Here’s why you should be keeping a close eye on your competitors…

‘Price wars’ have been going on since forever between retailers with some supermarkets even going so far as to advertise the price that you can buy an item for in a competitor’s store and then informing you that they are cheaper!

In order to gather this type of data, supermarket managers send employees out from their stores to look around the shops of their competitors to see what they’re up to, as do a range of other stores.

And this ‘big brother’ method applies to your online selling as well, because it’s not just high street retailers and supermarkets who need to keep their eye on the ball and their competitors. You should keep an eye on what your online competition is doing too.

Curious? Enquiring? Questioning? Resourceful? Or just plain nosy?

When you were a child, I bet you were probably told that it’s rude to be nosy?

I know that when I was little I was inquisitive, always wanting to know what was going on and sticking my nose into everything which ultimately meant getting told off on more than one occasion … but if anything, although I still know of course that it is indeed rude to be too nosy, sometimes it’s good to stick your beak in!

Why? Well, because it’s very, very easy to become complacent in the world of online sales. For example, if your stock is selling well and you are making good profits, why bother to see how your competitors are doing or worry about researching additional products to sell? This could be your first mistake and one that could end up costing you your profits.

Now I know how busy life can get and taking time out of your hectic schedule to spy on your rivals may not be your highest priority at the moment, however, it’s something you should definitely make time for and will benefit your business in the long run. I’m not saying you should check up on your competitors’ hour by hour, but you should make it a regular practice – once a week will suffice.

It’s relatively easy to find other sellers operating within your niche market. Just do a Google search for the products that you are selling on your website and you’ll return loads of results, be they small businesses or well known retailers.

If you search on eBay or Amazon for your product description, once again you’ll be able to see exactly how many other sellers are stocking the same products as you. So, it’s all pretty transparent.

Alternatively, you can head over to Watchcount or Amazon Best Sellers to find those that boast a dominant presence in any category or sub-category and you’ll be surprised at the lessons you can learn from both small and large sellers, so don’t just limit your snooping to the most successful!

Learn from the positive and from the negative

I would never suggest that your own online business should become a carbon copy of someone else’s; that certainly wouldn’t be a long term success strategy, but there is a fine line between learning to emulate the success of the successful and trying to become an exact replica. You should learn from your competitors, not copy them, and when I say learn, I mean from both their good points and their bad.

Consider what their item description pages look like; are they more attractive than your own? Are their descriptions laid out in an easier to read manner? What price are they selling at? Are they offering free shipping or a free gift of some sort? These are all questions you should ask yourself during your snooping and a bit of a look around will give you a lot of great ideas to use within your own online business to maximise your profits.

As you’re looking through other sellers’ inventory and descriptions you should always keep an eye out for anything that they do badly! No business is perfect and even if a seller is dominating the market, you’ll probably find that there are some things you can do better. Perhaps you could offer a quicker or more reliable delivery service or simply create better descriptions for your products.

Something to watch out for that has benefited me in the past on eBay is the ability to see all of the completed listings from a particular seller or for a particular product.

If one of your competitors is selling an item that you are considering branching out into, you can take a peek to see how much of their stock they are shifting and for what sort of price. It’s a great bit of market research to help assure you of how likely you are to succeed in that market or even whether you can source stock at a cost effective price.

You can look at individual sellers using the ‘Advanced Search’ tool which you’ll find at the top of all eBay pages. Just tick the relevant boxes to narrow your search and you’ll get information on the seller you are researching. You can also get detailed seller information via Terapeak – a great tool for sniffing out your competitors on eBay.

Don’t forget about your own selling strategy

There are instances of products that I sold incredibly successfully on eBay, until the day that a competitor decided to jump in and undercut me; selling things on at a price that I simply couldn’t afford to match – and the consequences are that if you have only one product, this could be the end of your business.

That’s why you should always have at least two products on the go and sell in a variety of places.

Being undercut is very frustrating and more likely to happen on eBay than anywhere else, but still, this scenario is something that may happen to you at some point and, although it can’t always be stopped, you can certainly help to avoid it by keeping a close eye on what your rivals are charging for the same or similar items to those that you are selling.

If you have more than one product, should the worst happen and you notice another seller offering the same product as you at silly prices you can remove yourself from the market for that particular product until such time as prices start to go up again.

But remember that price isn’t always everything; there are many buyers out there who will be willing to pay a little more for good service.

Keep a constant eye on your competitors the easy way

As I’ve already mentioned, life is busy, but fortunately keeping a close eye on your competition doesn’t have to be something that takes a long time each day. When you have a spare hour, sit down at your computer and seek out a range of different sellers within your niche market.

This initial research session will allow you to delve into the profiles of several different sellers to find those worth watching. Once you have done that, add those seller profiles to the ‘Favourites’ section of your internet browser or ‘Watch’ them on eBay. This way you can instantly jump back to them to see how they are doing and what they are selling at any given moment.

This easy access to your competition means that you can concentrate on spending just a few minutes every week keeping up to date with some of the following bits of information:

– Listing style. How do the product listings of your rivals’ look and feel? If you think that they encourage visitors to make a purchase, then try to pinpoint exactly what it is that does this and how you can take advantage of that knowledge.

– Items for sale. You could find some great ideas for new products by keeping an eye on your competition. You will also be able to monitor the prices of anything that you do stock.

– Selling statistics. Sold and Completed listings on eBay can show you, at a glance, if a competitor is shifting the majority of their stock or if items are being relisted. You will also be able to tell if they are having more success with auction or ‘Buy it Now’ style listings.

So, there’s something for you to think about! By becoming nosier you’ll help your business to become more profitable.