How to Research and Spy on Your Competitors

Have you ever wondered what your competitors are doing that you aren’t?

Are your customer acquisition efforts plateauing, and you’re not sure where to invest your time and resources next?

You are not alone! Whenever I’m stuck, I go and peek under my competitor’s hood for inspiration.

Identify Your Top 5 Competitors

You should already be aware of who your competitors are but in case you aren’t, here’s how to find out:

Perform a Google Search: Go to Google and use your main keywords to find other stores selling the same or similar products.

1For example, when you search for the word “lingerie,” you can find all the other websites optimizing for that keyword – Victoria’s Secret, Bare Necessities, Debenhams and others.

Use Google Shopping: An even smarter move is to use Google shopping – a search engine created specifically to find online stores selling certain types of products.

Just like in a normal search, you can use normal, generic keywords like “notebooks.”

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You can also search for specific products you’re already selling on your site.

For example, “Lenovo Y50,” a premium series of gaming machines.

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To find out who’s selling this product, you just need to click and open the product page. Scroll down below the fold, and you will see all vendors listed on the left side of the page with links to their websites.

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Google Shopping also allows you to see other important information like seller rating, details about shipping, product price, etc.

Check out Google News: Competitors often announce new arrivals and big promotions, which leads to publication by the media. They also get listed in Google News, a free news aggregator provided and operated by Google.

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It is especially valuable to find out which companies are announcing deals or discounts for the holiday shopping season. To do that simply make a search with “[product niche] deals” like the one above.

In the result we see articles talking about deals from Walmart, Best Buy, Target, etc.

Research social media & bookmarking communities: People talk about products and companies on the social media all the time. By knowing how to tap into that data, you can very easily identify who your competitors are and what people are thinking of buying or have already bought from them.

Important social media and bookmarking sites to monitor include:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit

Unfortunately, you typically can’t see a user’s posts on Facebook (unless you are friends with them). But you can find out what people are posting in groups.

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For example, in this Facebook group people are posting about amazing Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. By browsing through the posts, you can easily find if there are any offers for products in your industry.

When you do a search on Twitter using keywords like “bought notebook,” you’ll see a list of results with people bragging about their new possessions. Like this guy:

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On Reddit you can frequently see people asking for recommendations on where to buy certain products.

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To find out simply perform a search “where to buy [product category]” and you will find your answers. In the above example, we see several threads started on this topic.

When you dig deeper in the text posts and read the responses, you inevitably come across mentions of your competitors:

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Ask your customers: The other way to identify your competitors is to simply ask your customers. They have probably already done the research when they were considering from whom to buy. To get this feedback, simply ask them via survey or live interview.

To build surveys you can use either SurveyMonkey or Google Forms. Both allow you to host your questions on their site so you can easily share them with your audience and get your answers within minutes.

List and analyze all your competitors

Now that you know who you’re up against, start browsing through your competitors’ online stores. Get a good feel for their site, and make a list of all the things you like, along with all the things you don’t like. Ask yourself these questions:

How do they emphasize their value proposition? A company’s value proposition is the reason consumers buy products or services from them. It’s the most important message on any website. That’s why it’s extremely important to review how your competitors are doing this.

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For example, Zappos has a unique value proposition for each product on their homepage. In this case – waterproof shoes for the winter. Who really likes to get their feet wet in the snow?

Also, for all offers on their homepage they have 2-business day free shipping and 365 day free returns.

Where are their call to actions, and how obvious are they? After a visitor has read the value proposition, he must know what action he needs to take and why. Does he need to subscribe, pre-order, order or anything else.

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With the example of Walmart, we see the call-to-action button standing out in the bottom right with white letters and a red background. It’s short and clear. But what’s even better about it is that the company has also integrated the message of scarcity by adding “while supplies last.”

Are they trying to build an email list? Websites that do this generally perform better by being able to send personalized offers right into the inbox of their potential customers. This is exactly what Costco is doing.

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Just below the main banner, you see an opt-in form. Even if there is no specific offer, the box visually stands out and it’s hard to miss it.

What are their prices like compared to yours? If your competitors are able to sell for less, you’re in trouble. In order to convince customers to buy from your store, you will need to match the price or even offer them additional value.

This could be faster and free shipping, better customer support, return options, etc.

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Some companies like Best Buy are even offering price match – if people find a cheaper product on another online store, they’ll match it with no questions asked.

What are their shipping options and prices like? If you charge for shipping and your competitor is offering it for free, you will obviously lose some customers here. At the same time, your competitor might be the one who’s missing this opportunity so you need to check.

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Zappos is offering both FREE shipping within 2 business days and FREE returns. What’s even more competitive is that you have the option of returning your purchases for up to 365 days from the sale date.

What is their product photography like, and how are their product descriptions? The difference between good or bad photos can make or break the sale. Look at how many photos there are per product and what angles were shot.

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A great example is Amazon, where customers can find pictures available from all angles of the product. This is extremely important for products like laptops.

Is their site optimized for mobile? Mobile currently accounts for more than 50% of the eCommerce traffic. And people who visit your website from a smartphone or tablet demand a customized experience. Otherwise, turning them into a customer will be much harder.

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Walmart’s mobile site has very clear navigation with the search engine on the top, a big promotional banner, and options for filters such as departments, low prices, etc. There is also a clear call-to-action to download the mobile app which provides an even better experience.

Which social media channels do they use and how? Look out for your competitors activity on social media. Make a list of all the platforms they use, how often they interact with their audience, and what their core message is.

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On their Facebook page, Walmart gives you tips with a video on how to prepare your Turkey for Thanksgiving. This is a great way to encourage people to buy kitchen appliances from them – to prepare the holiday dinner.

Conclusion

When you are researching your competitors, make sure you take notes. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of the strategies I’d like to test for my site.

Once you compiled a list, make sure you adapt these strategies within the context of your brand.

To help you dig deeper on your competitors, you can also use these tools.

What are some strategies you learned or implemented from your competitors?