The A to Z of UX - B is for Benchmarking: A 6-step plan for assessing your competition

Updated: Jan 28

Darren Wilson



What is UX Benchmarking?


Benchmarking is a excellent way to enhance your market knowledge and help focus the direction of your user experience and product offering.


Unless you’ve found a niche or gap in the market, there are competitors to learn from. That’s not to say you should copy what you find. Great benchmarking is as much discerning what NOT to do, as well as acquiring information how to improve.


How can I do it?


The two main techniques to consider:

  • Competitor Analysis: Compare yourself to the competition. What do they offer? What do they do well and not so well? Do they offer a great user experience?

  • Competitor Testing: A/B testing what you have vs the competition provides objective data. Consequently, you will determine where your key problems lie and how you can improve.

I will tackle testing in a later blog and concentrate on the competitor analysis here to help you make the most out of it.


Why do a competitor analysis?


Maybe you’ve never done one, or it’s been some time since you have. Either way, it’s always useful to investigate what’s going on externally. You can make more informed strategic and design decisions for your UX. Here are some additional important reasons:

  • Establish who is competing for your customers & where you can win them from

  • Discover what products and services they are offering

  • Pinpoint strengths and weaknesses you have vs. competitors

  • Find creative solutions for usability problems

  • Unearth innovative ideas that inspire that you and can make use of, if appropriate

  • Identify potential gaps in the market and determine how you can create product / service differentiation for your company

  • Provide reliable evidence when proposing changes to UX


What's the best way for me to do it?


There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Techniques may vary depending on your offering. However, you can start from a common platform and tweak accordingly. The two key tasks you need to perform are:

  • Understand what information you require, so you can work effectively & efficiently

  • Analyse data objectively to enable you to make deductions, which you can act on

Unless you have a specific requirement to carry out new benchmarking, it’s a good practice to repeat for general updates once or twice a year to observe the latest trends.


The 6-step approach to great benchmarking


Follow these simple steps for an effective and successful competitor analysis:


1. Define your research objectives


Setting the scope will help make the exercise focused and more efficient. A common mistake is having so much data that it becomes burden and in reality isn’t that insightful. Defining goals and assessment criteria at the outset keeps you on target.


What specific questions you are trying to answer? Or is it an information trawl leading to a more focused activity? Keep referring back to these goals to ensure you stay on track. Budget and timeframe also need to be factored in to the project.


Think about format for collecting data. A spreadsheet can work well to list your assessment criteria. Use a general comments section for anything not specific to any criteria. That way you won’t miss anything you’ve not thought of, but is particularly interesting and may need later.

Image credit - Google

2. Identify your competition


Any business should be aware of it’s competition. How in-depth you go ultimately is up to you. However, things can change quickly in UX so it’s useful to refresh periodically.


To start with, look at 6-8 direct and indirect competitors. This is manageable and you’re more likely to keep on top of things.

  • Direct competitors do exactly what you do / plan to do and have the same product / service offering. You may share the same customers base which you can exploit.

  • Indirect competitors offer a similar kind of product or service, but perhaps their primary USP is something different to what you have.

Image credit - Business Wales

3. Look for trends amongst your competitors


When investigating trends, it’s a good idea to think about these questions :

Image Credit- Material Design

What actions / functionality are available?

  • Add these to your analysis tool and assign each one a priority. This will come in useful when thinking about your customer experience later.

What is the user journey required to achieve those actions?

  • Take videos / pictures to reference or document later. Depending on the context and what you’re reviewing, it’s not always easy to do it again easily or without cost.

  • It will also give you a referenced state in time to see how your competitors are organically changing.

These trends may be to do with new interactions, style and structure of information hierarchy, new jargon, icons, use of colour to draw attention or use of technology for example.


Think about why these trends are occurring. Are there common stereotypes because this is what users expect and is the best solution? Are there barriers why a better idea hasn’t been found? Don’t take everything carte blanche however. Apply your own knowledge and experience to draw rationale conclusions.


Ask yourself if these new trends are gimmicks or is there a genuine customer benefit. The image above shows an animated hint which gives a benefit by providing clarity to the user what interactions are available. Think about your customer base and how likely they are to get what these new trends are. If in doubt, always choose experience over novelty.


4. Assess your competitors UX in detail


Delving deeper into UX, there are several important facets to consider:


Feature set

  • What do they offer that would be of benefit to your customers?

  • What is superfluous that is masking the good stuff?

  • What shouldn’t be there and is actually negatively impacting the user experience?

  • How many steps does it require to access information or complete key tasks?

Tone and Copy

  • How do they talk to the customer - informal, formal, technical?

  • What language, terminology and format of information / pricing do they use?

  • Is there clarity or do they waffle on?

  • How well do they communicate what they are offering and what their USP is?

Customer reviews

  • What are customers saying? Look at verbatims on forums, not just star ratings. Valuable information comes from why people take time to review in the first place.

  • Do they have credibility and customer loyalty?

Speed

  • Is the experience quick or are you constantly waiting for things to download?

  • Is it a great experience where you don’t even notice how long it takes because it is so easy?

Usability

  • Is the experience intuitive and easy to use, with feedback satisfactory?

  • Are key tasks easy to complete quickly and are any errors easy to remedy?

  • Is there an integrated approach to make things even easier in future?

  • Is content meaningful, readable and accessible for all?

  • Do you understand the content and is the experience intuitive?

  • Is the experience consistent and coherent?

  • Did you have an enjoyable experience and was it compelling enough to go back?

Service

  • What customer service options do they offer that you need to, or can improve?

  • How do they go above & beyond to ensure customer loyalty?


See how well standard UX Design principles have been applied across your competition. Use these as a guide and be flexible to add / remove as applicable. Add them in to your analysis tool depending on how detailed you want it to be.

Figure 1 - Example of a UX benchmarking analysis tool. Make it is as simple or detailed as your time and budget allows. Have links to user journeys and any other linked materials.

5. Time to Analyse


Following your analysis, it's useful to summarise your learning and potential impact.

  • Having assessed your own relative strengths and weaknesses vs the competition, it can help you more easily identify improvement opportunities

  • It can be used to persuade members of your organisation/project team of the need to make changes and/or innovate new solutions

If you are unsure at any point during the analysis, you should ask for advice and/or have it peer reviewed. This will give you more confidence the data and findings are accurate and robust.


It can be dangerous to react on findings which does not reflect the full truth. You must be sure you have reached the correct conclusions before reacting to them.


6. Share your findings


After you have compiled your research, analysed it and processed it into insights and actions, you are ready to share with stakeholders. You need to think about the audience how to present accordingly to get the greatest engagement.


An executive summary to show articulate the scope of the research and resulting recommendations can help those time constrained. Visuals such as dashboards provide a helicopter view of where you are vs. the competition are easily accessible.

Image credit - Sodapdf

Anything interactive or video based can be more powerful and persuasive vs. simple words and numbers.


Video content which communicates how customers are feeling when using your products, and demonstrates passion and emotion is extremely compelling and is difficult to argue.


Go into more detail regarding key findings and recommendations. Always back it up with evidence. Having the detail is both useful for you and will also help establish audience credibility.


Focus on the impact of your research by demonstrating benefits of implementing your transformative recommendations. If possible show the indicative return of investment, this is more likely to generate tangible change. Provide clarity of prioritised next steps and if you believe further research is required.


What do I need to be careful of?


While competitor analysis is an essential component of user-centred design, it’s not a smoking gun. You treat to need the outcome of the analysis with care.


Even if you currently better than the competition, it is not a signal to stand still. The commercial world is littered with examples of companies resting on their laurels while at the top of their game. NOKIA, Kodak, Blackberry amongst others.


You can be on the same level, or indeed higher than your competitors, but this does not give you information to really innovate and lead. Be wary of tunnel vision with competitor analysis letting you develop innovative solutions.


As mentioned, be wary of drawing incorrect conclusions and if possible have your research peer reviewed. This will identify any holes in the research and draw attention to contentious issues that may need additional data or explanation, prior to sharing with stakeholders


The key is evaluating the data to deduce its value and then to decide what to do with it. Use insights the data give you to create an edge, but then apply your own skills and experience to think about how to use it context for your product or business.



Conclusion


Conducting regular focused benchmarking is critical for gaining insights and informing your user experience decision making. It is a valuable tool for providing customer and product insights. It is a valuable technique to learn from the competition and prevent you from making the same mistakes.

  • Define scope and what you want to achieve. Revert back to these periodically to maintain focus.

  • Identify key competitors and ensure that the task is manageable and repeatable.

  • Look for trends and critically evaluate why you think they exist. Always think customer benefit.

  • Assess your UX and identify where you are better or worse vs. the competition.

  • Take time and critically analyse the data and form tangible insights. Derive ideas and prioritise a list of recommendations.

  • Sell these to stakeholders to get the biggest return on investment to create an optimised user experience.



Get in touch with the author


​Darren Wilson

Managing Director at UXcentric

darren@uxcentric.co.uk

07854 781 908

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