In fact, every industry now has to face the fact that you “are either Uber, or you’re being Ubered.”
So, while it is important to look at what your direct competitors are doing when evaluating the competitive landscape for your ecommerce business, it’s even more important to be aware of key trends that will shape where your market is headed.
To help you create a competitive business strategy that keeps your business agile and adaptable to continuously evolving market conditions and competitors, let’s take a look at what some business strategists and analysts are recommending to startups and entrepreneurs. After all, most businesses will need to adopt startup strategies in order to remain relevant 10 to 20 years from now.
Understanding Your Competitive Landscape
SlideShare via Startup Next - Market Sizing & Competitive Analysis from dwightgunning
To understand the big picture of how your business can thrive in the future, it helps to look at your competitive landscape from many different angles. The handy SlideShare presentation from Startup Next (see full presentation above) on market sizing and competitive analysis recommends to evaluate 3 competitive categories in your environment which include:
1. Direct competitors
- Big retailers in your industry (e.g. Amazon and Walmart)
- Other businesses that “solve your unique problem” (including smaller, niche mom and pop shops or even Etsy shops)
- Economic and political trends (e.g. customer privacy)
- Regulation, government legislation and trade agreements
- Cultural shifts (e.g. usage of mobile devices overtaking desktop computers)
- Tech innovations (e.g. wearables, 3D printing and virtual reality)
- Possible changes that your business partners or suppliers are planning
A Startup Approach For Evaluating Future Competitors And Market Opportunities
“We need a different way to represent the competitive landscape when you are creating a business that never existed or taking share away from incumbents by re-segmenting an existing market,” says Steve Blank, a serial entrepreneur, Stanford professor and author whose book The Four Steps to the Epiphany was influential in the launch of the Lean Startup movement.
So, if every business now needs to think like a startup in order to avoid “getting Ubered,” why not begin evaluating your market opportunities like a startup right now?
Image via SteveBlank.com
To do so, Blank recommends putting your business at the center of your competitive analysis diagram (versus plotting it out on an x, y axis – with your startup at the top right) and then branch out to key adjacent market segments that exist today. This will help to identify where you think your new customers might come from in the future.
He calls this a “Petal Diagram” and his argument for this approach is that he always thought of his startups as “the center of the universe.” The example diagram above is for a startup education software platform. But the same format could be applied to any retail or ecommerce business.
So, say your ecommerce business sells specialty sports equipment. You may want to add market segments that you don’t cater to right now but might in the future – thanks to new technologies. For example, advances in 3D printing technologies will allow you to sell to customers in countries to which you don’t currently ship your products. Or, you may be able to work with new distributors or manufacturers with whom you don’t currently have business relationships.
Blank says that there is no limit to the number of “petals” or adjacent markets that you can map out. And for better visualization, he recommends that the size of the petals can be scaled to the size of the market opportunity for each segment.
Image via SteveBlank.com
“The petal diagram is where you [startups an entrepreneurs] develop your first hypothesis about who your customers are,” says Blank.
While you probably already know who your existing customers are if you are running a thriving ecommerce business, it’s still important to consider that your future customers may look and behave a lot differently.
And although the purpose of the petal diagram is to show potential investors why they should put their money into a startup, the same diagram can help your leadership team decide where to place their biggest bets and/or to allocate budgets towards R&D for future business growth.
Tools For Evaluating Your Competition Online
Image via Pixabay
Whether you want to size-up your direct competitors, or research current and evolving industry trends, there’s an app or (sometimes free) online tool for that.
Below are a few suggestions for where you can gather useful competitive intelligence data.
1. Upstream Commerce
While you do have to pay for this service, Upstream Commerce offers “automated, real-time intelligence analytics” and insights to help you evaluate competitive pricing, merchandising, promotion and product intelligence – across a number of retail industry categories. The company boasts that its data is easily customizable to help you build detailed, filterable results.
2. Channel IQ
Similar to Upstream Commerce, Channel IQ offers competitive intelligence analytics for price monitoring, product intelligence and more. But what sets it apart is that it offers competitive brand intelligence and protection tools. This includes paid search brand protection – allowing you to monitor PPC & keyword “brand-jacking,” so that your competitors can’t “illegally divert your traffic using your registered trade name.”
3. The Google Keyword Planner tool (or other similar free tools) and Google Trends can help to evaluate consumer demand (via search queries) for your competitors’ products. These tools can also help you evaluate demand for specific products that you or your competitors carry.
In addition, by signing up to receive Google Alerts via email whenever your competitors are covered by media or bloggers online, you can stay up-to-date on when they launch new products or when the company is receiving positive or negative press.
4. Social media monitoring platforms
In addition to looking at online search behavior, it’s important to look at what people are actually saying about your brand – and whether the conversation is moving in a positive or negative direction.
There are a lot of social media monitoring platforms available for listening to what customers are saying on social networking sites. Some of the more popular ones include: HootSuite, TweetDeck and Sysomos. Here’s a helpful blog post from Ryan Holmes, the CEO of HootSuite on how to “listen” to the competition via social media.
While the research, insights and benchmark reports written by eMarketer analysts are crafted with a marketing slant, the company’s ecommerce and mobile commerce reports provide rich, aggregated data from some of the most important research companies that study digital trends today.
And even if you can’t afford to pay for their full reports, if you sign-up for their free newsletter and search through their public articles, you can access a lot of the most important highlights and charts for use in your own competitive intelligence analysis and strategy development.
6. Alexa.com and other web analytics tools
While the insights that you can glean from the free version of the Alexa tool are limited, you can still gain a high-level overview of:
- how your competitors’ websites rank online (both worldwide or in your own country),
- how their website performs overall (via graphs highlighting the bounce rate, pageviews per visitor and average visitor’s time spent on the website), and
- where they may be investing in online marketing efforts via the top “upstream websites” graph (i.e. the top websites that send traffic to your competitors’ websites).
The paid version of the tool is more robust – giving you further intel into sites linking in, keywords driving traffic to the site and overall website comparisons.
7. comScore and HitWise
These tools also do a lot of what the paid version Alexa tool does and are pretty popular for gathering online consumer behavioral data. And like Alexa, both products will enable you to look at traffic on your competitors’ sites – offering variations on how people get there, what popular search terms were used and who those people are. But the way the data is collected is different: comScore data is collected via a panel of users who opt-in to be tracked, and HitWise data is collected based on aggregated ISP user data.
If you have the budget, then I’d say pay for both of these tools. If not, the free Alexa tool is a great place to start.
8. Finally, although Mary Meeker is a person (and a very influential one at that) and obviously not an app, her annual Internet Trends Report has become an important destination for anyone who wants to know what’s happening online today – or prepare for will happen in the future. So, I suggest you add her slide deck to your “future threats” intelligence arsenal.
For a list of even more competitive intelligence tools, check out this post on the Shopify blog.
Getting Inside Your Customers’ Heads
April Dunford, a Canadian startup marketing consultant argues that “the only competitive analysis that makes sense [for startups] is the one that is happening inside the heads of your prospects.” On her blog, she recommends taking a more customer-centric approach to competitive analysis and strategy.
Image via Pixabay
So, if you want to understand where the market is headed, it helps to learn what your customers want in the future, and how they will behave online or via other digital touchpoints. This involves looking at what they’re doing today and monitoring changes in their behavior over time.
So, before you send out surveys, start a focus group, or monitor what is being said about your business in social media, it’s important to look at your own website analytics data to understand what your customers are doing right now versus what they say they want from your business.
Morris also recommends to identify key analytics metrics that will help you to convert more loyal, paying customers.
“Most important of all: know the metrics that matter to your company. ‘Engagement’ is a fuzzy term. As we found out, the engagement metrics we initially tracked — cities/user, time in app — weren’t driving the thing that we actually cared about,” she says.
For a detailed explanation on how to set-up Google Analytics for your website and how to get the most out of the rich data it provides, check out Google Analytics For Ecommerce: A Beginners Guide on the Shopify website.
Once you have a better understanding of your existing users, the tools and reports that I suggested earlier in this post can be layered on top of it and/or help to paint a bigger picture of the market opportunities that surround your customers.
But having access to all of data in the world isn’t going to help you win against your current and future competitors alone. It’s what you do with the data and how you discern what’s important that will set you apart.
Check out this very helpful blog post written by Avinash Kaushik, one of the leading minds in web analytics today, called “Crushing It With Competitive Intelligence Analysis.” This is a great guide on how best to “spy on your competitors” and to become what Kaushik describes as a “competitive intelligence ninja.”
If you have additional questions about tools or resources for gathering and analyzing competitive intelligence data, or have a really strong opinion that I missed an important tool or resource in my lists on this post, please share in the comments section below.
About The Author
Andrea Wahbe is a freelance B2B marketing strategist and corporate storyteller who writes about Canadian SMEs, marketing and digital media trends. Follow her on Twitter.