You need to know what your competitors are up to so you can remain competitive. You don’t have to invade their privacy or seek information nefariously using a private investigator or industrial spy to stay abreast of how they’re doing. Anything in the public domain is fair game. You just have to know where to look.
Who are you competitors and how are they doing? Who is advertising and what are they saying? You may be able to find out about prices, special offerings, and more from local ads and other marketing tools used by your competitors. For example, you may see that your competitors have raised prices, perhaps prompting you to do the same if you’ve been on the fence about it.
You can get a good sense of whether they are companies your customers would like to do business with by becoming a customer of theirs. Shop online and make a return to see the ease of the purchase and the return, the availability of customer support, and the overall experience. While some may argue that doing this is unethical, most agree it is perfectly fine, and clearly legal, to do it. You can incorporate good practices used by your competitors and avoid any bad practices you detect during your experience as a customer.
Check social media
What are customers saying about the competition? Is the competition engaging with customers, responding to complaints, talking about new offerings? As long as you don’t misrepresent yourself and are a mere eavesdropper on public conversations, it seems fine to learn what you can.
Competitors that are public companies must disclose their financial status in quarterly (10-Q) and annual (10-K) reports. But small businesses are not subject to financial disclosure requirements. Nonetheless, you may be able to learn some information from:
- Legal notices in local newspapers. Companies in bankruptcy must publish the information in newspapers.
- For sale notices. Businesses that are up for sale may post availability on sites for this purpose. A storefront displaying “liquidation” or “for sale” sign can translate into one less competitor.
- Job postings. Companies taking on more help are likely in a good financial position. Searching job postings can show you whether your competitors have openings, and, in some cases, what they pay.
What do you think about the ethics of competitive intelligence, such as using mystery shoppers? The matter is far from settled. Here are some resources to help you reach your own conclusion: