Track and field coaches usually advise runners to look straight ahead and run their own races. While this is great advice in athletic competition, it can be the kiss of death in business. There is much to learn from your eCommerce competition. You’ll do well to take a look at them before you start your business. You just might discover an even better way of operating.
Who Are They?
Before you can study your adversaries, you have to find them. Some will be obvious because they’ll be the biggest names in your arena, others might require a bit more digging to turn up. Alexa and ReferenceUSA are good sources of intel in this regard. Follow all leads and try to assemble a comprehensive list so you can get a strong sampling for your analyses.
What’s Their Marketing Strategy?
One of the first things to observe is their marketing strategy. How do they engage their customers? How have they positioned themselves in the marketplace? Study their advertisements, social media pages, blogs and of course their websites to get a feel for how they go about distinguishing themselves and what they’re doing to attract consumers. Are they selling based on the strength of the product, the price, or the experience they provide?
How Does Their Site Work?
What’s the overall tone of the site? This will give you a clue as to how they perceive their customer base. How do they treat photography, product descriptions, and calls to action? Do they permit comments and reviews? Are they blogging? How does their site look on mobile devices? Ask a question; see how long it takes to get a response. What kinds of promotions are they running?
Buy a product from them to see how their shopping cart and payment gateway works. Do they offer free shipping? If so, what are the caveats? See how long it takes the item to arrive and what it looks like when it gets there. Place an item in their shopping cart, but don’t buy it. Do they send you a message? If so, what is its tone? How many times do they remind you it’s there? Are they running proprietary software, or did they use one of the eCommerce store builder?
How Are They Pricing Items?
If you’re going to be competitive, you have to know what others in your space are charging for the products you’ll carry. Can you beat them and still be profitable? Everything else aside, most internet shoppers are looking for price first, though perks like fast shipping and readily accepting returns can sometimes offset a slightly higher price. Pricing can vary across different platforms, so check eBay, Amazon, and Google as well as the competitor’s home site. Whatever you do, avoid eradicating your profit margin just to compete. What’s the point of being the number one seller on the web if you’re going broke?
How Are They Dealing with Shipping?
What vendors are they using? Get in touch with their shipping partners and see what you can negotiate in terms of pricing to help you be competitive. If a rival is winning big in that area and you can’t match what they’re doing, maybe you can offer your customers something that can make a difference. Try gift cards, frequent shopper discounts, and anything else that makes sense and would be attractive to the average shopper.
How Are They Perceived?
Look for their reviews on Yelp and social review channels specifically dedicated to your area. Read the comments section on their website to see what customers are trying to tell them. Follow them on social media and search their hashtags to see what people are saying in areas over which they have little or no control.
How Are They Doing?
One of the best ways to see if your competitors are doing well is to check the “Careers” section of their site. Are there postings for fulfillment personnel, shipping specialists and customer service reps? That’s a sign they’re growing. Search the trades for articles about them. How are they perceived in the industry? Are they looking for additional funding? What’s going on behind the scenes?
Reviewing these areas will give you an idea of what you’re up against. When you learn from your eCommerce competition you’ll see what they do well, what they could be doing better and where you might find an opening to compete.