There are 2 reliable indicators:
1) Are product descriptions on your competitor site identical to yours? Or, better to say, are they nearly identical, with several tiny wording twists? This is a standard technique used by smaller stores who want to save time on the copy. They do not copy/paste your content because that means A) infringing on your copyright and B) it is bad from SEO perspective. When looking for such products, do pay attention to the specific wording used by your editors, not to general product descriptions which are in most cases technical descriptions. If the product descriptions are 100% identical to yours, it is very likely that this competitor is using some kind of tool to scrape content from your site. If so, do not worry too much about it – search engines usually do have ways of knowing where this content was first published – and all the duplicates are likely to receive some kind of Google SERP penalty. By the way, do check product images – though images are easier to protect using watermark or similar techniques.
For example, you lower your price to 99.95, and 2 days later your competitor lowers it to 99.90.
This is a sure sign that your competitor is using some kind of price monitoring service (like Price2Spy 🙂 ). Of course, to detect this, you have to use a price monitoring tool yourself, and regularly check the pricing history (in Price2Spy we call this Price History Chart)
2) Does your server periodically get flooded with requests, resulting in no orders? The next day everything is back to normal? Do let your IT staff analyze your Web (HTTP) log files and check for occurrence of a single IP address with huge numbers of requests. Trace this IP back to its origin and maybe you will find a familiar host name. This indicates that your competitors are either scraping your site (either the whole content or just pricing info), or they are simply trying to bring your server down with a DoS attack. By the way, smart scraping scripts do have mechanisms of running from multiple IP addresses, and distributing HTTP requests over a larger period of time (several hours / days), so you do not notice any irregular activity.
Please let the group know if you have experienced such behaviors, and do let us know what you have done about them.
Of course, the next question is: what do I do if I conclude that a competitor is spying on me?
We will leave that topic for a bit later 🙂 For now, let’s focus on how to detect the intruder :-).