When you first open an online store, you know you need to find new customers — but where do those people come from? Here’s a hint: savvy ecommerce marketers steal them right from their competitors. Your competitors have already done the hard work of identifying and attracting qualified customers, so it makes sense for you to build off of their success in order to create your own customer base. It’s not unethical to try to attract customers away from your competitors – in the marketing world, it’s called “competitive advertising”, and has been around for thousands of years.
Customers of competing ecommerce stores are some of your best leads. After all, they’re already qualified—you know they’re interested in what you have to offer.
So how do you go about stealing your competitors’ customers and convincing them to try your products instead? It all starts with a competitor analysis.
Competitor analysis: Researching your competitors’ products, customer service, marketing, and strategy to find weaknesses and opportunities you can use to inform and improve your own strategy and positioning. Competitive analysis can provide tons of invaluable information about what works and what doesn’t in your market—so you can stay one step ahead of competitors. The best part about competitor analysis? It lets you see the results of your competitors’ expensive advertising campaigns without costing you a dime.
In this article, we show you how to:
- Identify top competitors to analyze
- Ask the right questions about your competitors and their customers
- Find weaknesses and opportunities you can act on to steal customers away
Step 1: Casing the Joint
Every great heist needs a plan. Before setting out to steal your competitors’ customers, there are a few things you need to do first – namely, customer analysis. Since we’re only interested in stealing competitors’ customers, we don’t need to do a full-scale competitor analysis for each – just find their weak spots.
List your competitors
The first step in analyzing your competitors is, of course, to figure out who they are. If you’re just starting to build your ecommerce store, you may not have a big list of competitors yet. The best approach is to make a large list of competitors that meet the following criteria:
- Sell products identical to or very similar to your own
- Sell using the same channels or marketplaces as you (e.g. ecommerce website, Amazon, social media)
- Competitors ranking for or bidding on the organic or paid keywords you’re planning to target
- Competitors with social media audiences made up of the types of customers you want to target
- Competitors whose overall advertising/marketing budgets are similar to your own
Once you have a large list of potential competitors, narrow down your focus to just 3-4 competitors to actively target. These should be the competitors that meet the criteria above most closely. We’ll start by making notes of specific things that we can use for our own gains:
Identifying competitor weaknesses
- Problems with competitors’ websites, like broken pages, difficult check-out processes, terrible pop-ups
- Bad reviews regarding products, shipping, returns, customer service, etc.
- Complaints on social media or other off-site platforms
- Unanswered questions or comments on social media, editorial content, or product reviews
- Low-quality or unhelpful content or graphics
- Anything that you see and think “I can do that better!”
Where to look for competitor weaknesses
- On their website
- Within their content and imagery
- On their social media pages
- Anywhere reviews are posted about your competitors
- Forums, question platforms (such as Quora), how-to sites
- Youtube comments
- Third-party reviews and publications
- Competitive research tools like Ahrefs, Alexa, Brandwatch Audiences, Prisync
- Google search result pages
Part 2: The Heist!
By now, you might be drowning in information about your competitors—so what do you do with it all? The whole point of conducting a competitive analysis is to uncover information you can use to steal your competitors’ customers. Here are a few of our favorite dirty tricks to help you pull it all off.
Find problems with their website
Run a crawl of each of your competitors’ websites with a tool such as Screaming Frog, and look for pages returning 404 (not found) or returning any server code beginning with a 5 (server error). If you find a competitor with broken product pages, there are a few ways you can turn this to your advantage.
- Target their organic keywords. If their page isn’t indexable by search engines, try to steal their organic rankings by optimizing for the same keywords. You can sometimes even rank well for branded terms (keywords that contain your competitor’s brand name) if the only content they have on that topic is broken.
- Perform manual outreach to steal their backlinks. Run the broken page through a backlinking tool such as Ahrefs and figure out who is linking to the broken page. Email the webmasters of the domains linking to the broken page and let them know that their link is broken, but that you have a working link as a replacement.
- Use paid ads to target their frustrated customers. If you don’t think you’ll be able to rank organically for the term, consider using paid ads to steal customers away from your competitors. A well-targeted paid ad can attract users that tried to visit the broken page but bounced back to the search page when they realized the page is broken. Target your competitors’ branded keywords for any broken pages in order to capitalize on the frustration of your competitors’ (former) customers.
- Increase your social media targeting. If you know that a competitor’s page is broken, it might be time to increase the social media advertising budget you have for relevant keywords. Customers will need a working alternative so this can be an effective (if roundabout) way to retarget your competitors’ customers. This works best for impulse buys and things that people are likely to need quickly — most people don’t want to wait around for their preferred site to come back online, and will instead buy from whatever shop is most convenient.
Steal competitors’ social media audiences
Instead of spending the time and effort required to create your own social media audience, there are several ways you can use your competitors’ audiences to drive sales (and more followers to your own profiles).
- Create ad campaigns targeting competitors’ customers. This option is fairly straightforward – create a list or targeted campaign designed to display your ads to users who like your competitors’ pages. This can be a very quick, effective way to create targeted ad groups on social media, but can backfire if your competitor’s audience is of poor quality or if their audience is fiercely loyal to their brand. When targeting your competitors’ social media audiences, spend some time making some comparative ads that are as persuasive as possible. Scour your competitors’ social media accounts, product reviews, and anywhere else their customers are talking in order to find out what their customers are dissatisfied with, and then use that to make your own marketing materials more persuasive. For example, if your competitor has multiple bad reviews regarding battery life, highlight the superior battery life of your own products in your advertisements.
- Learn from your competitors’ posts. Your competitors have already put a lot of time (and probably money) into their social media posts, trying to figure out what time of day they should post, what sort of content performs best, what sort of people engage with their content, and more. You can use their performance to figure out what will work for your own accounts without needing to do all of the research. The more closely-matched the competitor is to your own business, the better your findings will transfer, so be sure to be careful when selecting competitors. Use a social media analytics tool to spy on your competitors’ performance and help you create your own posting calendar.
- Swoop in on your competitors’ downtime. If you notice that your competitors don’t post on certain days or times, you can use this to your advantage. If you notice that a particular day or time has high engagement but a competitor doesn’t often post during that time, schedule some of your own posts during that time. Depending on how savvy your competitors’ social media managers are, your opportunities will vary. However, if you can find a high-engagement, low-post-frequency time, it can mean serious gold for your own business.
- Infiltrate! One way to build a presence within your competitors’ social media networks is to become an active member of the community. Be careful about advertising your own site or services through competitor profiles – doing so will probably get you banned immediately. Instead, spend time being helpful and authoritative. If you become an integral part of a competitors’ social media network, more and more of their followers will start to follow you as well. While this approach can be difficult and time-consuming, it can also be an incredibly effective way to build a niche audience from your competitors’ audiences if done correctly.
Hijack their ad space
This isn’t as shady as it sounds — you won’t be hacking your competitors’ website. Instead, you’ll take advantage of the available advertising space on your competitors’ sites in order to promote your own website. Check out your competitors’ sites and see if they’re using any advertising networks (such as Adsense) to generate revenue. After you’ve identified your opportunities, join those advertising networks and start displaying your own highly-targeted advertisements on your competitors’ sites.
Your targeting ability will depend largely on the ad network your competitor is using, and the cost will vary depending on ad network and how much traffic your competitors drive. Be warned that this is a fairly short-term strategy since competitors can typically block unwanted websites (such as you, their competitor) from displaying advertisements on their site. However, this can be a great way to get some initial name recognition among your competitors’ customers for a small initial investment. If your competitors are unaware that they can block particular ads or are slow to catch on to what you’re doing, this strategy can also work well in the long-term.
Protip: If you’re using ad networks on your own website, make sure to block your targeted competitors to prevent them from doing the same to you.
Poach competing YouTube campaigns
That sure is a nice video your competitors have there… it’d be a shame if someone showed a better video right before it. Find your competitors best-performing YouTube videos and what keywords they’re showing up for by using a tool like SocialInsider, then create highly-targeted ad campaigns to disrupt their videos by playing your ad before (or during, or after) competitor videos. A well-targeted ad can entice visitors away from your competitors’ pages and onto your own. To do this, effectively, you’ll need to use three different types of YouTube targeting.
- YouTube In-Stream Ads. These ads show up before the selected video is played, and can be highly targeted towards your competitors’ keywords. However, since these videos are skippable, you’ll need to grab your viewers’ attention quickly. The upside of this is that you’ll only pay if someone watches 30 or more seconds of your video, so you can get quite a bit of free impressions and traffic from this method. To really get aggressive and steal competitors’ customers, use dynamic keyword insertion, which will allow you to dynamically embed the keyword that the user searched for within your ad – for instance, if they searched ‘best boat covers’, the keyword “best boat covers” will be shown within the ad’s text. If they searched “canvas boat covers,” then “canvas boat covers” will be shown. This will boost your click-through rates significantly, and let you snag more of your competitors’ YouTube traffic.
- YouTube Preroll ads. These are unskippable ads that last no longer than 20 seconds and can be displayed at the beginning of or in the middle of content. Since they are unskippable and can be inserted in the middle of a video, these can be very disruptive to your competitors’ videos. Preroll ads operate on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis, so you’ll only pay if someone actually clicks on your ad. However, the PPC costs of pre-roll ads tend to be higher than other ad types, so make sure that you’re sending traffic to a page likely to drive a sale (or set you up for a future sale). CTAs including freebies or giveaways tend to work best for Preroll ads since you’ll need to distract your viewer away from the video they were watching and engage them on your own site.
- YouTube Video Discovery Ads. These are ads that will show up on the YouTube search results pages, homepages, and as related videos. These are triggered by YouTube searches, so find out what searches your competitors are ranking for on YouTube and set up Discovery Ads to your own competing videos. This will make it much more likely that your competitors’ customers will see your videos in subsequent searches, making it great for retargeting your competitors’ customers.
Learn from their email campaigns
A lot of times, the real secret sauce can be found in your competitors’ emails. What they write, the way they write, and the email cadence they choose can tell you a lot about what’s working for them (or at least, what they think will work for them). But how do you get their emails out of your dreams and into your inbox without them catching on to you? You’ve gotta be a sneaky sneak.
Create a burner email account, and then go sign up for as many of your competitors’ email campaigns as you can. Wait a few weeks to let the emails build up, and then go through them to look for patterns. Are there certain days or times that your competitors always send their emails? What sorts of keywords or phrases are they using in their headlines? Take special note of what catches your eye (and what doesn’t), and then use this info to make your own email campaigns better. Check out our guide to running a successful email marketing campaign for more tips.
Step 3: The Getaway
Ok, this section isn’t so much about a getaway since you (hopefully) haven’t done anything illegal – it’s about how to make your success last so that you can finally open up a little hotel right on the beach. Buy some worthless old boat and fix it up new. After all, it’s one thing to steal a customer’s attention away from a competitor, but it’s another thing to turn them into your customer.
Turning their customers into your customers
The heist is the easy part. Getting away with a bunch of newly-loyal customers is the hard part. In order to retain the customers you’ve attracted, you’ll need to make sure that you give them something that your competitors don’t. We won’t get too far into the details here, but check out our guide to gaining repeat customers for a full breakdown of how to keep the customers you’ve stolen.
The good news is that, as you steal customers from your competitors, you’ll become even more aware of your own store’s needs and weaknesses.
A competitor analysis will allow you to see:
- Opportunities your store isn’t taking advantage of
- Strengths you aren’t leveraging to their full potential
- Weaknesses you can improve upon
As you become better at identifying weaknesses in your competitors’ stores, it’s inevitable that you’ll start seeing the weaknesses in your own. This is a good thing. Being aware of your own weaknesses is a necessary first step towards fixing them — which will prevent your competitors from stealing customers from YOU.
Steal Your Competitors’ Customers
At the end of the day, attracting customers from your competitors’ businesses to your own requires a good plan and better execution. The strategies listed in this article should get you started, but at the end of the day, the best way to steal customers is to have the best store.
Focus on the opportunities you can capitalize on to steal customers away with a better product, experience, or marketing strategy. After that, keep the customers coming back with a better product and experience, and the heist will be a success.