Competitive Analysis

So, for a little over a year I’ve been working on a new WordPress plugin. A full-fledged management system for an industry that currently has about 3 or 4 major competitors.

This has been a big project, and I’d say I’m 80% of the way to being able to release something preliminary. I get sidetracked a lot and after working all day on code, I just plain don’t feel like coding when I come home. Plus there’s more fun stuff to do.

Part of what I’ve been doing when I don’t feel like coding is the competitive analysis portion. It’s a little late in the game – you should do this up front, and I did – but it keeps my mind occupied.

I have about 500 screen shots fo their systems, 40 Google documents listing features of each component including all the announcements of new features. I read their support forums, industry forums, magazines & newsletters looking for trends, patterns and unmet needs.

Here’s how the competition stacks up as I see them:

  • Competitor A – Nicely done interface, solid set of features, industry experience, attractive site, outdated demos, incomplete help. I’m paying a small amount for access to this site and their active user forum. The staff and users are active on the forum, but the site owner’s idea of customer service attitude is more attitude than service.
  • Competitor B – Ok interface (a little tight & terse), hard to navigate, solid set of features, broad appeal. Open demo site with all features. Help system is under a different company name, loads slowly, and isn’t terribly helpful.
  • Competitor C – Antiquated interface (the 90s called), I couldn’t figure out where to start, or add new stuff, layout is a single column of links, primary website hides more than it sells, help is not helpful. Well, I did figure out kind of how to add stuff.

In short, not only is the project fascinating to me (and extremely challenging), but there’s plenty of room in this market. Comp A claims to have 15,000 clients and Comps B and C would seem to have both plenty of clients and some money in their pockets (although C should spend it on programming, not advertising). My own scans of site lists shows a number of WordPress installs, but not a huge number.

Oh, and Competitor A runs ads every month (for the last 2 years it seems) in an industry print (and online) magazine. The ad is nice looking and appropriate, but the site they advertise (not their main site which is odd) actually has no content on it. It has a header and a menu, like it was meant to be a demo site, and yet there’s nothing  here! It’s a HUGE waste and makes them look bad, I think.

This is an industry where the companies spend hundreds of dollars a month, and carry huge investments in inventory. The competitors services are all fully hosted, and pricing varies. Comp A has packages ranging from $10 – $50 per month (mainly about capacity for storing the number of items) and Comp C is a $99/year. Comp B is a mystery. Their site doesn’t disclose pricing (so far as I’ve found) until after you join. And I don’t need/want to do that just yet. Apparently Comp B offers their site for “free” if you join one of their other services, starting at $12 per month. They all offer “widgets” and things you can include in your site that links back to theirs. If you don’t pay for a premium option, you get a url like http://mycompanyname.theircompanyname.com – which looks a little sad. I see why they do it for the upgrade.

My plan? In an ideal world, I’ll sell the plugin for $150 – $250 with lifetime upgrades and support. Perhaps selling additional modules, installation & configuration services. I may have to go higher. Also, turn it into a hosted service like the others do, running on WordPress multi-site and partnering with a web designer/firm to offer solid templates, and refer work. And everyone gets a domain. Subdomains like these guys use are as useful & professional as a hotmail.com email address.

This is a grand dream, and it’s going to take a while to get there. But I’ve put this out there for a few reasons.

Mainly, just to vent about how crappy these other guys seem to be. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all doing many, many things right and have pretty good word of mouth and awareness. But there are gaps. I’ll have gaps when I launch too and that’s ok.

Secondly, by putting it out there, my friends and family know about it and can call me to task on it when necessary. Yes, I’m a procrastinator, but that’s for a future post.