In almost every profitable eCommerce niche, a new store is unlikely to be the first. Competition is stiff, and if an eCommerce store owner doesn’t know what the competition are doing, it’s unlikely they will attract customers. Understanding, and outdoing, the competition is a key part of eCommerce marketing. Without that, there’s no hope a retailer will be able to successfully attract customers.
When should you start researching the competition? Before you sell anything. If you have even the faintest glimmering of an idea for a niche eCommerce business, the first thing you should do is look at who else is selling to that niche, how they are selling, and whether they are successful. Unless you have a clear idea about how you are going to be better than the incumbents, there’s no point entering the market at all.
Preliminary Information Gathering
The first step is a simple Google search for the products you sell (or intend to sell). Take note of which retailers dominate the first few pages of the search results. These are your competition.
Next, visit your competitors’ sites and examine them carefully with these questions in mind:
- What mix of products is the store selling?
- How do they brand the experience they offer?
- What is their pricing strategy?
- Do they publish content? If so, what is their content marketing strategy?
- How is their site designed? Who designed it? How could your store distinguish itself with design?
- Which eCommerce platform do they use?
Focus on the site’s navigation, search, presentation of products, promotions, conversion process, and any other factors you could do better.
The best way to get a clear idea of the experience offered by a retailer is to buy something. I encourage new entrants to a niche to follow their competitors’ sales funnel all the way to the end.
Tools And Techniques For Competitor Research
Once you have a clear idea of the core experience your competitors offer, it’s time to dig deeper and establish a system for ongoing monitoring. You’ll need to move beyond a simple Google Search and take advantage of the many tools designed for keeping an eye on the competition.
Google Alerts is an excellent way to track online mentions of the competition (and of your own store). Simply enter a number of queries related to brands and products, and Google will notify off any new content that matches those queries.
Twitter Lists are journalists’ favorite way of keeping up-to-date with what people and companies are sharing and publishing on the web. They are no-less powerful for eCommerce retailers. I prefer to create separate Twitter Lists for competitors, potential vendors, influencers, and prominent customers for each store I am researching.
SpyFu is a tool for tracking the keywords that your competitors rank for and pay for in advertising. It helps give store owners an insight into the keyword strategy of their competitors, which can reveal the most successful keywords in a niche, as well as opportunities the competition is missing.
One of the best ways to discover how your competitors’ customers view the experience they offer is to ask them. If you’ve been able to gather information about prominent customers or influencers within the niche’s wider community, emailing a survey can reveal a surprising amount about what customers want and where the current market is lacking.
The same can be done for the competitors directly, although often there’s a degree of deception involved here, so I don’t fully support it. I know of many researchers who will simply email companies selling into a niche and ask them questions about their business and the market while posing as a market researcher or other interested party.
Offline Information Gathering
The eCommerce world organizes no end of conferences and meet-ups ranging from huge international gatherings like IRCE to small meetings of local niche retailers. These can be an excellent opportunity to take the temperature of a niche market and become familiar with its major retailers.
If you plan to enter a niche eCommerce market, competitor research should be the first item on your action plan — otherwise, there’s every chance that your new store will fail to flourish.Posted in: eCommerce