market intelligence“‘You’ve been Ubered’ will become part of our lexicon to describe industries blindsided by the future,”says Tony Chapman, a Canadian consumer and branding expert, in reference to the challenges that “Big Taxi” is currently facing due to the growing popularity of the Uber rideshare app.

In fact, every industry now has to face the fact that you “are either Uber, or you’re being Ubered.”

So, while it is important to look at what your direct competitors are doing when evaluating the competitive landscape for your ecommerce business, it’s even more important to be aware of key trends that will shape where your market is headed.

To help you create a competitive business strategy that keeps your business agile and adaptable to continuously evolving market conditions and competitors, let’s take a look at what some business strategists and analysts are recommending to startups and entrepreneurs.  After all, most businesses will need to adopt startup strategies in order to remain relevant 10 to 20 years from now. 

Understanding Your Competitive Landscape

To understand the big picture of how your business can thrive in the future, it helps to look at your competitive landscape from many different angles. The handy SlideShare presentation from Startup Next (see full presentation above) on market sizing and competitive analysis recommends to evaluate 3 competitive categories in your environment which include:

1. Direct competitors

  • Big retailers in your industry (e.g. Amazon and Walmart)
  • Other businesses that “solve your unique problem” (including smaller, niche mom and pop shops or even Etsy shops)

2. Indirect competitors

  • Economic and political trends (e.g. customer privacy)
  • Regulation, government legislation and trade agreements

3. Future threats

  • Cultural shifts (e.g. usage of mobile devices overtaking desktop computers)
  • Tech innovations (e.g. wearables, 3D printing and virtual reality)
  • Possible changes that your business partners or suppliers are planning

Once you know who those competitors are, it’s time to evaluate the market opportunities and consumer touchpoints related to each of them.

A Startup Approach For Evaluating Future Competitors And Market Opportunities

“We need a different way to represent the competitive landscape when you are creating a business that never existed or taking share away from incumbents by re-segmenting an existing market,” saysSteve Blank, a serial entrepreneur, Stanford professor and author whose book The Four Steps to the Epiphany was influential in the launch of the Lean Startup movement.

So, if every business now needs to think like a startup in order to avoid “getting Ubered,” why not begin evaluating your market opportunities like a startup right now?

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To do so, Blank recommends putting your business at the center of your competitive analysis diagram (versus plotting it out on an x, y axis – with your startup at the top right) and then branch out to key adjacent market segments that exist today. This will help to identify where you think your new customers might come from in the future.

He calls this a “Petal Diagram” and his argument for this approach is that he always thought of his startups as “the center of the universe.” The example diagram above is for a startup education software platform. But the same format could be applied to any retail or ecommerce business.

So, say your ecommerce business sells specialty sports equipment. You may want to add market segments that you don’t cater to right now but might in the future – thanks to new technologies. For example, advances in 3D printing technologies will allow you to sell to customers in countries to which you don’t currently ship your products. Or, you may be able to work with new distributors or manufacturers with whom you don’t currently have business relationships.

Blank says that there is no limit to the number of “petals” or adjacent markets that you can map out. And for better visualization, he recommends that the size of the petals can be scaled to the size of the market opportunity for each segment.

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“The petal diagram is where you [startups an entrepreneurs] develop your first hypothesis about who your customers are,” says Blank.

While you probably already know who your existing customers are if you are running a thriving ecommerce business, it’s still important to consider that your future customers may look and behave a lot differently.

And although the purpose of the petal diagram is to show potential investors why they should put their money into a startup, the same diagram can help your leadership team decide where to place their biggest bets and/or to allocate budgets towards R&D for future business growth.

Tools For Evaluating Your Competition Online

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Whether you want to size-up your direct competitors, or research current and evolving industry trends, there’s an app or (sometimes free) online tool for that.

Below are a few suggestions for where you can gather useful competitive intelligence data.

1. Upstream Commerce
While you do have to pay for this service, Upstream Commerce offers “automated, real-time intelligence analytics” and insights to help you evaluate competitive pricing, merchandising, promotion and product intelligence – across a number of retail industry categories. The company boasts that its data is easily customizable to help you build detailed, filterable results.

2. Channel IQ
Similar to Upstream Commerce, Channel IQ offers competitive intelligence analytics for price monitoring, product intelligence and more. But what sets it apart is that it offers competitive brand intelligence and protection tools. This includes paid search brand protection – allowing you to monitor PPC & keyword “brand-jacking,” so that your competitors can’t “illegally divert your traffic using your registered trade name.”

3. The Google Keyword Planner tool (or other similar free tools) and Google Trends can help to evaluate consumer demand (via search queries) for your competitors’ products. These tools can also help you evaluate demand for specific products that you or your competitors carry.

In addition, by signing up to receive Google Alerts via email whenever your competitors are covered by media or bloggers online, you can stay up-to-date on when they launch new products or when the company is receiving positive or negative press.

4. Social media monitoring platforms
In addition to looking at online search behavior, it’s important to look at what people are actually saying about your brand – and whether the conversation is moving in a positive or negative direction.

There are a lot of social media monitoring platforms available for listening to what customers are saying on social networking sites. Some of the more popular ones include: HootSuite, TweetDeck andSysomos. Here’s a helpful blog post from Ryan Holmes, the CEO of HootSuite on how to “listen” to the competition via social media.

While the research, insights and benchmark reports written by eMarketer analysts are crafted with a marketing slant, the company’s ecommerce and mobile commerce reports provide rich, aggregated data from some of the most important research companies that study digital trends today.

And even if you can’t afford to pay for their full reports, if you sign-up for their free newsletter and search through their public articles, you can access a lot of the most important highlights and charts for use in your own competitive intelligence analysis and strategy development.

6. and other web analytics tools
While the insights that you can glean from the free version of the Alexa tool are limited, you can still gain a high-level overview of:

    • how your competitors’ websites rank online (both worldwide or in your own country),
    • how their website performs overall (via graphs highlighting the bounce rate, pageviews per visitor and average visitor’s time spent on the website), and
    • where they may be investing in online marketing efforts via the top “upstream websites” graph (i.e. the top websites that send traffic to your competitors’ websites).

The paid version of the tool is more robust – giving you further intel into sites linking in, keywords driving traffic to the site and overall website comparisons.

7. comScore and HitWise
These tools also do a lot of what the paid version Alexa tool does and are pretty popular for gathering online consumer behavioral data. And like Alexa, both products will enable you to look at traffic on your competitors’ sites – offering variations on how people get there, what popular search terms were used and who those people are. But the way the data is collected is different: comScore data is collected via a panel of users who opt-in to be tracked, and HitWise data is collected based on aggregated ISP user data.

If you have the budget, then I’d say pay for both of these tools. If not, the free Alexa tool is a great place to start.

8. Finally, although Mary Meeker is a person (and a very influential one at that) and obviously not an app, her annual Internet Trends Report has become an important destination for anyone who wants to know what’s happening online today – or prepare for will happen in the future. So, I suggest you add her slide deck to your “future threats” intelligence arsenal.

For a list of even more competitive intelligence tools, check out this post on the Shopify blog.