Gathering competitive intelligence is an often overlooked strategy for ecommerce merchants.
Sometimes the best way to take your ecommerce store to the next level is by gaining a deep understanding of how your competitors operate. If you don't know what your competitors are doing, it's difficult to make intelligent decisions that will keep your current customers, and entice new ones. This guide will show you how to identify your top 5 competitors and show you 8 tools that will help you gather in-depth information on your competitors strengths and weaknesses.
Identify Your Top 5 Competitors
You’ll want to see which competitors rank the highest in Google for keywords specific to your industry. Make a list of the top keywords that bring you traffic, and enter them into Google. If you don't have an ecommerce store yet and are doing pre-launch research, simply search for relevant keywords. Make sure you're browsing incognito and you're in the appropriate regional zone (if you want US search results and you're outside the US add &gl=us to the end of the search URL). Make note of who is ranking on the first page. You should also type "related:www.yourURL.com" in the Google search field to get a list of companies that are similar to yours.
List the Good, Bad, & UglyNow that you know who you're up against, start browsing through your competitor’s online stores. Get a good feel for their site, and make a list of all the things you like, and all the things you don’t like. Ask yourself these questions:
- How do they emphasis their value proposition?
- What are their prices like compared to yours?
- What is their product photography like, and how are their product descriptions?
- What are their shipping options and prices like?
- Where are their call to actions, and how obvious are they?
- Are they trying to build an email list?
- Is their site optimized for mobile?
- What is their social media presence like; which platforms do they use; how often do they interact with customers, and how do they speak with their customers?
Now that you have a list of your top 5 competitors, and you have done basic research on how they operate, it's time to dig deeper. Use some of the tools below (some paid, most free) to gather in-depth information on what they're doing.
Gather Competitive Intelligence Using These Research Tools
Google Traffic Estimator to find out the number of ad clicks and current bid prices for various keywords.
Wayback Machine you can see what a website looked like throughout the years. By looking at the history of your competitors websites you can plot trends in design and pricing changes. Do they dress their homepage up for Christmas every year? How has their positioning changed - could they be moving to address your market? Sometimes you can learn a lot from the subtle changes your competitors make on their site. Since 2006, Internet Archive has taken over 600 screen captures of Shopify's homepage. As an example, below you'll see what our homepage looked like on November 2, 2009.
Whois and you'll receive a comprehensive record of that domain, including: date registered, contact info, server stats, links in/out, and other domains the registrant owns.
The AftermathNow that you have assessed your competitor’s sites, you’ll want to start analyzing your own ecommerce store. Try and objectively look at your online store and see how it can be improved. Use all the tactics you used on your competition and be as critical as possible. It's also important to bring an unbiased set of eyes in to give their opinion.
So now that you have all this information, what should you do? Use your learnings to optimize your ecommerce store. Try and take advantage of your competitors weaknesses. If they're clearly beating you in some areas, pull up your socks and become more competitive. Remember, to remain competitive it's important to operate with flexibility and be able to pivot your direction. But that's not to say you should simply try and please everybody. You don't want to bite off more than you can chew, and you certainly don't want to lose whatever it is that makes you unique.