improve them every week and month. Tools like Conversific help you exactly with this. Then, maybe once a quarter or once every six months, repeat the process to see how you now stack up against the competition and to see how they’re developing. On subsequent run-throughs, this won’t be as time-consuming as you’re already signed up to hear from them and you’ve got the reporting framework in place. Once you see results, you can move on to the final stage. If you are interested in learning more about competitor research in all its forms checkout this first video in a great video series by Exposure Ninja.
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Roll Out for Different Areas of Your Business
Now it’s a case of rinse and repeat for different areas of your business.
If you started with social media marketing as we did above, then move on to SEO, email marketing, or whatever area is most important to your business.
The same process applies; it’s just a case of flipping the areas you’re analyzing.
I’ve offered some ideas for what to analyze for different areas above, but you should really take a good long think about what’s most important for your business.