You watch your competitors, they watch you, so let’s see what they’re looking at.
I’m reasonably certain we’ve all had a good look around our competitor’s ecommerce sites and I’m pretty sure they’ve had a good look around ours as well.
It’s been industry practice to do ‘competitor shopping’ for decades – but in the digital world where everything is measurable is there anything we can learn from them while they are trying to learn from us?
Firstly to be able to achieve the following we will need our competitor’s IP address. This is most likely not the IP address of their web server, but the IP address of their office / home. If your competitor is medium to large in scale then it’s likely they will have a static IP address or one or several IP address ranges.
If they are smaller then they may well be operating on a dynamic IP address (which changes every time they re-boot their router or loose connection).
For the purpose of this post I’ll be talking about IPv4. While some ISPs are switching to IPv6 the former remains dominant (and also potentially easier to track), once my ISP updates to IPv6 I’ll let you know how these techniques work with that protocol.
Now the tricky part: we need to find out our competitor’s IP address. There are many way to do this, from checking their subdomains for the DNS settings of a windows server style server.domain.com domain (some penetration testing tools may be your friend), through to hopping on to their public wi-fi.
There are also companies who maintain databases of public-facing static IP addresses for medium/larger companies which you can search for a fee. I’m sure you can use your imagination for some other methods…
So now we have their IP address what are some things we can keep an eye on?
1. See which pages on your site they are looking at
Log files can be an incredibly useful (if slightly overwhelming) source of data about how your site is being used, and if we have our competitors IP address we can use them to see which pages on our site they have been looking at.
You can search through the bare logs but depending on your logging level these could be noting every single resource they access (including images, scripts etc.) – so I’d recommend using a log file analyser than can drill-down by IP address.
This will let you know exactly which pages of yours they are looking at and when.
2. What technology do they use?
Looking at the log files will also give you their browser header information – this will let you know their operating system, browser & screen resolution. Although not the insight of the century you can see if they are testing your site on different devices – or just generally what their desktop technology stack is.
You can also sniff out their IP address using either a plug-in or some code and inject an analytics event, allowing you to track and report on them and their technology in Google Analytics or your analytics tool of choice.
3. What times are they looking?
Again looking at the log files – you can see what time of the day they are checking out your site.
Another albeit small insight into their world – how late are they working? How late do they get into the office?
4. Watch them browse
Session recording is an extremely useful tool in any ecommerce professional’s tool-box.
Many of these tools give you a number of filtering options including filtering by IP address. If we have their IP address we can surface the recordings of them using our site and see exactly what they are focusing on.
5. See if they are programmatically checking your prices
There are numerous ways of automatically checking a competitors prices, some cloud hosted and some stand-alone apps.
To check for the latter we’d need to dig into the logs to see if there are any spikes in visits from their IP address – if so chances are they could be price checking (although it could be another tool such as Screaming Frog, URL profiler etc.).
One way to defend against this and mess with them at the same time is to detect their IP and give them incorrect pricing data – just make very sure the IP address is definitely them.
For cloud based services this can be more difficult as they will often operate across numerous IP addresses and / or proxies but again you can check your log files for spikes from particular IP addresses / ranges and take action as above if you notice a pattern.
6. Screen their calls
Your competitors may be calling your sales or customer service team to test your policies, dig for information or just to see if you offer any discounts for bulk purchases etc. This one can get a little technical, but if you have all the parts in place isn’t too hard to do.
As with the analytics scenario earlier on we need to write some script to detect the competitors IP address and then display a different phone number to them and only them.
You’ll need to tie this phone number into your phone system and display some specific text when a call comes in on that number – when you see that text you’ll know what to do.
Bonus tip: block your competitors clicking on your adverts.
Both Google and Bing allow you to block ads by IP address – so if you’re worried about your competitors clicking on your ads then you can stop your adverts even appearing to them.
Stuart Kerr is Head of digital at Liberty Games, an Ecommerce consultant and a contributor to SEW.