Master UX Competitive Analysis with Our Step-to-step Guide
In business, competitive analysis is essential. However, it is not only the CEOs, product owners, and marketing professionals who use this tool. UX and product designer scan get valuable insights by conducting competitive analysis, too.
“Don’t compare yourself to others” is something that we often heard as a kid. However, it was easier said than done. Comparing yourself to others is in human nature. And it can bring benefits.
When we jump on working on a new product, we need to get in the context fast. Few things can be as helpful in this as competitive analysis. It helps us to orientate even if the product is not existing yet: we already know what the market and the niche look like, and which direction we should look.
What is competitive analysis?
Competitive analysis is a research method that consists in studying competitors following a series of criteria. This method can help to understand the situation on the market and the place of your product in it. It can also be called competitor research.
When to conduct a UX competitive analysis?
The best moment for the first competitive analysis is at the beginning of work on the product. Even if the idea is not crystallized yet, it will bring lots of useful information.
We said “first”, because competitive analysis is not a one-time affair. Whenever there is a new interesting product on the market, competitive analysis matrix must be updated.
Regular review of competitors is needed because the products that were studied previously could change over time. When reviewing the analysis, pay attention to these changes:these are the market trends that show what works or doesn’t.
What to do if there are no competitors?
Most digital products are meant to be innovative. That’s why many startup founders often say that they have no competitors. Their idea is unique, and that’s why they expect success. If an app like that already existed, they wouldn’t even bother developing a new one.
That makes sense. But even the most disrupting product has competitors. To find them, you should be thinking not about your app, but about the problem it solves. If the problem exists, it means that people have already tried to solve it with some other methods.
Let’s think of a moment when a disrupting streaming service, such as Netflix, was first introduced. There are no other streaming services around. People don’t even know they need streaming services. Does it mean that no competitive analysis impossible?
No. There are always some competitors, even when no “similar product” exists.
Let’s go back to video streaming service: what problem does it address?
Easily accessible movies.
Where do people find movies? Cinema, TV, VHS rental stores (yes, they still existed at the dawn of video streaming)… Now there is something to research, even though we realize that these are quite different from Netflix. For instance, the pricing of a streaming service should be somehow related to the prices of cinemas and other competitors.
What you can find with a competitive analysis?
It’s always beneficial to know your competitors well. However, the analysis will bring much more useful information if you know what exactly you are looking for. Here are some of the things that can be researched through competitive analysis:
- The competitiveness of the market
- The features that other products have and the ones they lack
- Their business model, pricing strategy
- Strengths and weaknesses of the competitors
- Existing structural, visual solutions (important to make the product stand out)
Note: this is just an example, we know that Netflix was itself a VHS rental service before the age of streaming.
Competitive analysis can help develop:
- Competitive advantage
- Value proposition
- Pricing strategy
- Go-to-market strategy
- List of priority features
These lists can give you some ideas, but they are not exhaustive. Sometimes competitor research brings unexpected insights. Still, it is recommended to define what you are looking for beforehand.
How competitive analysis is used by UX designers
Competitors research is a universal tool, and every department can do it to find the answers to their questions. A product manager will search for the features and last updates, a CEO will look for their rankings, investments, and overall business strategy, and a marketing department will see how other products promote themselves, what is their niche, and what channels they use.
For UX professionals, the main objective is to see how user experience is shaped in other products. To do that, we use standard heuristics by Jacob Nielsen that help assess user.
To learn more about UX analysis, read our article “Heuristics”.
What else are we looking at in the competitors’ products?
- Navigation structure
- User flow
- Tone of voice
- Overall visual style (nobody wants to accidentally match color palette of a competing product)
Copying the interface of a competitor is not a result of the analysis, even when we find that the other app is very well designed. Each product is different, and having a good reference doesn’t mean that we can skip some stages of the design process.
Some designers don’t even want to study the competitors as they want to create a completely original product. However, reality tells us that there aren’t a thousand ways of creating a good solution to a problem. The apps in our phones are similar one to another, otherwise, it would have been more complicated to use them.
We believe that designers shouldn’t be afraid to see other designs and learn from them to find the best solution to their own challenges.
For example, when working on the design of NextBank, an online banking app, we checked Stripe, Transferwise, and Revolut. Strictly speaking, they are not all competitors, but these apps have established standards for fintech design and seeing what kind of UX patterns they use was essential for working on a banking app.
There is a couple of terms that we have to make clear before starting a competitive analysis. First and foremost, is the division between direct and indirect competitors.
Direct and indirect competitors
Direct competitors are the products that sell similar services to a similar audience.
Indirect competitors are those that sell different services which can be used to solve the same problem that your product is aiming at. It may be their side feature or just the way people use it.
For example, you are developing a product for building roadmaps. You make a search on the web for “roadmapping tools”. These are the direct competitors: ProductPlan, AHA.io, Dragonboat, and others.
Then, you find people who build roadmaps and ask them what they use to build a roadmap. That’s how you might find indirect competitors, such as Google spreadsheets.
Step-by-step competitive analysis
Note: this guide is not the one and only way of conducting a competitive analysis. There is a number of specific methods and tools that help to organize the process and help to accentuate the most important information. We’ll go through some of them later in this article, but for now, let’s start with the basic competitor research.
- Define the problem you want to solve.
- Define the goals of the analysis: are we thinking of the features list? Of pricing strategy? Or are we looking for ways of improving user experience to get a competitive advantage?
- Make a list of criteria, adjusting them to the goal.
- Find out how people are dealing with this problem. In some cases, the competitors are known, and it seems very clear which products you should check. However, there is a danger of missing the competitors that are less obvious. The best way is to contact potential users directly and ask them what tools they have used.
- Make a list of direct and indirect competitors. Sometimes the list can be very long. In this case, it’s better to start with several most important (3-6), and then see if it was enough to answer the questions you posed in the beginning or if you need to study some more.
- Visit their websites or simply search the information on other resources, if needed information is not easily available.
- Read the reviews on App Store and Google Play, as well as other review services. Reading reviews on competitors is no less important than reading reviews on your own product. It can give you hints on what features these products lack, what people love and hate most about them, and what problems they experience when using these products.
- When possible, talk to people who are already using these products.
- One by one, try using each of the competing products as if you were their customer. As designers, we often try to wear the shoes of a user and analyze usability of other products.
- Assess the competitors following the list of criteria. Criteria depend on the objective of your research. As designers, we look at the key UX characteristics, but you might also be interested in pricing, user acquisition strategy, positioning on the market, etc. Try not to make it too long, otherwise, there will be more chances to miss something important.
- Fill in a table (matrix) with all the criteria. Include screenshots and links where needed. Digital whiteboards like LucidChart and FigJam are great for this, as the competitive analysis might be too big for a spreadsheet table.
- Analyze the document, highlight key findings, and list the final results, as related to your goal. This is the document that you would get back to from time to time.
- Share it with the team. A bit obvious but still an important step. Even if your colleagues know the competitors well, it’s always beneficial to take a look at them from the point of view of a UX professional.
Quantitative, qualitative, and visual analysis
Examples of quantitative data: number of downloads of an app on App Store, price per month, number of clicks needed to complete a task.
Examples of qualitative data: use cases, market strategy, features.
Visual data can contain screenshots that are related to the objective of the analysis: landing page, onboarding screen, etc.
This separation is not strict, and it just indicates the type of data we gather. Competitive analysis can easily contain quantitative, qualitative, and visual information at the same time (and that’s what happens often).
Once you’re done with competitive analysis
So, where do we go after that? Sometimes the findings of the competitive analysis already strike gold and show the direction for practical steps. But often, further analytics is needed. There is a number of techniques that can be the next step to build on the competitive analysis. Let’s take a look at some.
Brainstorming for an action plan
After collecting the insights, the task of a product owner or a product designer is to create an action plan based on them.
For example, the goal of the competitive analysis was the features research. After studying other products, you have the list of the features that users value most and those that they lack.
The next task is to decide which ones you want to add to your product. For that, a team brainstorm would be helpful. Developers and the rest of the team can tell right away whether these features are feasible and whether they fit in the product.
I bet everybody knows this abbreviature. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.It’s one of the most common business analysis tools that doesn’t need explanation.
However, it is worth a mention in this article because SWOT analysis brings most use when conducted after thorough competitor research. In the end, strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities depend on the market and not only on the product itself.
Although SWOT analysis is most commonly used to assess your own company, it can be applied to competitors, as well. It gives you a clear image of the strengths and opportunities that are unique to your company and are worth investing in to provide a distinct competitive advantage.
This method is based on users’ perceptions of the products. These perceptions define their positioning in the market.
The map consists of two axes: price and quality. For each market, there will be some products that are cheaper but not the best quality and those that have great quality but also higher prices. Once you have all the competitors placed between these axes, you’ll see which sector is the best to target.
To find the place of each competing product, you need to collect feedback from users. Try searching through reviews on App Store or another reviews website.
Every part of UX research is important, yet there are always situations when we can skip some of them. Competitive analysis can be skipped when we are to make some small changes to the UX and we have a big massive of real user feedback to work with.
Only having live users explain what they need can be more informative than competitors’ research. Otherwise, there are no excuses for not doing it.
Competitive analysis is necessary even for the most cutting-edge tech products. Knowing competitors well is what helps to develop truly innovative solutions that will find their place on the market.
And the final reason for the popularity of competitive analysis? It’s a cheap, easy, and fast way of running basic UX research. Want to see what benefits it can bring to your product? Get in touch to find out what our designers can find out about your product and your competitors.