Even for a project for which a startup claims the concept behind its product or service is unique and one of a kind, the chances are that there are already similar products that do similar things. By conducting a competitive analysis, you can understand the products your competitors have created and how they created them; compare the functions, strengths, and weaknesses of your product against theirs; and understand how your competitors are solving the problems of their target audience.
Competitive analysis is a way of collecting data about other platforms that have fully or partially solved similar problems for the same target audience as yours—perhaps using different methods. Marketing research and your analysis of the features, strengths, and weaknesses of your competitors can all provide useful metrics.
The Types of Competitors
When you’re conducting a competitive analysis, you can consider two types of competitors, as follows:
Direct competitors—These competitors have the same audience as yours and offer the same services as your product. For example, if you’re working on an apartment-rental Web site, successful companies such as Airbnb or Booking are competing with one another and would be direct competitors of yours.
Indirect competitors—These competitors have the same audience as your company and a similar product, but are solving their target audiences’ problems using other methods. Extending the example of an apartment-rental Web site, an Instagram profile that focuses on hotels, a hotel business-card site, or another lesser-known platform that their audience can use to search for apartments would be indirect competitors.
Conducting a Competitive Analysis
You can conduct a competitive analysis for any type of competitor. Let’s look at the competitive-analysis process.
Step 1: Determine the Goals of Your Analysis
As when conducting any UX research, before you analyze your competitors, you need to set goals for your analysis. This makes it easier for you to stick to a plan and focus on achieving those goals.
For example, one goal might be to analyze three key features of your five most important competitors. The features that you analyze could be filters, product pages, and the checkout process.
Step 2: Compiling a List of Competitors
When you’re compiling a list of competitors, consider the following factors:
project specifics—For example, if you were creating a platform for renting apartments or some other consumer Web application, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to find competitors. But if you were doing design for a large enterprise project, it would make sense to work with a UX researcher who knows to find competitors.
search criteria—A competitor’s product does not always have to have 100% of the same features as yours. To make sure that your selection of competitors is based on the right criteria, define the essential criteria with your product manager. Possibly useful criteria might include a minimum feature set of must-have functionality, the key tasks that your users perform, the problems that a competitor solves for their target audience, and the target audience’s segments.
time—A competitive analysis, as for any other type of study, takes quite a lot of time. Make sure that you have enough time for this process and can finish what you start and that you won’t be sacrificing other higher-priority tasks.
Step 3: Searching for Competitors
When you’re identifying possible competitors to study, here are some approaches you might take:
If you do a competitive analysis after conducting user interviews, learning what similar services your users employ can help you compile a list of competitors.
Step 4: Deciding How Many Competitors and Features to Analyze
When you’re deciding how many competitors’ products and what features to analyze, it is important to determine the main evaluation criteria you should use. Often, I write out a list of the features I’m analyzing, then next to them, I write the names of competitors who offer those features, with links to their sites. This technique helps me to understand how many competitors there are for a single feature. You could start by analyzing the feature for which there are the most competitors or the one that is most valuable to the business and the user.
Step 5: Analyzing the Features of Your Competitors
Here’s how you can create an overview of the features that your competitors offer in a competitor comparison table.
Add a column for each of your competitors. Depending on the complexity and specifics of the project, I usually try to compare five to ten competitors. List each competitor at the head of a column in the table, shown in green in Figure 1.
If you’re comparing features that already exist in your product, add an Our Product column at the right. Then insert each of its features in that column. If you’re analyzing potential new features, you can skip the Our Product column and, instead, just add a Comments column at the right. This column summarizes your finding about each feature. The Comments column is shown in black in Figure 2.
Add a row for each feature you’re interested in analyzing, which I’ve marked in orange in Figure 3.
Capture your analysis by adding information in the appropriate cell. Describe each feature in text, add a photo or a link to a photo, and indicate the feature’s priority, as shown in Figure 4. Setting priorities can help you resolve the following issues: determining whether your business and users would be interested in a particular feature or understanding how well your competitors have implemented it. Priorities help you to see the big picture, discard weak competitors, and focus on strong ones.
Step 6: Applying Your Findings
You’ll get data from your competitive analysis that can help you to make effective decisions regarding what functionality you might include in the future, which you can validate with your audience. You can also assess how users see your product, what competitive advantages your product has, and correctly prioritize your current design and development tasks. Do not forget to record all your findings, indicating the main recommendations and suggestions for further steps.
The Pros and Cons of Competitive Analysis
Of course, there are both pros and cons to conducting a competitive analysis. Let’s consider the pros first:
You can take a deep dive to gain a better understanding of your product and those of your competitors.
You should conduct this research at the beginning of a project before designing and developing the user interface. Plus, you can repeat such studies later in the development cycle.
Your findings can help you determine and validate what functions you’ll definitely need to implement.
You’ll be able to communicate with your product manager more easily and more effectively.
Now, let’s look at the cons of conducting a competitive analysis.
A competitive analysis does not provide clear guidelines on which you can act.
Temporal dynamics make it necessary to constantly monitor your competitors’ product updates.
Don’t blindly copy other people’s product ideas. It could happen that the moment you decide to add a feature to your site, your competitor would remove a similar feature from their platform. The bottom line: make sure you validate your hypotheses with your users.
Some competitors may limit access to their product, so you might be able to get access to it only by requesting a demo.
An Example of a Competitive Analysis
In the example shown in Figure 5, the first and second goals are to identify both different and similar items in the lists of your existing competitors’ features. The third goal is to prepare for user interviews. I also added the resources that helped me complete my analysis.
This project is not very specific because the main users are basically any and all people. After all, anyone could rent an apartment. I might decide to spend four hours on my analysis.
Through my competitor search, I chose Booking and Airbnb and added them to the first two columns. The heading for the third column was Our Project. The fourth column was titled Comments, as shown in Figure 6.
Next, I defined the features I wanted to analyze. As Figure 7 shows, I decided on three features: search, filter, and card. I analyzed these features in detail, describing exactly what each feature comprises in its entirety, then comparing it with the same functionality in a competitor’s product.
It helps to understand both the general characteristics of a feature—which would probably be the basic features—and the various attributes of each feature. Understanding the various implementations of a feature is important, too. This can help you to determine and clarify the differences in competitors’ business strategies and what they’re focusing on. In Figure 8, the differing details of the features are highlighted in pink.
There is a chance that you won’t find certain details or features among your requirements. If this occurs, I recommend that you evaluate these features by conducting some UX research—for example, user interviews or usability testing.
Once I had completed my analysis, I was able to get the big picture of what we might or might not want to add to our product. Also, I got a better idea of how the product works by interacting with all the features over time. The next steps could be prioritizing tasks for a minimum viable product (MVP), preparing questions for additional user interviews, or building a prototype.
Note—You can obtain a template for a competitive analysis from the Figma Community.
As a product designer, Avrora endeavors to understand and resolve users’ problems. She has five years of experience in product design. She loves bringing together teammates with diverse mindsets and perspectives to create innovative experiences for all kinds of users. As a product designer, she has worked with companies whose domains comprehend transportation, oil and energy, and delivery. Plus, Avrora works as a mentor at Projector Institute, helping newcomers start their career in User Experience. When speaking about various design platforms, she inspires audiences by sharing information from real product-design case studies.
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