08 Apr

4. Competitive testing

Earlier, I posted an article introducing testing. To summarize it, testing is an essential process for ensuring quality, identifying defects, validating functionality, and improving current products/services or creating new ones. Testing also serves as a crucial tool in the development lifecycle, providing insights into the performance, reliability, and usability of software or systems. By systematically evaluating various aspects, testing helps mitigate risks, enhance user experience, and meet business objectives.

In this blog, we will discuss another commonly used testing methodology: Competitive Testing. We’ll explore its principles, applications, and benefits. If you prefer to read it in another language, simply click on the flag below this blog, and the text will be translated into your preferred language.

 

Overview of Competitive testing

Competitive testing, also known as comparative usability testing or competitive benchmarking, is a research method that evaluates a product’s user experience in relation to its competitors (Comparative usability testing, 2023). This testing approach allows organizations to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of their design compared to industry rivals, uncovering opportunities for differentiation and improvement (Competitive usability evaluations: Definition, 2024). Key criteria examined in competitive testing include usability, functionality, aesthetics, content quality, and overall user satisfaction.

It’s important to remember that competitive testing centers on end-user behavior as they engage in tasks that are common across different products.

Benefits of competitive testing

Competitive testing offers several notable benefits:

  • Identifying competitive advantages and gaps: By directly comparing user experiences across competing products, organizations can pinpoint areas where they excel or lag behind, informing strategic decisions (Comparative usability testing, 2023).
  • Validating design decisions: Observing how users interact with alternative solutions provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of design choices, helping validate or refute assumptions (Competitive usability evaluations: Definition, 2024).
  • Inspiring innovation: Exposure to diverse approaches taken by competitors can spark creative ideas and drive innovation in product development (Approach competitive analysis like a user researcher, 2023).
  • Mitigating risk: Proactively identifying potential usability issues through competitive analysis reduces the risk of launching a subpar product (Product differentiation through usability testing, 2023).

Overall, it’s important to note that research indicates differences between website owners and their competitors can expose a significant 68% gap in usability (Nielsen, 2004).


Elements tested in competitive testing

Competitive testing can assess various elements of a product or service, such as (What is competitive comparison, 2023; UX competitive analysis w/template & example, 2024):

  • Information architecture and navigation
  • User interface design and interaction patterns
  • Content quality, relevance, and presentation
  • Functionality and feature sets
  • Performance and reliability
  • Brand perception and emotional resonance
  • Assessing feasibility, desirability, and viability

Competitive testing provides valuable insights into the feasibility, desirability, and viability of product requirements:

  • Feasibility: By examining how competitors have implemented similar features or functionalities, teams can gauge the technical feasibility of their own requirements (How to conduct a winning competitive product analysis, 2023).
  • Desirability: User feedback gathered during competitive testing sheds light on the desirability of specific features or design approaches, helping prioritize development efforts (How to do a competitive analysis: A step-by-step guide, 2023).
  • Viability: Analyzing the market reception and user satisfaction of competing products informs the assessment of a requirement’s business viability (Market research and competitive analysis, 2024).

Evaluating these criteria through competitive testing allows organizations to make informed decisions, allocate resources effectively, and develop products that resonate with user needs while remaining technically and commercially viable.


Limitations of competitive testing

While competitive testing offers valuable insights, it’s important to recognize its limitations:

  • Comparative, not conclusive: Competitive testing provides relative insights but does not guarantee the superiority of a design solution in isolation (3 ways to conduct competitive analysis in user research, 2024).
  • Snapshot in time: Competitive landscapes are dynamic, and insights from a single testing round may quickly become outdated (8 usability testing methods that work (types + examples), 2023).
  • Limited sample size: Due to resource constraints, competitive tests often involve smaller participant pools, potentially affecting result generalizability (How consumer testing can boost your industrial design, 2023).
  • Differences in user bases: Variations in target audiences and user preferences across competing products can influence test outcomes (Competitive testing and UX benchmarking tool – User Sense, 2024).

Preparing for competitive testing

To properly prepare for a competitive testing methodology, several key steps should be taken:

  • Define clear objectives and research questions to guide the testing process (Competitive analysis: Leveraging insights for success, 2024).
  • Identify key competitors and select representative products or features to evaluate (Product testing: The complete guide, 2024).
  • Develop user scenarios and tasks that align with the research objectives and enable meaningful comparisons across products (Effective competitive analysis to supercharge your UX, 2023).
  • Recruit participants who match the target user profile and have relevant domain expertise or experience (UX benchmarking | website & competitive testing with Loop11, 2023).
  • Establish consistent testing protocols and data collection methods to ensure fair and reliable comparisons (Competitive testing in machine learning – Ben Recht on Twitter, 2023).

Step-by-step walkthrough of competitive testing

  • Outline clear objectives: Define what you aim to learn from your competitors and choose the metrics that will guide your analysis.
  • Identify Competitors:  At this crucial stage, it’s essential to distinguish between direct and indirect competitors in the market.
    • Direct competitors are those that offer similar products or services to yours, directly competing for the same target audience. For example, if you’re selling smartphones, other companies that offer smartphones with similar features and functionalities would be your direct competitors.
    • On the other hand, indirect competitors may not offer the exact same products or services but cater to the same needs or solve similar problems in alternative ways. For instance, if you’re in the business of selling traditional printed books, your indirect competitors could include e-book platforms or audiobook services, as they provide alternative methods for people to consume literature.
    • Understanding the distinction between these types of competitors is vital as it lays the foundation for gaining a comprehensive view of the competitive landscape. By identifying both direct and indirect competitors, you’ll be better equipped to strategize effectively and position your offerings in the market. This holistic approach allows you to anticipate market shifts, identify potential threats, and capitalize on opportunities for growth.
    • Identifying competitors can be done through market research, industry reports, and competitor analysis tools (Kucharčíková, 2014).
  • Prepare researchers: Inform your team about the testing procedures and desired outcomes to ensure alignment and clarity of purpose.
  • Establish baseline data: Distribute pre-test questionnaires to collect essential information before embarking on testing.
  • Execute testing sessions: Conduct usability tests, choosing between moderated or unmoderated methods, to directly observe competitor performance.
    • Analyze Competitors: Inspect their strategies, product offerings, and customer engagement tactics.
    • Product Testing: Compare product features, pricing, and user experience with competitors.
    • Gather diverse feedback: Obtain both qualitative and quantitative feedback to capture a complete picture of user experiences. For example, utilize surveys or direct communication to gain customer insight and discover areas for improvements.
  • Process data collected: Organize and scrutinize the data to distill meaningful insights.
  • Detect patterns and insights: Look for emerging trends and significant conclusions that bubble up from the analysis.
  • Synthesize information: create visualizations and summaries of findings, and use SWOT analysis if necessary. Further details about SWOT can be found below.

Finalizing competitive testing

After completing the competitive testing process, researchers should consider the following to properly finalize the methodology:

  • Validate findings: Triangulate insights from competitive testing with data from other research methods to enhance validity (Competitive analysis: Leveraging insights for success, 2024).
  • Provide ideas for enhancements: Formulate workable strategies to leverage the data and strengthen your position in the market. Assess the impact and feasibility of identified improvements to guide prioritization and resource allocation (Product testing: The complete guide, 2024). So in other words:
    • Use competitive insights for Strategy: Implement the insights gained from testing and analysis into your business planning.
    • Reflect and Innovate: Use the learnings from testing to fuel innovation and improve your market position.
  • Communicate results effectively: Tailor the presentation of findings to the needs and preferences of different stakeholder groups to ensure buy-in and alignment (Effective competitive analysis to supercharge your UX, 2023). So share the results with relevant parties and engage in discussions to refine your strategies.
  • Plan for iteration: Treat competitive testing as an ongoing process, establishing a cadence for periodic evaluations to stay attuned to market dynamics (UX benchmarking | website & competitive testing with Loop11, 2023).

Tips for successful competitive testing

To ensure the successful execution of competitive testing, consider the following tips:

  • Align testing objectives with overall business goals to maximize the impact of insights (Competitive analysis: Leveraging insights for success, 2024).
  • Employ a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods to gather rich, holistic feedback (What is competitive comparison?, 2023).
  • Leverage remote testing tools to expand participant reach and gather insights efficiently (Product testing: The complete guide, 2024).
  • Foster a culture of continuous learning and iteration, encouraging teams to act on competitive insights (Effective competitive analysis to supercharge your UX, 2023).
  • In competitive usability testing, it’s always important to avoid bias. One effective practice is to withhold revealing your company’s name during participant recruitment.

Things to avoid

When conducting competitive testing, it’s crucial to avoid common pitfalls (Ways to conduct competitive analysis in user research, 2024; Usability testing methods that work, 2023):

  • Focusing solely on direct competitors, neglecting potential disruptors or substitutes
  • Overemphasizing superficial design elements at the expense of deeper usability factors
  • Failing to account for differences in target audiences or user contexts across products
  • Treating competitive testing as a one-time event rather than an ongoing process

Engaging stakeholders in competitive testing

Effective stakeholder engagement is crucial to the success of competitive testing initiatives. To facilitate meaningful involvement:

  • Identify key stakeholders: Pinpoint individuals or groups with a vested interest in the testing outcomes, such as product managers, designers, developers, and executives (Competitive analysis: Leveraging insights for success, 2024).
  • Communicate benefits: Clearly articulate the value of competitive testing in driving product improvement, innovation, and market differentiation to secure stakeholder buy-in (Product testing: The complete guide, 2024).
  • Solicit input: Engage stakeholders in defining testing objectives, selecting competitors, and developing user scenarios to ensure alignment with business priorities (Effective competitive analysis to supercharge your UX, 2023).
  • Provide regular updates: Keep stakeholders informed of testing progress, preliminary findings, and potential implications to maintain engagement and facilitate timely decision-making (UX benchmarking | website & competitive testing with Loop11, 2023).
  • Foster collaboration: Encourage cross-functional collaboration in analyzing results and generating recommendations to promote shared ownership and accountability (Competitive testing in machine learning – Ben Recht on Twitter, 2023).
  • It’s crucial to track and compare results from competitive tests consistently over time (Hanington & Martin, 2012). This practice allows for a comprehensive understanding of performance trends and facilitates informed decision-making regarding optimizations and enhancements.

SWOT & Competitors

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It is a strategic analysis tool used to evaluate a company’s competitive position in relation to its competitors (Panmore Institute, 2022).

Conducting a SWOT analysis based on competitors is a crucial step in strategic planning for any organization. This process involves evaluating the internal strengths and weaknesses of a company, as well as identifying external opportunities and threats posed by competitors in the market.

So, when we discuss strengths and weaknesses, we are referring to a company’s internal factors in comparison to its competitors. Strengths could include a strong brand reputation, superior product quality, a skilled workforce, customer loyalty, financial resources, and technological capabilities. Weaknesses might be high production costs, outdated technology, lack of innovation, poor customer service, or limited distribution channels (Mind Tools, n.d.).

Opportunities and threats are external factors that stem from the competitive environment. Opportunities could arise from emerging market trends, changes in consumer preferences, new technological developments, or a competitor’s missteps. Threats might include aggressive pricing strategies from rivals, new market entrants, changes in customer preferences favoring competitors, changes in government regulations, or economic downturns  (Bplans, n.d.).

By conducting a SWOT analysis based on competitors, organizations can gain valuable insights into their competitive position in the market. This information can be used to develop strategies to capitalize on strengths and opportunities, while mitigating weaknesses and threats (Helms & Nixon, 2010). It is important to note that a SWOT analysis should be regularly updated to reflect changes in the competitive landscape and market conditions. Additionally, the analysis should be complemented with other strategic planning tools and techniques to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the organization’s competitive position.


Examples of competitive testing

  1. E-commerce website comparison:
  • Objective: Evaluate the user experience of an e-commerce website against two leading competitors
  • Participants: 10 users who regularly shop online
  • Tasks: Browse product categories, search for specific items, add products to the cart, and complete a simulated purchase
  • Metrics: Task success rate, time on task, user satisfaction, and qualitative feedback (Comparative usability testing, 2023)
  1. Mobile banking app benchmarking:
  • Objective: Assess the usability and functionality of a mobile banking app compared to industry peers
  • Participants: 12 current users of the app and competitor apps
  • Tasks: Check account balances, transfer funds, pay bills, and locate nearby ATMs
  • Metrics: Task completion rate, error rate, user satisfaction, and feature preferences (What is competitive comparison?, 2023)
  1. SaaS product feature evaluation:
  • Objective: Compare the implementation and user reception of a specific feature across competing SaaS products
  • Participants: 8 current users of the SaaS product and 8 users of competitor products
  • Tasks: Locate and use the feature to complete a relevant workflow, provide feedback on ease of use and value
  • Metrics: Feature discoverability, task success rate, perceived usefulness, and qualitative insights (Product differentiation through usability testing, 2023)

By conducting competitive testing across diverse product categories and user scenarios, organizations can gain valuable insights into their relative strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for differentiation in the marketplace.


Additional examples of usage.

  • Competitive testing can be invaluable when creating a new product or service. For instance, when developing a new mobile app for booking travel accommodations, competitive testing could assess how users interact with existing apps like Airbnb, Booking.com, and Expedia (Gube, 2021). This would reveal strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities to differentiate the new app’s user experience. Similarly, if launching a new streaming video platform, competitive testing against Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ could uncover usability gaps and inform the design of a more intuitive and engaging interface (Albert & Tullis, 2013). Competitive testing could also guide the development of a new project management software by evaluating how users complete common tasks across tools like Asana, Trello, and Jira, helping shape a more user-friendly alternative (Usability testing for web & mobile apps, 2019).
  • When improving an existing product or service, competitive testing is equally valuable. For a retail website undergoing a redesign, testing against top e-commerce competitors could pinpoint areas for enhancing product browsing, checkout flows, and mobile responsiveness (Baxley, 2003). An enterprise software company updating their application could use competitive testing to identify opportunities to streamline common workflows, simplify documentation access, and improve integration capabilities compared to rival offerings (Usability testing: A comprehensive guide, 2023). Even for mature products like word processors or email clients, competitive testing could reveal innovative features or interaction models from newer market entrants that could be adapted to revitalize the user experience (Dumas & Loring, 2008).

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