Keeping Up With The Joneses: Tips on Conducting Competitive Research

They’re at it again. Your competitor down the street just made another move that puts your business at a disadvantage. If only you had a way to monitor other companies’ actions, so you could respond quicker (or better yet, beat them to the punch). You can; it’s called competitive research. Here are some tips to conducting competitive research that won’t break your budget.

Competitive research involves the systematic gathering of information about your rivals. What do they do really well? What are you doing better than them?

It might include other small businesses in your industry, the big-box store on the highway or a website offering similar items online. Consider all the options your customers have to purchase similar products or services. It can even include complementary businesses. For example, the opening of sporting goods store might represent opportunity to an existing fitness facility.

Competitive research isn’t just about responding to individual events. It also helps you identify trends to incorporate into a broader, long-term business strategy. Say your research uncovers several businesses offering free delivery. You may want to respond by introducing other conveniences—like automatic reorder.

Here are some easy-to-implement ideas to start your competitive research:

List Your Top Competitors

Few small businesses have the resources to research every business, so list your top five. Doing so will help focus your efforts and create the biggest impact.

Not sure who your competitors are? Start with a Google search for businesses that offer similar products or services. But don’t stop there. Inc.com suggests websites like SpyFu or Google Trends to flag related businesses. Once you’ve identified them, set up a Google Alert to automatically alert you when a news item is posted about them.

Go Beyond The Website

A competitor’s website is a great place to start. Their “About” page gives you a history, their mission and details about the owner. You can also find out what they’re offering. But don’t stop there. 

An important source is their social media platforms. You’ll find links to them on their website. Pay attention to what they post, who is following it and what they say. 

For example, if people are responding to a new service they’re offering, read to learn what they like or dislike about it. That information can be helpful if you offer the same service or are thinking about doing something similar.

Secret Shopper

Remember those old movies where the spy sneaks behind enemy lines? You don’t have to don a trench coat, but that’s the general idea. Secret shoppers can go behind the scenes to get a first-hand look at what’s going on in a business.

The key is to identify the specific information you want to gather. For example, observe how many people are in the check-out line and how long it takes to complete the transaction. If you’re worried about blowing your cover, hire a mystery shopper business to handle the case.

Check the Reviews

You can learn a lot from what businesses say about themselves. But you can verify that information by checking out what others are saying. Websites like Yelp, Manta, and the Better Business Bureau provide reviews from people who have had experience with a business. Here’s a list of the top 10 review websites and which businesses categories they review.

Look at how the company responds to both good and bad reviews. Do they respond at all? That can provide clues about the quality of service they provide.

Competitive research can help you keep up with the Joneses (or whatever your competition is named). Use the information to react to their latest action and to inform your long-term strategy. These low-cost tips will help you get started.