When a firm conducts a competitive analysis, they tend to focus on direct competitors and try to determine a firm’s strengths and weaknesses, its image, and its resources. Doing so helps the firm figure out how much money a competitor may be able to spend on things such as research, new product development, promotion, and new locations. Competitive analysis involves looking at any information (annual reports, financial statements, news stories, observation details obtained on visits, etc.) available on competitors. Mystery shoppers, or people who act like customers, might visit competitors to learn about their customer service and their products. Imagine going to a competitor’s restaurant and studying the menu and the prices and watching customers to see what items are popular and then changing your menu to better compete. Competitors battle for the customer’s dollar and they must know what other firms are doing. Individuals and teams also compete for jobs, titles, and prizes and must figure out the competitors’ weaknesses and plans in order to take advantage of their strengths and have a better chance of winning.
According to Porter, in addition to their direct competitors (competitive rivals), organizations must consider the strength and impact the following could have: 1
- Substitute products
- Potential entrants (new competitors) in the marketplace
- The bargaining power of suppliers
- The bargaining power of buyers
When any of these factors change, companies may have to respond by changing their strategies. For example, because buyers are consuming fewer soft drinks these days, companies such as Coke and Pepsi have had to develop new, substitute offerings such as vitamin water and sports drinks. However, other companies such as Dannon or Nestlé may also be potential entrants in the flavored water market. When you select a hamburger fast-food chain, you also had the option of substitutes such as getting food at the grocery or going to a pizza place. When computers entered the market, they were a substitute for typewriters. Most students may not have ever used a typewriter, but some consumers still use typewriters for forms and letters.
Suppliers, the companies that supply ingredients as well as packaging materials to other companies, must also be considered. If a company cannot get the supplies it needs, it’s in trouble. Also, sometimes suppliers see how lucrative their customers’ markets are and decide to enter them. Buyers, who are the focus of marketing and strategic plans, must also be considered because they have bargaining power and must be satisfied. If a buyer is large enough, and doesn’t purchase a product or service, it can affect a selling company’s performance. Walmart, for instance, is a buyer with a great deal of bargaining power. Firms that do business with Walmart must be prepared to make concessions to them if they want their products on the company’s store shelves.
Lastly, the world is becoming “smaller” and a more of a global marketplace. Companies everywhere are finding that no matter what they make, numerous firms around the world are producing the same “widget” or a similar offering (substitute) and are eager to compete with them. Employees are in the same position. The Internet has made it easier than ever for customers to find products and services and for workers to find the best jobs available, even if they are abroad. Companies are also acquiring foreign firms. These factors all have an effect on the strategic decisions companies make.