One piece of competitive intelligence that companies often want to know is how much competitors are paying for their raw, and other, materials. How much is a competitor paying for copper wire, carbon dioxide, freight, packaging and so on?
Much of the research to answer such questions is primary, intensive fieldwork. However, there are some online tools that may provide useful data points for triangulation. For example, online B2B marketplaces for sourcing such supplies can provide contacts for manufacturers and other companies who know what these materials cost. Two useful sources are Alibaba and the much smaller Solusource.
Alibaba is a Chinese company, publicly listed in Hong Kong, with a long and fascinating history. Millions of products and suppliers are listed on alibaba.com. There is a strong bias towards Chinese company listings, because Alibaba is Chinese, but the website also lists large numbers of suppliers from other countries. A search for "aluminium wire" returns 8,800 results, of which 7,500 are in China while only 7 are in the US.
Solusource is owned by Thomas Publishing (a US company) and lists suppliers from around the world. A search for "aluminium wire", for example, returns 628 suppliers from 25 countries, with half of those suppliers being based in the US.
Solusource also links to results from ien.eu, to add a further (usually small) number of European results.
The two websites above are among the bigger examples of supplier marketplaces. There are also many small websites, often devoted to limited regions or industry sectors. Some of these may be useful for specific projects that monitor less common materials.
Information from Alibaba and Solusource are not going to provide the major underpinnings of a competitive intelligence study, but they will help in building a mental map of a supply chain, and in obtaining some information about the cost of raw materials.