Ecommerce merchants who take the time to examine what their competition does online are better positioned to improve the performance and search engine rankings of their own site.
Competitor analysis can be easy if you know how to attack the situation.
Before diving deeper into how to analyze your ecommerce competition, you first need to define your competitor. This helps you choose what to focus on.
Most ecommerce sites view their competition as the sites ranking around them organically and those sites that are bidding on similar keywords via PPC marketing. While this is a great place to start, it doesn't always encompass all of the ecommerce competitors in your niche that you might need to be concerned about. You should also consider larger sites and ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon.com, and the sellers on Amazon that focus on your product niche.
"Secret shopping" at your competitor's site gives you a hands on feel for what you need to improve to be the leader in your ecommerce niche.
There is not an exact science for how you should perform "secret shopping," but here are a some things you want to look check.
- Contact Information & Customer Service
How easy does your ecommerce competition make it for their customers to contact them? Do they clearly display a phone number, make it easy to email them? Have live chat?
When you call, email, or chat, note how quick they are to respond; gauge the quality of the help you receive.
Be a difficult customer; you want to push their system to the limit and see how they treat customers in return.
Superior customer service is a great way to stand out among the competition, and it often results in positive word of mouth marketing that can bring you even more customers.
- Purchase Process
You don't need to complete a purchase but it is good to understand the flow. You can see pain points that would cause customers to abandon their shopping cart. If you see that your ecommerce competition has a poorly designed conversion funnel making it harder for their customers to make a purchase, then you can work to ensure it is smooth and quick at your site.
Sometimes your existing ecommerce software will not allow you to make major changes to improve the shopping cart checkout but top solutions offer options for you to make the process more efficient.
- Affiliate Program
This is one of those things that you want look for. You might be one of the only players in your space that is not utilizing an affiliate program to help expand the reach of your online store.
If your competition offers an affiliate program, you want to do some digging and figure out how they compensate. Typically it will be a fixed percentage based on the sale, but this can vary widely based on product niche.
- Ecommerce Software Solution
If you can, find out what ecommerce solutions your competitors are using.
Determine whether they are using hosted shopping carts or licensed ecommerce software. The two different solutions provide varying functionality that is worth noting. The best hosted shopping carts are often kept up-to-date with the latest features and trends in ecommerce software, while licensed solutions can sometimes become outdated if the merchant doesn't spring for an update to their software.
If you can find out exactly what ecommerce solution powers your competition's storefront, you'll also be able to do some research about the features available on that solution. You can even go a step further and read shopping cart reviews to determine whether or not your competition is running their store on an optimal solution.
SEO / PPC
Size up your ecommerce competition's efforts.
- Who is linking to your competition, and which of those links are the most important?
- Look at the source code for some of the more important pages on your competitors' sites to learn about their on-page SEO.
- Do they have a blog? If so, how do they use it and with what frequency. Check to see if they guest blog at other industry sites, or have other blogs giving them blog roll links. Are they using linkbait like posting infographics?
Understanding how your ecommerce competition is using PPC has also become easier over the past couple years thanks to tools like Spyfu.com or SEMRush. Typically ecommerce merchants learn about other keyword opportunities to bid on, then experiment to see if they can drive consumers to their site to make purchases.
It is almost mandatory to have a presence on top social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. These sites help drive traffic and increase reputation.
- Does your competition use these channels?
- How active they are each day?
- Do they use Twitter and Facebook for addressing customer service or do they only post announcements about their ecommerce site? Customers often expect to get customer service support via social media; if you don't respond to them, it can be seen as rude.
- Track your ecommerce competition on a regular basis via Twitter searches (and Google Alerts).
Nick Grant is the co-founder of ZippyCart.com, a website dedicated to providing honest, non-bias, and up-to-date reviews of the best ecommerce software solutions on the web. Visit ZippyCart to learn about the world of ecommerce, read expert shopping cart reviews, compare top ecommerce solutions side by side, read daily ecommerce news, and much more.