Wouldn’t it be great if you could launch a business knowing, without a doubt, that you’ll succeed? While literally seeing into the future isn’t plausible, savvy ecommerce entrepreneurs know there are a few steps you can take to validate your business ideas and make sure there’s a customer base ready to spend their money on your offer. One of those business planning steps is conducting a market analysis.
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What is market analysis?
Market analysis in business is an assessment of a specific industry, niche, or vertical market. Market analysis is a subset of market research that helps you understand your target market and the competitive landscape, as well as where your brand and product fit in.
Starting a business with a market analysis ensures you have an easier path to success because it validates your idea and that there's demand in the market and people willing to pay for what you have to offer.
Your market analysis also helps you better understand how to promote your products most effectively because it gives you a comprehensive understanding of your audience. If you need to secure funding from external investors or lenders, it shows that you’ve done your research and can demonstrate the viability of your business idea and their investment. Your market analysis is primarily focused on external factors rather than internal analyses. It essentially serves as a gut check for whether or not your business idea can make it.
At minimum, your market analysis should identify the following:
- Who your target customer is
- Where, why, and how they shop
- The size of your target market
- The price people are willing to pay for what you sell
- Your competitors and their strengths and weaknesses
Keep in mind that the market changes, so conducting a market analysis isn’t just for new businesses—established businesses can also use market analysis to validate new product ideas or address challenges.
Here’s a quick market analysis example to demonstrate exactly that: iHeartRaves analyzed the market when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit. The clothing brand sells apparel people wear at music festivals and gatherings—events that slowed down or even halted with the start of the pandemic. As such, the brand needed to pivot. So, it changed promotional tactics and added face masks to its product lineup after conducting a quick analysis to see what opportunities it could pursue.
How to do a market analysis
There are three main steps to completing a market analysis for your ecommerce business:
- Research the industry
- Understand your audience
- Know how you stack up against competitors
Research the industry
Now it’s time to understand the industry as a whole. Researching your chosen industry helps you get a bird’s-eye view of the market landscape.
When researching your particular industry for your market analysis, consider the following:
- Market size. Estimate how many businesses and customers are in your potential industry. A big market could be saturated and require you niche down more specifically, whereas a smaller market could mean there’s lots of opportunity for new businesses.
- Market value. Get insight into how much money the industry generates each year. Lots of consumer spending means there’s plenty of opportunity for you to claim your slice of the pie.
- Market demand. As many as 42% of new business startups fail because of insufficient demand, so it’s essential to validate that people want what you offer before you pursue your idea.
- Market need. Identify gaps in the market and how the existing landscape falls short in those areas.
Here are some reputable places to check for this data:
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics
- North American Industry Classification System
- USAGov data and statistics about the US
- US Census Bureau Census Business Builder
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index
- US Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis
- US Federal Reserve daily interest rates
- Federal Reserve financial data
- Bureau of Economic Analysis gross domestic product
- US Census Bureau Statistics of US Businesses
Understand your audience
Now it’s time to drill deeper into your research and understand your target market—the people behind the demand in your industry. This step involves customer research and segmenting your audience based on shared characteristics.
When researching your potential audience, you want to know the following:
- How old they are
- Where they live
- Where they work, what they do, and how much they make
- Where and how they shop
- What they buy, and how much money they spend
- What technology they use
- How they interact with brands
- Their current market perceptions
- Their pain points and challenges
Audience research involves both internal and external sources. If you have an existing audience, you can tap them for valuable insights. Run surveys and questionnaires to get their thoughts, and pursue more thorough and in-depth interviews with individuals who exemplify your target customer. If you don’t already have an audience you can leverage, you might invest in focus groups for your own research purposes.
External data is equally valuable. You’ll want to understand things like where your audience lives, works, and hangs out, as well as how much they make and spend. You’ll also want to gain an understanding of their current perceptions about your industry or product(s). Here are some places to get external data about your customer:
- Bureau of Economic Analysis consumer spending
- US Federal Reserve consumer credit data
- US Consumer Product Safety Commission research and reports
- US Census Bureau
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics demographic data
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics employment (and unemployment) data
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics earnings data
- US Bureau of Labour Statistics employment data
You can also do social listening to see what people are saying online, conduct SEO research to see what people are searching for, and check customer reviews to find out how people like or don’t like products that are already in the market.
Know how you stack up against competitors
Much like you want to know about your audience when you’re conducting a market analysis, you also want to understand the competitive landscape. Knowing who your competitors are helps you pin how your brand is different and how you can differentiate yourself from other players in the market.
It’s important to differentiate yourself from competitors because this will increase perceived value and push customers to purchase your options instead of the same or similar options from other brands or businesses. Albert Matheny launched his natural protein brand Promix in 2011 and has relied on market research and analyses to remain competitive as the market evolves. “Identify some unique propositions that you have for customers or unique values that your brand has and then make those really, really clear and simple. Don’t try to highlight too many different things,” he said in an episode of Shopify Masters. “Constantly evolve and say, ‘How can I make this product better?’”
The first part of understanding how to differentiate involves understanding your brand and your business and what you bring to the table. You can conduct a SWOT analysis—which identifies your unique strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—to understand your position in the market.
Here’s a hypothetical SWOT analysis for an online t-shirt business:
You’ll also want to go ahead and conduct a competitive analysis. Generally speaking, you want to pick seven to 10 competitors to include in your competitive analysis. Include a variety of competitors, such as those who sell a similar product to the same customer as you, as well as those who sell a slightly different product to a slightly different customer in the same industry. This means going for a variety of direct, indirect, and tertiary competitors.
When analyzing your competitors you want to understand what they offer, how they position themselves, and how people perceive them. To help with your competitive analysis, we’ve created a free template you can use. It has rows for each competitor’s pricing, offering, marketing, shipping, and more, so you can cover all the bases.
How to write a market analysis for a business plan
While you might have a comprehensive market analysis documented for internal purposes—this is especially helpful for marketing and business development teams—you may create a shortened version for your business plan.
Your business plan is another comprehensive document that outlines all areas of your business, including your market analysis and other elements such as business structure, operations and logistics, and financials. So when you prepare the market analysis section for your business plan, you’ll want to summarize the findings from your full in-depth analysis.
Narrow your analysis down to the most important information that most convincingly validates your idea and likelihood of success. Remember what type of business plan you’re writing and who you’re writing it for. Feel free to use bullet points, tables, and charts to make the information presentable.
If you’re drafting a business plan for your business, you can start with our free business plan template to guide you through each section.
Moving forward with your business plan
Though an important component, your market analysis is just one piece to your overarching business strategy and plan. Careful business planning across all areas of your entrepreneurial endeavor will set you up for success.