Ecommerce Competitor Analysis: 10 Hacks for Keeping Tabs on What Your Fellow Online Retailers Are Up To

Posted by Hannah Stacey 28 May 14

Are you suffering from an acute case of FOMO when it comes to your online store?

Worried your competitors are doing cooler stuff than you with their website? Afraid their new product launches and announcements are falling under your radar? Want to keep an eye on your ecommerce peers’ social media and blogging efforts to see how yours compare?

Keeping track of what your competitors and contemporaries are up to online can seem like an altogether thankless task. Unfortunately, it’s a necessity if you want be ahead of the game and stay relevant to your customers (especially if you’re operating in a particularly crowded marketplace, such as fashion).

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While the Fortune 500s of this world devote entire departments to competitor analysis, the fact is that in ecommerce, dedicating the time and resource needed to meticulously track every last move your competition makes is difficult to justify. Add into the mix, say, non-rivals that target the same demographics as you, or particularly innovative brands whose footsteps you’d like to follow in, and you’re unlikely to have a spare minute of the day to devote to what really matters: making your online store brilliant.

Luckily, there are some tricks and tactics (all above board, of course) that you can use to make ecommerce competitor analysis a whole lot easier. We’ll introduce you to some of the best below.

Gaining actionable insight from competitor analysis

Before you launch into implementing any of the hacks below, it’s important to first develop a process for competitor anaysis that is both sustainable and actionable.

The first major piece of advice we can offer is not to try and track everybody. Ultimately, you should already have a good idea of who your major competitors are, and the innovators in your space that you really admire, as well as a good understanding of your own time and resource constraints. Unless you’re feeling super ambitious, a hit list of no more than 10-15 competitors and contemporaries should suffice (and less than this is perfectly acceptable), though for some of the hacks below (such as using Twitter lists) you may wish to expand a little.

It’s also important to make sure that all the information that you collect serves a purpose and doesn’t end up languishing, unused, in a spreadsheet or your inbox. For the hacks you choose to implement, ensure you establish a way of regularly reviewing the information that you collect so that you can put it into action. Otherwise you’re wasting your time. Now let’s get going!

1) Set up Google Alerts

Great for: alerting you to big news and major announcements from your competitors

Google Alerts are incredibly simple to set up, and are a good (free) way of tracking when and where your competitors are mentioned across the internet. If your competitors or contemporaries are doing something exciting like launching a new range of products, they’re likely to be making a noise about it; Google Alerts will help make sure you never miss a trick.

If you’ve got some cash to blow, try out mention, which is a more sophisticated paid version that covers social media too (you can track one account free of charge and after that prices start at around ten euros per month).

2) Get notified when they change their website

Great for: keeping up to date with changes to your competitors’ websites

If keeping up with the Joneses is your aim, being the first to know when your competitors and industry contemporaries launch a major update to their website is key. While it only checks text and not images (somewhat of a drawback because of the image-based nature of most online stores), ‘Watch That Page’ will send you email notifications when changes are made to any page that you specify. Likewise, visualping provides a similar alert service but this time with images.  

3) Subscribe to their blog

Great for: keeping an eye on content your competitors are creating, especially surrounding new products or collections

Many online retailers are getting increasingly savvy with content creation, especially when it comes to regularly blogging and releasing e-magazines and lookbooks. This content is often strongly tied to a new product launch or seasonal range, giving you the perfect opportunity for a closer look.

Use a content curation tool like Feedly to collect blog posts in one place so you can speed read them. Or, if you want to get super savvy, check out this ‘recipe’ from automation app If This Then That (IFTTT) which automatically saves competitor blog posts into a spreadsheet in Google Drive. Neat, huh?    

4) Sign up to their newsletter

Great for: keeping track of sales and discount offers

Wondering what email marketing tactics your fellow online retailers are using to get in front of customers? Need inspiration when it comes to effective subject lines and email layout? Perhaps you want to keep tabs on any sales and discounts your competitors are offering. Take a few minutes out of your day to sign up to a bunch of relevant newsletters - then sit back as they arrive in your inbox. Easy peasy.

5) Create private Twitter lists

Great for: stalking other companies' Twitter marketing efforts

Private Twitter lists are a fantastic way of covertly stalking the tweeting activities of your contemporaries. You don’t even have to be following them: simply create a list and make sure it’s set to ‘private’ (else they’ll get a notification you’ve added them to a list) and get adding.

Combine this with a tool like Tweetdeck and you’ll be able to keep a constant eye on what they’re tweeting about. This will not only give you important insight into their latest news and deals, but also how they’re making the best use of Twitter features (such as image cards).   

6) Set up Facebook ‘Pages to Watch’ (if you have it yet)

Great for: sussing out the competition on Facebook

This hasn’t yet been rolled out to everybody, but in its latest company pages update Facebook appears to have added a feature that lets page owners create a list of competitor pages so that you can compare your page’s performance against that of your competitors. This will be particularly handy for benchmarking, for example, your engagement rates around popular events and holidays compared to that of your contemporaries.  

7) Make a customer service enquiry

Great for: testing out your competitors’ customer service processes

Want to know who is super speedy at responding to customer service enquiries? Make a few yourself! Be sure to record the response time (and make sure yours is faster, of course).

Another good way of doing this is by monitoring your competitors’ Twitter feeds for responses to customer complaints and enquiries: how long are they taking to reply on average? What’s their strategy for public complaints? What kind of tone do they take? How do they deal with trolling?

8) Compare your vital website stats

Great for: seeing how your website stacks up against your competitors' for key performance metrics

Usability issues like slow loading times are a bit of a buzzkill for visitors to your online store. Luckily the guys over at Quick Sprout have creating this great website analyser tool that tracks this metric, along with several others such as onsite SEO, social shares and backlinks, and compares them with up to three other sites. And if it flags up a problem, better get fixing quick!

9) Find out about job openings

Great for: keeping tabs on how quickly your competitors are growing

Another classic from IFTTT, this ‘recipe’ tracks all of the companies you follow on LinkedIn and sends you a notification if they’re hiring. The job descriptions they’re posting can give important insight into the direction the business is going and will help you second guess their next moves.

10) And lastly… become one of their customers

Great for: everything

Want to find out how your competitors manage the customer journey from start to finish? Nothing will tell you more about an online store’s customer service than the process of becoming a customer yourself - buying something from them will reveal a great deal, whether it’s finding out how they manage the checkout process, what they do with their post-purchase transactional emails, whether they send out abandoned basket emails or how the returns process is handled - everything down to the type of packaging they use when they send out your items.

Admittedly, this isn’t a particularly scalable tactic, but worth doing with a handful of direct competitors if you’re eager to see how they go about things. You can always return what you buy, after all.

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