Keeping a watchful eye on your business rivals is not only a great strategy but a necessity, in terms of correctly positioning yourself on the market and offering your clients a real advantage in doing business with you.
It’s by no means a new concept but it has become quite twisted with the ever-increasing popularity of online tools, templates, tips and other resources that are widely accessible. If, in the past, competitor research was a process performed by a marketing specialist or a business manager, today, business owners have become increasingly involved in the process, to the point that they are now often the driving force behind it.

Unfortunately, having the tools and a vague idea of how to use them can give someone the false impression that one is able to effectively put them to good use. This is particularly true with eCommerce, where competitors are just a link away. This easy access has turned competitor research into down right stalking, with business owners checking competitors’ websites, offers and subscribing to their newsletters obsessively. It’s understandable that you want to contribute to the growth of your business but how far should you take it?

Do know what you’re looking for

Unlike your garden-variety stalker who is peeping towards a goal, competitor-stalkers learn their rivals’ websites by heart to no particular end. Sure, improving ones business through keeping informed is essential, but being a data sponge will not only waste time but potentially ruin your business. Without knowing what to look for, you’ll only try to absorb everything and make changes to your own business model that reflect what you’ve seen on your competitor’s online shops. This, unfortunately, quickly leads to feature-mongering.
As a business owner, your goals should be staying up-to-date with competitive pricing, sales offers that are more attractive than yours and additional services that increase the shopping experience of your customers in order to match or surpass them.

Don’t be a copycat

One of the most frequent consequence of having all that data available but lacking the experience or training to know how to use it is the “have features, will copy” phenomenon. In very simple terms, features are the functionalities that are not essential to a website but are there to add value to the browsing and/ or shopping experience.

Make no mistake, features are a drug and it only takes a few doses to develop a serious addiction. Once a new feature is identified, implementing it on their own website is only a matter of time and money, whether it’s useful or not. Unfortunately, this leads to online shops that are so bloated with features, the content itself becomes overshadowed by all the bells and whistles.

Features are meant to do either of two things: solve a problem or add value to the shopping experience.

Unlike a business manager or owner whose sole reason for opting for a feature is the fact that their rival uses it, the designer and/ or marketer will evaluate user behaviour to try and understand if it will indeed solve an existing issue or enhance the browsing experience.
Captain Obvious says that, as a business owner, your primary goal is to run your business and make it profitable, right? Then it’s probably best you do what you do best and, in turn, let designers, marketers and PR people do their respective jobs.

Do use logic and common-sense

While it may sometimes seem like effectively improving your web shop is nothing short of trying to find the Higgs boson with a magnifying glass, it’s really not that complicated.  Anyone can come up with ideas and you don’t have to have professional experience in a particular industry for them to be good ones. However, you do need more than the “I really like it” argument.

So before you ask your designer, developer, marketer or PR specialist to implement something ask yourself these fundamental questions: “What problem am I trying to solve by doing this?” or “How will this improve my visitors’ browsing experience?”. 
If you can’t come up with a logical and viable answer to these common-sense questions, there’s no reason on insisting to implement said feature. Instead of demanding something be done because competitors use it, ask the professionals you work with if it’s useful and how it could be adapted for your own business.

Be different

One thing every business wants is to be different, to have that very special something that makes their customers think of them before anyone else. However, most take a completely counter-intuitive approach to achieving this goal. Instead of looking to innovate, business owners literally copy campaigns, features, banners and even content; the reasoning behind it being “The competition is doing it, so it must be useful”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Just because something is online, doesn’t mean its also useful. By using that reasoning any business owner has already admitted defeat, whether he realises it or not, in that he’s pretty much saying he simply cannot do any better than his competitors. If that’s the case, however harsh it may sound, you don’t deserve your clients’ business.

The Bottom Line

The one thing business managers and owners are great at is knowing their own business and what keeps customers coming back to the brand. Use your skills and expertise to find ways to offer new perks like free shipping, bundle discounts, loyalty rewards, etc. The biggest assets at our disposal are a manager’s business experience and designer or marketer’s industry expertise. With each seeing to their own segment and putting their respective skills to good use, we can really make magic happen.

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