Why Your Rival’s E-Commerce Setup Might Not Be as Perfect as You Think

It’s natural to look at a competitor’s seemingly great website and want to mimic it — the grass is always greener, as they say.

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It’s natural to look at a competitor’s seemingly great website and want to mimic it — the grass is always greener, as they say.

But sometimes, what you see on the surface doesn’t tell the full story. Unless you actually have insider knowledge of how that website is performing, you could be spending a lot of time and money implementing a feature that isn’t useful or successful. Just because something looks good doesn’t mean it’s actually a good tool for your business.

Take search engine optimization, for example. If you search a word related to your products, your competitor may rank first in the results. You might think the next best step is to try to outrank it — but have you considered whether the term itself is popular with actual consumers? This could easily distract you from finding out that your site ranks well for a more popular term, and you could end up making changes that damage your current ranking.

Basically, you’d be pursuing a false win.

It’s natural to feel energized when you see your competition making improvements — you want to drive growth for your company, too. Remember: you don’t know if their great advertising got clicks, if their landing page led to conversions, or if that sleek-looking email generated any leads.

Making changes before you have any evidence of whether they’ll be strategic or successful isn’t the right way to overhaul your e-commerce approach.

Everyone Wants the Platform, Not the Process

Last year, B2B e-commerce grew twice as fast as the growth of all manufacturing sales and nine times faster than all electronic sales, so none of this is to say your site should take a back seat. But once you dig past the surface and see the inner workings of a platform, it might be all style and no substance. Obviously, that’s not what you want.

Think of it this way: some sites have a one-step purchase process. At first, this seems great and easy to use, but you don’t know whether the process is as efficient as it seems until you make an actual purchase. Filling the order might require more action on the back end, make you wait on an out-of-stock product or incur higher shipping costs than you initially expected.

That said, competitive analysis can provide some powerful insights if you’re considering using tactics you’ve seen from the competition, but it should only be one part of the brainstorm when rethinking your e-commerce site. All brands, even those in the same industry, differ in some way. Your business likely isn’t exactly the same size or in the same geographic area as your competitors, so logically, tactics that work for them may not work for you.

Besides, basing your e-commerce site exclusively on the competition can limit your vision and set unnecessary parameters. In addition to that competitive analysis, try the following as you develop your own ideas:

1. Establish goals. E-commerce is a means to an end, so you need to identify why you’re pursuing it — and the reason shouldn’t just be to drive sales. It’s not the ultimate goal, and it isn’t specific, measurable and time-bound. Instead, consider establishing a goal of reaching a 10 percent lift in monthly online sales.

To get even more granular, set sales goals for each of your product categories, existing customers, new customers and so on. You can also set them based on website traffic, how much time visitors spend on your site, the number of email sign-ups you get or bounce rate. Your choice in goals should be tailored strategically to your business.

It may take a few attempts to determine and establish them. But once defined, work to develop an understanding of where to allocate resources and how to be ambitious enough to give your team something to work toward, sparking motivation and improved engagement.

2. Identify must-haves. No matter the platform or partner, you likely won’t have the time or budget to do everything you want. Sort through and categorize which features on your e-commerce site are must-haves and which are nice-to-haves — and make sure to factor in future needs. This helps ensure that you have a plan for how to grow with your e-commerce platform rather than letting it hit a dead end.

3. Seek outside help. Businesses often get to a point in the process of developing or overhauling their e-commerce sites in which they want to jump in, take over and build their e-commerce platform themselves. Resist that urge. You still need to qualify your ideas, and while an internal team may have the skills, the team’s experience is usually limited to one or two “digital transformations.”

Instead, lean on the expertise of a partner with more experience in the e-commerce space. Further, find one with experience in your industry or an adjacent industry. And don’t forget to ask about the outcomes of their past work, especially for companies similar to your own. A proven track record is essential to ensuring the success of the partnership.

4. Pull together your wish list. Eventually, you’ll hand this project off to a development team. To prepare, you’ll need to pull your thoughts together into some sort of sharable document, which will serve to prompt additional questions and ideas or develop an estimated timeline and budget. For lack of a better term, call it your “wish list.”

While this list can take many forms, it should discuss your goals; provide an overview of your current site; and include which features, processes and design elements you’d like to see in your new platform. You may also want to include any reporting and technical requirements for the new site.

Ultimately, it’s not a bad thing to draw inspiration from competitors. However, be intentional and strategic about any changes you choose to make. Know your competition, but make goal-driven, effective e-commerce decisions based on your own needs. That’s what will set you far above the rest and might even make you the one inspiring competitors.