Using customs import records for competitive intelligence

A number of online services report on import/export activity by individual companies. This can be a worthwhile source of competitive intelligence, although caveats apply. The reports are only as good as the data entered in customs declarations, and that can be a murky world. Even in perfectly valid circumstances, customs records may not show the real relationship between the manufacturer-exporter, and the importer.

That said, the information can still be useful, for example to find out:

  • What your competitors are importing, giving you early warning of product launches.
  • How frequently competitors are trading, giving you some clues about their sales success.
  • The original manufacturers who supply your competitors, including those that you may share in common.

Nominally, some of this information is available for free, for example for US customs, but requires jumping through hoops that make the paid services appealing. These paid services include:

Although broadly selling similar information, these vary in their enterprise-classness and in the focus of the information they provide, so need to be evaluated individually. When the desired intelligence is available, customs databases can be a competitive edge, as they are an often ignored tool.