I believe keeping an eye on the competition is a good idea. Keeping track of competition makes you aware of what is the new normal; it helps one to gauge current trends. If your product experience deviates from the prevailing standards, it might be time for a re-think.
When a behemoth does something well regularly, they create an impression that that is the new normal. Customers start expecting the same experience from everyone in the field. For example, Amazon keeps upping the ante in e-commerce. If you are a small boutique e-commerce firm, and if you are not close to the Amazon experience, you might be leaving a lot on the table.
Most of the new age enterprise SAAS tools have user experience on par with consumer applications. Earlier, enterprise tools used to be leaps and bounds behind their consumer counterparts. After using these new-age tools, products from some of the established behemoths look and feel clunky. Using them feels like being teleported to an earlier era. If you are an entrenched behemoth, you can get this wake-up call only if you regularly scan your competition, be it big or small.
Eyeing competition also matters when it comes to feature selection. For example, in Slack, you can edit a message after sending. I have hardly seen anyone modifying messages in Slack post sending. Usually, one sends a new message suffixing an * indicating it is an edit of a previous message. Why? We have been conditioned by popular chat applications not to alter chat messages once we hit the send button. None of the popular consumer chat applications have this feature. If you are bucking the trend – first, you should know of this; second, you should figure out how to educate your users to use the nonintuitive feature.
Incumbents also set standards when it comes to UI patterns. If Facebook shows error messages with a red background, you can be sure that most of the world’s population associates a pop-up with a red background as an error. It makes sense for you too to follow this.
I am not advocating aping the competition blindly.
Keeping track of the competition is essential to:
1. Know what is the new normal.
2. Know what might become the new normal.
3. Gauge how far off you are from the status quo.