We live in a fast-paced world. People want things as quickly as possible — and they’re unhappy when something takes too long. Website speed optimization takes away one barrier between you and your audience. Think about the last time you encountered a slow-loading website. You might have closed out the browser tab entirely or felt less inclined to patronize the site once it finally loaded. Google understands that consumers want fast access to information, products, and services. Consequently, it rewards websites that load quickly. Let’s take a look at a few ways in which you can use website speed optimization…
In this article, I will introduce the subject of competitive analysis, which is basically a method to determine how well your competitors are performing. My aim is to introduce the subject to those of you who are new to the concept. It should be useful if you are new to product design, UX, interaction or digital design, or if you have experience in these fields but have not performed a competitive analysis before.
No prior knowledge of the topic is needed because I’ll be explaining what the term means and how to perform a competitive analysis as we go. I am assuming some basic knowledge of the design process and UX research, but I’ll provide plenty of practical examples and reference links to help with any terms and concepts you might be unfamiliar with.
Note:If you are a beginner in UX and interaction design, it would be good to know the basics of the design process and to know what is UX research (and the methods used for UX research) before diving into the article’s main topic. Please read the next section carefully because I’ve added reference links to help you get started.
Competitive Analysis, Service Design Cycle, Five-Stages Design Process
If you are a UX designer, then you might be aware of the service design cycle. This cycle contains four stages: discover, explore, test and listen. Each one of these stages has multiple research methods, and competitive analysis is part of the exploration. Susan Farrell has very helpfully distinguished different UX research methods and activities that can be performed for your project. (You can check this detailed segregation in her “UX Research Cheat Sheet”.)
The image below shows the four steps and the most commonly used methods in these steps.
Please don’t confuse the five-stages design process with the service design cycle. Basically, they serve the same purpose in the design thinking process, but are explained in different styles. Here is a brief explanation of what these five stages contain:
This stage involves gaining a clear understanding of the problem you are trying to solve from the user’s point of view.
This stage involves defining the correct statement for the problem you are trying to solve, using the knowledge you gained in the first stage.
In this stage, you can generate different solution ideas for the problem.
Basically, a prototype is an attempt to give your solution some form so that it can be explained to others. For digital products, a prototype could be a wireframe set created using pen and paper or using a tool such as Balsamiq or Sketch, or it could be a visual design prototype created using a tool such as Sketch, Figma, Adobe XD or InVision.
Testing involves validating and evaluating all of your solutions with the users.
You can perform UX research at any stage. Many articles and books are available for you to learn more about this design process. “Five Stages in the Design Thinking Process” by Rikke Dam and Teo Siang is one of my favorite articles on the topic.
According to Nielsen Norman Group’s “User Experience Careers” survey report, 61% of UX professionals prefer to do the competitive analysis for their projects. But what exactly is competitive analysis? In simple language, competitive analysis is nothing but a method to determine how your competitors are performing, what they are offering and how well they are doing it.
Sometimes, competitive analysis is referred as competitive usability evaluation.
Why Should You Do A Competitive Analysis?
There are many reasons to do a competitive analysis, but I think the most important reason is that it helps us to understand the rights and wrongs of our own product or service.
Using competitive analysis, you can make decisions based on knowledge of what is currently working well for your users, rather than based on guesses or intuition. In doing competitive analysis, you can also identify risks in your product or service and use those insights to add value to it.
Recently, I was working on a project in which I did a competitive analysis of a feature (collaborative meeting note-taking) that a client wanted to introduce in their web app. Note-taking is not exactly a new or highly innovative thing, so the biggest challenge I was facing was to make this functionality simpler and easier to handle, because the product I was working on was in the very early stages of development. The feature, in a nutshell, was to create a simple text document where some interactive action items could be added.
Because a ton of apps are out there that allow you to create simple text documents, I decided to do a competitive analysis for this functionality. (I’ll explain this process in more detail later in the section “Five Easy Steps to Do a Competitive Analysis”.)
How To Find The Right Competitors?
Basically, there are two types of competitors: direct and indirect. As a UX designer, your role is to study the designs of these competitors.
Jaime Levy gives very good definitions of direct and indirect competitors in her book UX Strategy. You can learn more about competitive analysis (and types of competitors) in chapter 4 of the book, “Conducting Competitive Research”.
Direct competitors are the ones who offer the same, or a very similar, set of features to your current or future customers, which means they are solving a similar problem to the one you are trying to solve, for a customer base that you are targeting as well.
Indirect competitors are the ones who offers a similar set of features but to a different customer segment; or, they target your exact customer base without offering the exact same set of features, which means indirect competitors are solving the same problem but for a different customer base, or are solving the same problem but offer a different solution.
You can search for these types of competitors online (by doing a simple web search), or you can directly ask your current and potential customers what they are using already. You can also look for your direct and indirect competitors on websites such as Crunchbase and Product Hunt, and you can search for them in the Google Play and the iOS App Store.
Five Easy Steps To Do A Competitive Analysis
You can perform a competitive analysis for your existing or new product using the following five-step process.
1. Define And Understand The Goals
Defining and understanding the goal is an integral part of any UX research process. You must define an accurate goal (or set of goals) for your research; otherwise, there is a chance you’ll get the wrong outcome.
Draft all of your goals right before starting your process. When defining your goals, consider the following questions: Why are you doing this competitive analysis? What kind of outcome do you expect? Will this analysis affect UX decisions?
Remember: When setting up goals for any kind of UX research, be as specific as possible.
I mentioned earlier that I recently performed a competitive analysis for a collaborative meeting note-taking feature, to be introduced in the app that I was developing for a client. The goals for my research were very general because innumerable apps all provide this type of functionality, and the product I was working on was in the very early stages of development.
Even though your research goals might be simple, make them as specific as possible, and write them all down. Writing down your goals will help you stay on the right track.
The goals for my analysis were more like questions for which I was trying to find the answers. Here is the list of goals I set for this research:
Which apps do users prefer for note-taking? And why do they prefer them?
Goal: To find out the user’s behavior with these apps, their preferences and their comfort zone.
What is the working mechanism of these apps?
Goal: To find how out competitors’ apps work, so that we can identify their pros and cons.
What are the “star” features of these apps?
Goal: To identify functionalities that we were trying to introduce as well, to see whether they already exist and, if they exist, how exactly they were implemented.
How comfortable does a user feel when using these apps?
Goal: To identify user loyalty and engagement in the apps of our competitors.
How does collaborative editing work in these competitive apps?
Goal: To identify how collaborative-editing functionality works and to study its technical aspects.
What is the visual structure and user interface of these apps?
Goal: To check the visual look and feel of the apps (user interface and interaction).
2. Find The Right Competitors
After setting the goals, go on a search and make a list of both direct and indirect competitors. It’s not necessary to analyze all of the competitors you find. The number is completely up to you. Some people suggest analyzing at least two to four competitors, while others suggest five to ten or more.
Finding the right competitors for my research wasn’t a hard task because I already knew many apps that provided similar features, but I still did a quick search on Google, and the results were a bit surprising — surprising because most of the apps I knew turned out to be more like indirect competitors to the app I was working on; and later, after a bit more searching, I also found the apps that were our direct competitors.
Putting each competitor in the right list is a very important part of competitive analysis because the features and functionality in your competitors’ apps are based on exactly what users of those apps want. Let’s assume you put one indirect competitor, XYZ, under the “direct competitors” list and start doing your analysis. While doing the research, you might find some impressive feature in XYZ’s app and decide to add a similar feature in your own app; then, later it turns out that the feature you added is not useful for the users you are targeting. You might end up wasting a lot of energy, time and money building something that is not at all useful. So, be careful when sorting your competitors.
For my research, the competitors were as follows:
Direct competitors br>Quip, Cisco Spark Meeting Notes, Workboard, Lucid Meeting, Less Meeting, MeetingSense, Minute-it, etc.
All of the apps above provide the same type of functionality, which we were trying to introduce for almost the same type of user base.
Indirect competitors br>Evernote, Google Keep, Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Microsoft OneNote and other traditional note-taking apps and pen-paper note-taking methods.
The user base for all of the above is not exactly different from the user base we were targeting, but most of the users we were targeting were using these apps because they were unaware of the more convenient ways to take meeting notes.
3. Make A Competitive Analysis Matrix
A competitive analysis matrix is not complex, just a simple spreadsheet. You can use Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, Apple Numbers or any other tool you are comfortable with.
First, divide all competitors you’ve found into two groups (direct and indirect) and put them in a spreadsheet. Jamie Levy suggests making the following columns:
I would recommend digging a bit deeper and adding a few more columns, such as for “unique features”, “pros and cons”, etc. It would help to summarize your analysis. It’s not necessary to set your columns exactly as mentioned above. You can modify the columns to your own research goals and needs.
For my analysis, I created only four columns. My competitive analysis matrix looked as follows:
Competitor name br>In this column, I put the names of all of the competitors.
URL br>These are website links or app download links for these competitors.
Features/comments br>In this column, I put all of my comments, some ”star” features I needed to focus on, and the pros and cons of the competitor. I color-coded the cells so that later I (or anyone viewing the matrix) could easily identify the difference between them. For example, I used light yellow for features, light purple for comments, green for pros and red for cons.
Screenshots/video links br>In this column, I put all of the screenshots and videos related to the features and comments mentioned in the third column. This way, it became very easy and quick to understand what a particular comment or feature was all about.
4. Write A Summary And An Analysis
Once you are done with the analysis matrix spreadsheet, move on and create a summary of your findings. Be as specific as possible, and try to answer all of your questions while setting up a goal or during the overall process.
This will help you and your team members and stakeholders make the right design and UX decisions. This summary will also help you find new design and UX opportunities in the product you’re building.
In writing the summary and the presentation for the competitive analysis that I did for this collaborative note-taking app, the competitive analysis matrix helped me a lot. I drafted a document with all of the high-level takeaways from this analysis and answered all of the questions that were set as goals. For the presentation, I shared the document with the client, which helped both the client and me to finalize the features, the flows and the end requirements for the product.
The last step of your competitive analysis is the presentation. It’s not a typical slideshow presentation — rather, just share all of the data and information you collected throughout the process with your teammates, stakeholders and/or clients.
Getting feedback from everywhere you can and being open to this feedback is a very important part of the designer’s workflow. So, share all of your finding with your teammates, stakeholders and clients, and ask for their opinion. You might find some missing points in your analysis or discover something new and exciting from someone’s feedback.
We live in a data-driven world, and we should build products, services and apps based on data, rather than our intuition (or guesswork).
As UX designers, we should go out there and collect as much data as possible before building a real product. This data will help us to create a solid product that users will want to use, rather than a product we want or imagine. These kinds of products are more likely to succeed in the market. Competitive analysis is one of the ways to get this data and to create a user-friendly product.
Finally, no matter what kind of product you are building or research you are conducting, always try to put yourself in the users’ shoes every now and then. This way, you will be able to identify the users’ struggles and ultimately deliver a better solution.
I hope this article has helped you plan and make your first competitive analysis for your next project!
If you want to become a better UX, interaction, visual (UI) or product designer, there are a lot of sources from which you can learn — articles, books, online courses. I often check the following few: Smashing Magazine, InVision blog, Interaction Design Foundation, NN Group and UX Mastery. These websites have a very good collection of articles on the topics of UI and UX design and UX research.
Productivity tips always make for a popular topic for an article, as everyone is looking for the silver bullet, that one weird trick that turns you into a productivity machine. However, the tips that work well for one person may not work so well for another.
We asked the community on Twitter and Facebook to share their best productivity tips, and in this article I’m going to round these up alongside some things I’ve learned that work well for me.
If anything’s clear in 2017, it’s that lying is back in fashion (if it ever left us at all). From the heated fake news debate to the false data provided by Facebook, lying is all the rage these days. A white lie here and there is no big deal. We’re all guilty of it. The problem arises when lies turn into full-grown myths, then become accepted as truths.
In an era of digital chaos, we understandably gravitate to our trusted sources of information.
What are the features that define user-friendly navigation, efficient checkouts and streamlined product filters? How can we make e-commerce websites more effective by using user experience (UX) design to increase conversions? Here are the key e-commerce elements that can benefit from better UX design: Responsiveness The most important – and obvious – thing in user experience design is to remember that you are always designing for the user, not yourself. The user journey through your e-commerce website starts with your website visitors using a device to get there. It is essential to understand what devices your users will be using…
In a world between building accessible interfaces, optimizing the experiences for users, and big businesses profiting from this, we need to find a way to use our knowledge meaningfully. When we read that even the engineers who built it don’t know how their autonomous car algorithm works or that the biggest library of books that mankind ever saw is in the hand of one single company and not accessible to anyone, we might lose our faith in what we do as developers.
I recently spoke with a back-end developer friend about how many hours I spend coding or learning about code outside of work. He showed me a passage from an Uncle Bob book, “Clean Code”, which compares the hours musicians spend with their instruments in preparation for a concert to developers rehearsing code to perform at work.
I like the analogy but I’m not sure I fully subscribe to it; it’s that type of thinking that can cause burnout in the first place.
These days, I’ve been pondering what purpose we as developers have in our world. I’m not able to provide you with an answer here, but instead want to encourage you to think about it, too. Do you have an opinion on this? Are we just pleasing other people’s demands? Or are we in charge of advising the people who demand solutions from us if we think they’re wrong? A challenging question, and the answer will be different for everyone here.
Icons are an essential part of many user interfaces, visually expressing objects, actions and ideas. When done correctly, they communicate the core idea and intent of a product or action, and they bring a lot of nice benefits to user interfaces, such as saving screen real estate and enhancing aesthetic appeal. Last but not least, most apps and websites have icons. It’s a design pattern that is familiar to users.
In-store is a clear winner compared to online when it comes to impulse buying, as established by a 2016 Creditcard.com survey. Does that mean that there is a dead end to encashing impulse buys online? No.
Whether you are an established eCommerce enterprise or an aspiring one, the following practices can help you convert more impulse buyers:
Leverage Social Commerce
Social media promises a positive outlook for e-commerce enterprises when it comes to impulse buying. Major social media platforms such as Instagram have rolled out nifty new buttons that let users buy what they like, as soon as they see it online.
James Quarles, Instagram’s global head of business and brand development, analogizes an eCommerce website to something of a digital store window, a place to potentially win a sale when customers are in “discovery phase of finding something and not probably even deliberately looking for it.” Therefore, social commerce is, in a way, the answer to instantly gratify the consumer as soon as he realizes the want to buy something, regardless of the buying phase.
Pinterest launched buyable pins for the iOS and Android devices. Major retailers such as Macy’s and Nordstorm are early adopters of this move.
Another interesting aspect of social media driving sales has been highlighted by Yotpo. According to its study, reviews as a social proof lead to higher conversion rates on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Such reviews and recommendations are likely to push suggestive impulse.
People who are emotionally tapped-out because of family or work demands.
Inexperienced shoppers who tend to be swayed more by the stimulation overload they experience when they’re shopping. This makes them vulnerable to sales messaging and special offers.
People who are unable to express their anger. They typically have high standards of niceness or they’re simply overlooked by others. Impulse purchasing is often fueled by the anger that needs an outlet and the craving for relief.
All three reasons listed above reflect human psychology, and this is where the opportunity for eCommerce enterprises lies. The rule of persuasion is one such psychological trait that can be leveraged.
Create “open” and “closed” periods for ongoing offers.
Create limited production runs.
Provide benefits to early adopters.
Don’t record webinars (this point is for SaaS).
Thom O’Leary, President, Fixer Group Consulting says, “Use countdown timers (on site or in emails) for increasing impulse buys. Timing is everything, and no one wants to miss an opportunity. Customers have an easier time making a quick decision when they see time ticking away. As email services and technology improves, it’s simple to add dynamic countdown timers to emails and on-site content, increasing urgency and making the decision to buy on impulse rather than making a well-considered decision.”
Seasonal sales, a technique that Ann Taylor and a number of other eCommerce players use, also create a sense of urgency in customers. Promotional schemes such as ‘Thanksgiving Sale’ fetch more sales from impulse seasonal shopping.
You can also apply the persuasion principle by providing users with free shipping when they have made just enough purchases online to win it. Coupling this with product recommendations can help them buy a little over and above the free shipping threshold.
Not all your consumers would be aware about the discount running on your website. And, even if they do, they might not remember. Sending them a can provide the nudge that they need. The eBay app sends out push notifications to its users, informing them about the start or end of any auction. That is how ebay combines technology with the persuasion principle to get more people to buy without much preparation.
Internet of Things
Adding to the scope of conversions from impulse buys is the emergence of Internet of Things (IoT). The Amazon dash button has taken IoT to a higher level. This button allows its users to order from Amazon whenever their inventory/items need to be restocked, without signing in.
Focus on Ease of Use and Online Experiences
Earlier, we have already discussed how mobile commerce is tapping into the impulse of consumers. If you combine the ease of use of mobile technology with trustworthy payment solutions, you can delight your customers with frictionless online shopping experiences. Mobile technology optimization can further increase conversions for your business, as it did for Your Tea. They used VWO’s IDEACT services for a full redesign of the product pages. Structured Conversion Optimization got YourTea a 28% boost in revenue.
For the sake of simplicity though, let’s split ease of navigation and online experiences into two points.
Although designing is the first step, how do you know that this design in fact is effective? This is when A/B testingcomes into play. Set up two different variations of a navigation menu to find out which one scores better. You can also read this VWO post about 8 Ways to Refine eCommerce Site Search and Navigationfor quick product finds. For making it easy for users to find products on discounts, eCommerce enterprises can also use approaches such as allocating sections such as ‘Deals on Discount’ or ‘New in Store’ to their home page.
With an increase in touchpoints, the opportunities for converting impulse buys from online shoppers are growing each day. What eCommerce enterprises can do best is to leverage on each opportunity area that we have listed in this post, and innovate.
Have anything else to add? Drop in a line in the comments section.