A competitive analysis provides a direction for B2B products
UX designers should conduct competitive analyses to ensure that B2B products remain relevant. Unless you’re operating in the blue ocean, it’s rare that products are alone in a market.
To outrun competitors, industries often focus on producing new products, features, or exclusive solutions with latest technology and modern design. While worthwhile, in many cases B2B products can fit market demand and perform a little better than your competitors through a UX competitive analysis. In order for UX researchers and designers to construct the best product for your users, they need to know who the competitors are, what good they bring to the market, what they do poorly, and gain other valuable insights from the market.
What is a UX competitive analysis?
A UX competitive analysis is a UX research process that investigates and analyzes the design solutions of competitors. Designers learn about the competitors’ approaches to usability and product aesthetic. They also investigate what features or designs are crucial for the business.
While we will talk mainly about designs in this article, competitive analysis can go beyond designs. If necessary, you should also perform a competitive analysis strategically, and at regular intervals to know where your competitors stand in the market.
Why is competitive analysis important in UX?
UX competitive research and analysis provides many benefits, because it helps prevent usability problems and can provide insight into the market’s real needs. A competitive analysis can solve other issues as well. Companies and businesses:
- gain understanding of their product’s current position in the market in an unbiased way
- have high possibility of defining gaps of existing product and market
- learn strengths and weaknesses of a product and competitors’ strengths and weaknesses
- discover user behavior patterns for different products
- create detailed requirements and priority on product’s features and designs
Through UX research and the analysis, you will be able to point out features that are no longer in demand, features that seem effective to users that you don’t have, or features that require close attention.
Steps for competitive analysis
1. Clearly define design goals
You should ask yourself why you are doing this competitor analysis, and what you hope to achieve.
Goals should be as accessible and specific as possible. This will make it easier for you to evaluate the results and decide whether or not to move on with the analysis to achieve your desired outcome.
2. Compile a list of direct, and indirect competition
At this point, you should start a chart/spreadsheet, or any type of matrix document to start creating a table for organizing all the information you are going to gather.
Start with 3–7 direct competitors. The more competitors you use for analysis, the more complicated it becomes. This can lead to too much information to focus on your goal. As you extend your list of competitors, you should focus on a smaller number of direct competitors. You should also focus on secondary and indirect competitors, if appropriate.
Types of competitors to identify:
- Direct competition
Offers the same products and services with the same solution to satisfy user needs. (Example: Burger King and McDonalds)
- Secondary competition
Offers the same products and services, with a different solution to satisfy user needs. (Example: Skype vs Business Class Travel)
- Indirect competition
Offers a different products or services, with a conflicting outcome but could potentially satisfy the same user needs. (Example: McDonalds vs Weight Watchers)
3. Compile your competition’s design features
Here is where you critically evaluate your competitor’s designs, UX elements and other features and create a chart. It is best to evaluate using heuristic evaluation principles as guidance!
You could also focus on defining the most significant flows (as well as features) that users interact with on a competitor’s product. This step will help you understand key differences and commonalities when focusing on comparisons in the next step. It can look something like this:
- Sign up and login
- Purchasing of a product
- Subscription to a service
- Searching on a website
- Making an appointment
- Any other task that applies to your business.
Make sure to write down everything in your matrix document! Include notes about usability, what you liked or disliked, what worked, or what delighted you. If you can check the mobile usability, even better!
4. Highlight commonalities and differences
Now you should compare your product to your competitors. This exercise should be useful to quickly understand where you’re losing to your competitors and where you are out-performing them.
During this comparison, you will stumble across specifics that your competitor does differently. Don’t feel the urge to replicate each of these features or flows: just because your competitor has it doesn’t mean it is the best approach.
5. Analyze, summarize, and define next steps
Now, create a summary of your findings and the impact of all the information will have.
When you have analyzed and summarized your findings, you should be able to identify the biggest usability issues of your product and point out design opportunities since you’ve seen your competitor’s flaws and strengths. Define actionable next steps you can take to make these improvements.
When you are defining your next steps, make sure to divide them into short term and long term of the redesign or implementation.
Once you have defined your analysis and comparison, it may be nice to put together a competitive review for your summary. The SWOT approach is frequently used for competitive reviews in UX, as it is easy to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that are relative to the design decisions. As you can usually see all the points in one view, it is easier for all parties to observe than a simple report.
Strategic or general competitive research
You can also focus on performing your competitive analysis in a more strategic way if you want to know more about market data rather than the design and features. In cases like this, we like using Crunchbase, which is a leading provider of private-company prospecting and research solutions. Users can leverage Crunchbase’s robust dataset of company insights to identify upcoming market trends before their competitors.
If you want to learn more, here is a great resource on how you could use Crunchbase for your competitive analysis. You could also use this article from O’Reilly that breaks down how to conduct a general competitive research outside of UX.
When is the right time to perform a UX competitive analysis?
It’s never too late to start a UX competitive analysis. However, there are clear benefits to start investigating your competitors as early as possible, such as lower cost and effort to implement changes to your product. The best time would be at the early stages of product development, during exploratory research or when you are still going through the design process. During exploratory research, you can more easily identify features to focus on, write a detailed guide for design and development, and develop a strategy for further updates and priority list.
UX competitive analysis is so much more than looking at your competitors in your industry and randomly checking their products. It requires a dense understanding of UX, user behavior patterns and how design affects everything.
If you truly want an unbiased competitive analysis done for your company, we highly recommend outsourcing to agencies like us! To avoid pitfalls — like not being able to decide which issues or feature updates take priority — involving creative professionals that are not involved in company politics can go a long way.
If you ever feel like you need help persuading key team members to innovate or move in a new direction, please contact us!