Competitive Analysis in UX Design: Process, Methods, and Concerns

Natalia Borysko

Unless you're doing something exceptionally innovative aiming to disrupt the market, you are not the only one in the industry. But that’s actually not as bad as it sounds. There is a widespread delusion that you must offer customers a brand-new exclusive solution packed with the latest technology and modern design to outrun your market rivals. In most cases, what you really need is to fit market demand and perform a bit better than competitors.

Understanding the landscape of existing UX design solutions is critical for building a product people truly need and will be excited to use. You should know who those other guys are and what good they bring to the market, and for this purpose, competitive analysis is an indispensable tool. A competitive landscape overview will help you get valuable insights, identify your product’s strengths and weaknesses, and develop effective product strategies that win. 

In this blog post, we’ll talk about how to conduct UX competitive analysis and make the most out of it to skyrocket your product.

What is UX competitive analysis? 

In its essence, a UX competitive analysis is a part of the research process when you investigate all relevant design solutions in your domain performed by direct and indirect competitors. As a SaaS design agency, we at Eleken are positive that competitive research is a valuable source of insights, which may urge you to reconsider the product’s features, change a user flow, or even revamp your product for the sake of a better user experience. That’s why a thorough UX competitive analysis precedes every project our designers start to work on.

The competition analysis includes two important stages, each of which you can’t skip if you want your investigation to be not just a formal process but an insightful UX research.

Stage 1 requires a clear understanding of the research process, methodology, and the information you want to find.

Stage 2 implies a combination of all findings into the action plan.

You can take heuristics evaluation principles as guidance for your competitive analysis or extend the analysis scope with whatever you think will be relevant to achieve your ultimate goal.

Why should you conduct UX competitive analysis?

Because you aren’t alone in the market. Unless you’re operating in the blue ocean, more likely your product has quite a bit of alternative, and some other solutions may be pretty decent to attract users’ attention. To stand out in a crowded SaaS market, you should clearly understand your product’s positioning and competitors’ strengths and weaknesses to think over how to win the battle for customers. 

The truth is, in a fast-paced world, people don’t want to waste their time figuring out how to interact with a product to achieve their goals. If their user experience is not what they expect to get, users will move to a competitor’s offering with no regret. The UX competitive analysis helps businesses identify what they do better than competitors (and amplify it) and where they, let’s say, miss some important features that can be crucial to fulfill the underserved market’s needs.

Also, researching more about the market competition will help:

  • Nail your go-to-market strategy
  • Detach from competitors by a clear understanding of a product’s unique values
  • Find proof of concept for your design idea
  • Improve the product’s usability
  • Learn more about target customers’ needs 

However, it’s important to mention that all the efforts may be in vain if you fail to properly define your real competitive landscape. What do I mean by “real”? I’ll explain right away.

Say, you’ve launched a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) caller targeting SMBs. Is it correct to consider big UCaaS market players as, for example, RingCentral, your competitors? From one side, you are both operating in one industry and theoretically share the same customer pool. But if you dive deeper, RingCentral is covering not only SMBs but also huge enterprises with more advanced needs as the system’s scalability, HIPAA compliance, or SD-WAN. Forgive me for not digging into the explanation of these concepts; just believe me, it’s complicated technical stuff. 

If you realize that you won’t target enterprise customers and you’re pretty happy providing services to small companies, it would be appropriate to look at the competitors of comparatively similar scope. This way, you can assume what worked well for them may deserve your attention as well.

When is the time to conduct the analysis?

As my ex-manager said: “It’s always a high season”. Though this phrase concerned the sales process, it is also relevant to competitive research. There is no such thing as the right moment for the analysis as the market is ever changing, and you should always keep your radar high to make timely decisions. But, if to set up some milestones, the UX competitive research and analysis should be one of the earliest stages of the product design process when you start working on a new project. Then, as the project develops, it would be reasonable to regularly check the competitive updates to stay on track. 

How to do the UX competitive analysis?

Based on my solid background (eleven years of hands-on experience can be considered “solid”, eh?) in competitive intelligence and product marketing, I’d like to list some pieces of advice which are worth taking into account before you start your competitive analysis.

Here they are.

General advice

  • Create a shortlist of main competitors (from three to five companies are more than enough) and criteria to set up defined research frames
  • Don’t forget to add the product you design to the list to compare with the competitive solutions
  • There is always a temptation to copy the design ideas of your market rivals. Before applying such practice, make sure they’re using the best practices you will benefit from inheriting
  • Mind indirect competitors (for example those, who operate in a vertical market which you don’t plan to enter so far)
  • Be inspired by your competitors’ UX design solutions but put your users and business goals first 

And with the last phrase, we’re smoothly coming to the main steps you need to take when conducting your UX competitive analysis.

Process steps

If this is the first time you will be conducting competitive analysis, you can use these steps to blueprint future research. They are logically organized, starting from the preparation stage up to the presentation of findings.

Set your goals and adhere to them 

Ideally, the goals should be assessable and as specific as possible. It will make it easier for you to evaluate the results and decide whether to proceed with the analysis to achieve the desired outcome.

Build a competitors’ shortlist

As I’ve already mentioned above, it is okay to start with three to five direct (and indirect, if appropriate) competitors. Although some sources advise having at least ten competitors on the list to gather more information, first, make sure you did a good job for the main ones. You can extend your list any time; it’s not set in stone.

Find what you have in common with competitors

We often think about differentiating our product from similar market offerings and highlighting the unique selling points. However, if some industry-recognized best practices in building a user journey exist, you shouldn’t overlook them when working on UX design. Check yourself referring to the UI usability principles and see what competitors are doing regarding key product features, tone, voice, page loading time, and user interface.

Create a feature comparison chart 

Put down all UX elements and other features of your competitors that you think are the most important for your product’s users. 

On the image below, such features are:

  • UI design
  • Sorting
  • Filters
  • Images
  • Load time
  • Responsiveness
A feature comparison chart comparing competitive companies by UI design, filters, images, load time, responsiveness, and sorting
Image credit: kabhishek.com

Compare your product to competitors 

As you already have a feature comparison chart from the step above, it’s time to figure out what makes your product stand out among other market players. 

A comparison table comparing a product to its competitors in terms of strengths, weaknesses, price, social media presence, and onboarding experience
Image credit: Getcloudapp.com

This exercise is very useful to quickly understand where you’re obviously losing to competitors and where you’re performing much better.

Analyze your findings

You’ve conducted thorough research, which, let’s hope, gave you an idea of how you can improve your UX design. Now you know competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and imagine what design opportunities you have to speak your own voice.

Present your UX competitive analysis

In my competitive intelligence past, I learned one universal truth - whatever valuable information you found during your research, all precious insights will have no meaning if you can’t properly present them. Prepare a concise slide deck with the main points, backed up with persuasive proofs. Describe the impact of your research and propose an action plan.

Research methods

Even though we’re talking about the design here, fundamental marketing research methods can serve well when doing UX competitive analysis. 

Here are some marketing techniques you can use to conduct your research.

SWOT analysis

SWOT analysis example that lists a company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
Image credit: devimopopups.wordpress.com

The classics of marketing. The method helps evaluate external and internal factors that can influence a product (in our case, a design). The simplicity and comprehensiveness made the SWOT framework widely used in strategic marketing. It helps determine the product’s strengths and weaknesses and figure out market opportunities and threats. 

Conducting UX competitive analysis, researchers examine these factors in terms of design. Even though the SWOT matrix is a useful tool, it has its weak sides. The SWOT covers four aspects only, and there is a risk of overlooking other important points that may be crucial for the decision-making process. Thus, it’s recommended to complement this method with other marketing tools.

Porter’s Five Forces

Porter's five forces image showing how buyers, supplyers, product substitutes, and new market entrants influence the product's market position
Image credit: isc.hbs.edu

Porter’s model tells us that we should keep an eye not only on competition but also on other market forces that, to a greater or lesser extent, influence our market position. Buyers, suppliers, substitutes, and new entrants can dictate their rules and change your product’s market. Again, being super helpful, the Porter’s Five Forces model doesn’t provide a 360-degree market overview considering external factors only. Thus, it should be used along with other competitive analysis methods to get deeper insights.

Perceptual mapping

The tool’s main idea is to visualize customers’ perception of your product compared to the competition in a “price-quality” frame. A perceptual map is a helpful tool to understand what customers think about your product’s quality and if they consider the correlation between price and quality is fair enough.

Perceptual mapping helps identify customers' perception of a product in terms of quality-price ratio
Image credit: Alexa.com 

The data represented on the perceptual map are gathered through surveys sent to actual and potential customers. The apparent disadvantage of this competitive research tool is that it boils down customers’ purchase decisions to two factors only - quality and price, whereas in reality, purchasing is a multi-faceted process.

So, as you can see from the above, whatever great competitive analysis method is, it can hardly be used alone without complementing it with other research tools. To have an entire picture, the combination of research techniques is what a thorough designer (in Eleken all our designers are like that) should use for UX competitive analysis. 

UX competitive analysis pitfalls

What can be wrong with competitive analysis, you think? One of the most significant problems is that you actually can be much better than the competition. “But that’s great!” you can say. Not really. Healthy market competition is a powerful driver to accelerate innovations. The desire to outrun other players in your industry pushes you to create outstanding solutions and change the world for the better. Understanding that you are already doing good and nobody can compete with you can lead to business stagnation. 

One more worth-mentioned point. Being absorbed with the analysis process, we can be easily drawn away from the actionable steps, craving to find “one more interesting stuff that will definitely help us stand out”.

The analysis is good, but actions decide.

Also, the outcome of the analysis fully depends on the ability of the researcher to correctly interpret the information. To avoid biased opinions, it’s a good idea to share the findings with other people, especially those who regularly work with data analysis.

In conclusion

In a world where restless creative minds invent something new all the time, it’s crucial to study the competitive landscape before starting to work on a product’s design. The thoughtful UX competitive analysis can give you valuable insights that will nudge you to implement successful design solutions. Be aware of pitfalls to make the best of your UX competitive research. And if you need any help with it - drop us a line

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