Researching your customers and competitors

Last updated: 20 April 2017

As you develop an idea you'll need to think about who your customers and competitors are – this is known as your 'market'.

In particular, you'll need to think about:

  • the size of your market and which part you want to target
  • whether your market will grow
  • who your customers and competitors will be
  • any legislation or regulations that could affect your market
You'll have to do this for every new idea you have – as every market will be different.

Researching your market

To research your market, you can use:

  • the internet
  • libraries
  • magazines
  • trade journals

This research will help you to confirm if there is a gap for your idea and any barriers you might face.

This information will also help you when writing a business plan.

The size of your market

You should try to estimate how large you think your market is. You should also work out what part of it you would like to target. For example, if your idea was for cyclists you could be targeting people who use bikes for:

  • leisure
  • fitness
  • travel

This includes sales and economic trends – how are people spending their money and what are they spending it on.

This will help you to work out if your market is likely to grow.

Customers

You should create a profile of who you think your customers will be, including:

  • their behaviours – for example how often they use or do something
  • if they have a problem your idea can solve
  • what benefits your idea will bring them
  • if they're likely to buy your idea (or if they can afford to buy it)
  • how and where they spend their money, for example do they impulse buy
Where people live and differences in culture, taste or behaviour can influence what they buy.

Competitors

This will include looking at:

  • who you think your main competitors are
  • new products your competitors might be launching
  • how your competitors promote themselves
  • how your competitors sell their products or services

Legislation and regulations

You should list any legislation or regulations that you think might affect your idea.

Your 'route to market'

Your research should give you knowledge of your customers, including what they buy and how, where and why they buy it.

This research will help you work out the best way of getting your idea to your customers. This is known as 'your route to market'.

Different groups of customers may need different routes to market.

Your route to market can be 'direct' or 'indirect'. Examples of direct routes to market include:

  • your own shop or website
  • mail order
  • selling at exhibitions or events

Examples of indirect routes to market include:

  • retailers
  • sales agents
  • distributors
  • franchises
  • licensing

Your customers

You can find out more about your customers through:

  • interviews
  • surveys
  • questionnaires
  • focus groups

The method you use might depend on your idea or what you feel most comfortable with.

Interviews and focus groups can give you in-depth information about your customers' needs. This is called 'qualitative research'.

Questionnaires and surveys can give you feedback from a larger number of customers. This is called 'quantitative research'.

If you're creating an online survey, there are several free tools you can use.

You should do your research as early as possible when developing your idea. This allows you to change your idea to meet your customers' needs.

Finding customers for research

You can find potential customers for research:

  • using forums and blogs
  • using social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn
  • through friends and family
  • at events and trade shows

Segments

You should think about your market as being made up by different 'segments' of customers.

Each segment is a small part of the wider market – with their own similar needs and interests. For example, in the sports clothing market, segments could be people who play team sports or go hill-walking.

Focusing on each segment can help you think in more detail about:

  • features or benefits that appeal to particular groups
  • the competitors different segments are likely to buy from
  • how valuable your idea is to different groups
  • how different groups make a decision to buy things

Choosing a segment to focus on

It can also help you choose which part of your market to focus on by thinking about:

  • how much money you think you can make from them
  • whether they're ready for your idea
  • who you'd be competing with for this group
  • how you can reach them (route to market)
  • whether they're likely to buy new versions or add-ons

Once you know which segment you want to focus on, pick one or two customers within this segment to focus on.

Estimating the size of your market

To work out the potential size of your market, you should estimate the size of each segment.

To help you do this, you can use:

You should add together the number of people in each segment.

You'll then need to estimate how many people are likely to buy your idea. This is known as 'market penetration'.

Not every person in each segment will buy your idea.

To help you estimate how many people are likely to buy your idea, it could help to think about how much you'll charge for it.

In particular, think about how much your idea will cost someone to buy in relation to your competitors.

When writing a business plan, you'll need to explain how you calculated the size of your market. You'll also need to reference any sources you've used.

Your competitors

Your competitors are anything that might compete for your customers' attention.

You should think about who your competitors might be. You should also think about what features, functions or benefits are important to your customers. For example:

  • price
  • any unique selling points
  • how they market and sell their products or services

Comparing these points with your competitors should help you to work out how strong your idea is.

Further help

The following organisations can offer you more help with market research.

Market Research Service

Business Gateway have a free Market Research Service on their website which can do your market research for you.

They can help source:

  • market intelligence
  • news and trade press
  • company lists
  • company and credit reports
  • property searches
  • statistics and demographics

UK National Statistics

The UK National Statistics website gives you access to the latest statistics released each day by the UK government.

Business @ The Mitchell

Business @ The Mitchell is run by Glasgow Libraries and offers free access to market research and business intelligence databases for all major industries in the UK and abroad.

Edinburgh Library Business Hub

Edinburgh Library Business Hub is run by Edinburgh City Council and can offer you free access to market research resources.