Who are your competitors?

There is always competition. Even if you're the only restaurant in town you face competition, from cinemas, bars and other businesses where your customers will spend their money instead of with you.

Your competitor could be a new business offering a substitute or similar product that makes your own redundant. For example, if gardens are replaced by patios or swimming pools, lawnmower sales will fall.

Competition is not just another business that might take money away from you. It can be another product or service that's being developed and which you ought to be selling or looking to license before somebody else takes it up.

You can get clues to the existence of competitors from:

  • advertising
  • press reports
  • exhibitions and trade fairs
  • questionnaires
  • searching on the web for similar products or services
  • approaches reported by your customers
  • flyers and marketing literature that have been sent to you - this is quite common if you're on a bought-in marketing list
  • planning applications and building work in progress

What you need to know about your competitors

Monitor the way your competitors do business. Look at:

  • the products or services they provide and how they market them to customers
  • the prices they charge
  • how they distribute and deliver
  • the devices they employ to enhance customer loyalty and what back-up service they offer
  • their brand and design values
  • whether they innovate - business methods as well as products
  • their staff numbers and quality
  • how they use IT (for example, if they're technology-aware and offer a website and email)
  • who owns the business and what sort of person they are
  • their accounts at Companies House - or Companies Registry for businesses in Northern Ireland - if they're a limited company
  • their annual report if they're a public company

You can view accounts registered with Companies House at the Companies House website. You can also view accounts registered with the Companies Registry at the Companies Registry website.

How they treat their customers

Find out as much as possible about your competitors' customers, such as:

  • who they are
  • what products or services different customers buy from them
  • what customers see as your competitors' strengths and weaknesses
  • whether there are any loyal customers
  • if they've had an influx of recent customers

What they're planning to do

Try to go beyond what's happening now by investigating your competitors' business strategy, for example:

  • what types of customer they're targeting
  • what new products they're developing
  • what financial resources they have

Learning about your competitors

Read about your competitors. Look through the trade press for articles on them. Scan publications to find any advertisements they've placed. Read their marketing literature and newsletters. Check their entries in directories and phone books.

Do they get mentions in the local and trade press when you don't? Do they seem to be networking or sponsoring events?

If your competitor is a public company, read a copy of their annual report. Limited companies have to lodge their accounts with Companies House, which means you can inspect them. Businesses in Northern Ireland have to file their accounts with Companies Registry.

You can view accounts registered with Companies House at the Companies House website. You can also view accounts registered with the Companies Registry at the Companies Registry website.

Go to exhibitions

While at exhibitions and trade fairs check which of your competitors are also exhibiting. Take a look at their stands and how they're promoting themselves and keep an eye out to see how busy they are and who visits them.

Check the web

Look at competitors' websites . Find out what they're doing better or worse than you. Use - with discretion - the interactive parts of their site. Is the information free of charge or does it have to be paid for? How easy is it to find?

Business websites often give a great deal of information that businesses wouldn't traditionally reveal - from the history of the company right down to biographies of the staff.

Use a search engine to track down similar products. Find out who else offers them and how they go about it.

Websites can also give you good tips on what businesses around the globe are doing in your line of business.

Organisations and reference sources

For more information, see our guide to market research and reports.


Hearing about your competitors

Speak to your competitors. Phone them to ask for a copy of their brochure or get one of your staff or a friend to drop by and pick up their marketing literature.

You could ask for a price list or enquire what an off-the-shelf item might cost and if there's a discount for volume. This will give you an idea at which point a competitor will discount and at what volume.

Phone and face-to-face contacts will also give you an idea of the style of the company, the quality of their literature and the initial impressions they make on customers.

It's also likely you'll meet competitors at social and business events. Talk to them. Be friendly - they're competitors not enemies. You'll get a better idea of them - and you might need each other one day, for example in collaborating to grow a new market for a new product.

Listen to your customers and suppliers

Make the most of contacts with your customers. Don't just ask how well you're performing - ask which of your competitors they buy from and how you compare.

Use meetings with your suppliers to ask what their other customers are doing. They may not tell you everything you want to know, but it's a useful start.

Use your judgement with any information they volunteer. For instance, when customers say your prices are higher than the competition they may just be trying to negotiate a better deal.


How to act on the information you get

Draw up a list of everything that you've found out about your competitors, however small.

Put the information into three categories:

  • what I can learn from and do better 
  • what they're doing worse than me
  • what they're doing the same as me

What you can learn from and do better

If you're sure your competitors are doing something better than you, you need to change. It could be anything from improving customer service, assessing your prices and updating your products to changing the way you market yourself, redesigning your literature and website and changing your suppliers.

And don't just copy. Now you've got the idea, can you do it even better, add more value?

Your competitors might not have rights over their actual ideas, but remember the rules on patents, copyright and design rights. For more information, see our guide on intellectual property: the basics.

What they're doing worse than you

Exploit the gaps you've identified. These may be in their product range or service, marketing or distribution, even the way they recruit and retain employees.

Renew your efforts in these areas to exploit the deficiencies you've discovered in your competitors.

But don't be complacent about your current strengths. Your current offerings may still need improving and your competitors may also be assessing you. They may adopt and enhance your good ideas.

What they're doing the same as you

Why are they doing the same as you, particularly if you're not impressed by other things they do? Perhaps you've both got it wrong.

Analyse these common areas and see whether you've got it right. And even if you have, your competitor may be planning an improvement.







Related guides on businesslink.gov.uk

Book a marketing course through our Training Directory

Market research and market reports

Create your marketing strategy

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Related web sites you might find useful

Download a short guide to understanding competitors from the Chartered Institute of Marketing website (PDF)
http://www.cim.co.uk/mediastore/10_min_get_to_grips_with_competitors.pdf

Find a course on analysing competitors on the Chartered Institute of Marketing website
http://www.cim.co.uk/cim/dev/html/couCouCou.cfm

Download a short guide to understanding competitors from the Chartered Institute of Marketing website (PDF)
http://www.cim.co.uk/mediastore/10_Min_Marketing_Comm.pdf

Who are your competitors?

There is always competition. Even if you're the only restaurant in town you face competition, from cinemas, bars and other businesses where your customers will spend their money instead of with you.

Your competitor could be a new business offering a substitute or similar product that makes your own redundant. For example, if gardens are replaced by patios or swimming pools, lawnmower sales will fall.

Competition is not just another business that might take money away from you. It can be another product or service that's being developed and which you ought to be selling or looking to license before somebody else takes it up.

You can get clues to the existence of competitors from:

  • advertising
  • press reports
  • exhibitions and trade fairs
  • questionnaires
  • searching on the web for similar products or services
  • approaches reported by your customers
  • flyers and marketing literature that have been sent to you - this is quite common if you're on a bought-in marketing list
  • planning applications and building work in progress

What you need to know about your competitors

Monitor the way your competitors do business. Look at:

  • the products or services they provide and how they market them to customers
  • the prices they charge
  • how they distribute and deliver
  • the devices they employ to enhance customer loyalty and what back-up service they offer
  • their brand and design values
  • whether they innovate - business methods as well as products
  • their staff numbers and quality
  • how they use IT (for example, if they're technology-aware and offer a website and email)
  • who owns the business and what sort of person they are
  • their accounts at Companies House - or Companies Registry for businesses in Northern Ireland - if they're a limited company
  • their annual report if they're a public company

You can view accounts registered with Companies House at the Companies House website. You can also view accounts registered with the Companies Registry at the Companies Registry website.

How they treat their customers

Find out as much as possible about your competitors' customers, such as:

  • who they are
  • what products or services different customers buy from them
  • what customers see as your competitors' strengths and weaknesses
  • whether there are any loyal customers
  • if they've had an influx of recent customers

What they're planning to do

Try to go beyond what's happening now by investigating your competitors' business strategy, for example:

  • what types of customer they're targeting
  • what new products they're developing
  • what financial resources they have

Learning about your competitors

Read about your competitors. Look through the trade press for articles on them. Scan publications to find any advertisements they've placed. Read their marketing literature and newsletters. Check their entries in directories and phone books.

Do they get mentions in the local and trade press when you don't? Do they seem to be networking or sponsoring events?

If your competitor is a public company, read a copy of their annual report. Limited companies have to lodge their accounts with Companies House, which means you can inspect them. Businesses in Northern Ireland have to file their accounts with Companies Registry.

You can view accounts registered with Companies House at the Companies House website. You can also view accounts registered with the Companies Registry at the Companies Registry website.

Go to exhibitions

While at exhibitions and trade fairs check which of your competitors are also exhibiting. Take a look at their stands and how they're promoting themselves and keep an eye out to see how busy they are and who visits them.

Check the web

Look at competitors' websites . Find out what they're doing better or worse than you. Use - with discretion - the interactive parts of their site. Is the information free of charge or does it have to be paid for? How easy is it to find?

Business websites often give a great deal of information that businesses wouldn't traditionally reveal - from the history of the company right down to biographies of the staff.

Use a search engine to track down similar products. Find out who else offers them and how they go about it.

Websites can also give you good tips on what businesses around the globe are doing in your line of business.

Organisations and reference sources


For more information, see our guide to market research and reports.