The barriers to entry for starting an eCommerce business have all but been fully eliminated. It can be free or cost very little to set up an online store and start selling to the world, but is that going to mean you’re successful? Not necessarily.

In reality, while it’s technically fairly easy to get into the eCommerce business, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to quickly and easily create a competitive store.

According to David Zheng of Wise Merchant, the most successful eCommerce entrepreneurs didn’t jump in without learning the basics of what they were doing. One of those basics is doing research on your potential competitors and general competitive analysis.

Whether it’s in eCommerce or any other industry or business, competitive analysis is essential. Competitive analysis helps you understand what your competitors are doing, but also what they aren’t doing.

Sometimes filling an existing gap is one of the best ways to build a profitable online business. Too often entrepreneurs will look at competitors as a guide to what to do, rather than a guide of where they can come in and fill in for what their competitors aren’t doing.

At the same time, competitor research allows you to find very specific ways you can set yourself apart, and it can help you more fully develop your niche.

The following is a guide to modern competitive analysis in 2018.

What to Cover

Knowing the basics of where to start with competitive analysis relies on having a good understanding of what to cover. You can’t cover everything, at least not at first, so narrow it down to the most important things.

Some things to consider if you’re doing an analysis of your competitors include their targeted customers and audiences, what their primary unique selling point is for their brand or their product, and what the key features or benefits are that they tend to highlight. You can also look at pricing and how they deal with logistics such as shipping.

Once you get the basics, you can move into more specifics. For example you might look at how they approach the customer experience on their website, their customer reviews and any specific design features of their website.

Group Competitors into Relevant Categories

You may have a good idea of who your competitors are, and if not some quick Google searches can probably help you come up with a pretty robust list. Once you have a list of competitors, you might want to subdivide them into categories based on how relevant they are to you in terms of being a competitor.

For example, they may be a direct competitor, or maybe a more distance secondary competitor.

Set Up Alerts

You probably aren’t going to be able to sit online all day and wait for people you see as potential competitors to release new content or make an announcement. Luckily, you don’t have to do that.

Instead, you can set it up so that you receive email alerts when your competitors or any brand or person for that matter is mentioned online in any context. There are a lot of different ways you can go about doing this.

BuzzSumo and SocialMention are two tools that a lot of people find work well for them, but there are others as well.

If you use BuzzSumo, you’ll be able to not only set up alerts but also see the content that’s most shared from your competitors’ site so you can develop your own content strategies.

Sign Up To Receive Emails and Newsletters from Competitors

Basically, every blog, brand and eCommerce store with any kind of online presence is going to have a popup or signup form so that you can receive their emails, newsletters and updates. Go ahead and sign up for these. You might even want to set up a separate email address so you can keep all of your competitors’ marketing content that they send out in one place.

This will show you how they’re targeting people in emails, but it will also show where their focus is or the direction they’re moving in at any given time.

Finally, when you’re doing competitive analysis you need to try to see what customers are actually buying and why they’re buying it. For example, are people buying from them because they have the best prices or is it more about the experience? What is it that customers are getting from them that they feel puts them above other similar businesses?