Industry and Market Research Steps

This page suggests steps to follow in gathering already published information needed when studying the sellers and buyers of particular goods and services. Each step includes an explanation, types of sources that may include relevant information, and specific tools to try. Some steps will not be appropriate or necessary for particular assignments. Also, some assignments are likely to require steps other than those listed below.

Step 1 Define the industry

Determine which aspect of an industry you intend to study. For example, if looking at the ice cream industry, are you studying the suppliers of raw materials such as whole milk and sugar; the manufacturers of ice cream products; or ice cream wholesalers and the various types of retailers?

Many business information sources provide data arranged by the "NAICS" and "SIC" industry codes developed by the U.S. and other governments. Guides to these industry codes provide the classification numbers as well as short definitions. Other sources arrange industry data by other classification schemes. A business thesaurus, such as this one from ABI/INFORM, can help in identifying industry keywords to use.

Industry codes and definitions can be found in sources such as:

Step 2 Obtain overviews of the industry: size, structure, leading companies, etc.

Industry overviews provide data and text on topics such as industry trends, how an industry works, key ratios and statistics, how to analyze companies in a given industry, leading companies, and forecasts in some cases. Industry overviews can be obtained in a wide variety of sources. The search tools cited in this step lead to collections that cover several dozen to several hundred industries. The content and length of the overviews vary from source to source.

Industry overviews can be obtained using search tools such as:

Step 3 Identify key trade associations, industry portals, business-to-business (b2b) sites

Trade associations are organizations of people who share some common interest such as working in the same industry or occupation. There is at least one trade association for every major industry. They are important for industry and market research, because they gather data, conduct studies, and highlight major issues. Some of this information is available to the general public for no charge, and some is available only to members. The National Restaurant Association, for example, compiles industry statistics and makes forecasts. Some of this data is available for free in print, in webcasts, and in podcasts, and some must be purchased. In some cases, Rod Library has purchased reports that are not free on the association web site.

Industry portals and business-to-business (B2B) web sites compile information of interest to those working in particular industries and facilitate electronic commerce.

Key organizations are often listed in industry overviews like those in Standard & Poor's NetAdvantage. Such organizations and sites also can be identified by using tools such as:

Step 4 Obtain federal and local government data on industry and market

National and state governments gather data on industries and on the demographic makeup of the nation and smaller areas. The U.S. Census Bureau, for example, gathers and distributes industry data such as number of establishments, sales or shipments, materials consumed in manufacturing, and concentration ratios. It also gathers demographic data related to age, race, educational level, income, and occupation, and so on.

Economic and demographic data on the United States, states, and smaller areas can be found using U.S. Census Bureau tools such as:

Step 5 Find industry and market research reports

Market research reports are more detailed or specialized than the overview sources described in Step 2 and are produced by a wide variety of organizations. Sometimes called "off-the-shelf" studies, they focus on specific products or demographic or geographic target markets. They discuss topics such as market drivers, market segments, advertising, and consumer attitudes and purchasing behavior. Some such studies are available on the Web for no charge; some are available for a fee. Rod Library subscribes to some Web-based market research collections, which are therefore available to UNI students for no charge.

Industry and market research reports can be found using tools such as the following:

Step 6 Find industry averages and benchmarks

Various publishers study financial statements of companies in particular industries and compile industry averages or benchmarks, such as the median current ratio (current assets/current liabilities) for men's clothing retailers. These figures are used to study an industry or a particular company's financial condition or performance relative to its industry.

Industry averages can be found using tools such as the following:

  • Industry Norms and Key Business Ratios (UNI Reference HF5681.R25 I525)
  • RMA Annual Statement Studies (UNI Reference HF5681.B2 R6)
  • Mergent Online (use to create customized table of ratios for companies being studied)
  • Standard & Poor's NetAdvantage (Compustat Excel Analytics includes quarterly ratio reports)
Step 7 Identify the leading competitors in the industry or product area

Determine which companies are industry or product leaders in terms of sales, market share, influence and power, or other relevant factors. This type of information may be available in a wide variety of sources such as industry overviews, trade journals and academic journals, and company publications.

Search tools such as the following may lead to such information:

Step 8 Study the 10-K Annual Reports and Annual Reports to Shareholders for leading companies in the industry

Form 10-K is an annual report that larger publicly-held companies are required to file with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. 10-K annual reports must follow a prescribed format and include certain information. Part I, Item 1. Business, for example, is supposed to contain a description of the business, financial information about industry segments, sources and availability of raw materials, dependence on a single or small number of customers, backlogs, and competitive conditions. Companies have more leeway regarding the content of their annual reports to shareholders. Studying the annual reports for leading companies in an industry can provide insight as to how the industry works.

Annual reports can be accessed via a variety of methods:

  • U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission EDGAR Database (start with Companies & Other Filers search form; can limit results to Form 10-K)
  • LexisNexis Academic (click Companies tab to reach search from for SEC filings)
  • Corporate web sites (usually include links to SEC filings and annual reports to shareholders under heading such as "investor relations")
  • Mergent Online (company entries include links to SEC filings and to annual reports to shareholders)
Step 9 Find news articles about the industry

News about a given industry may be published in sources such as business newspapers and magazines, trade journals, association web sites, and industry portals and blogs.

This type of information can be found using search tools such as:

Step 10 Find articles about the industry and market from trade journals and academic (scholarly) journals

Trade journals are magazines that focus on particular industries such as automobiles, beverages, and airlines. They publish industry news, analysis, and "special issues."  Special issues are published about the same time every year; for example, they might publish an industry forecast issue in January, a buyer's guide in the spring, and an industry review or state of the industry issue later in the year. Trade journal web sites are likely to make some articles available for no charge and other articles available for a fee. In some cases, Rod Library databases include the full text of all articles in particular trade journals.

Academic journals (or scholarly or peer-reviewed journals) cover all major industries. Academic journal articles, unlike trade journal articles, have usually been evaluated by two or three experts in the field, in addition to an editor, before publication. They are written by professors or other researchers, describe the methodology used for a study, reports results, and list references. Articles may or may not have been written about particular narrow aspects of particular industries.

Trade journal and academic journal articles can be found using search tools such as:

  • ABI/INFORM Complete (search results include tabs for different publication types, including Scholarly Journals and Trade Publications.)
  • Business Insights: Global 
  • Business Source Elite (can check box for "Scholarly Journals")
  • EconLIT
  • Encyclopedia of Business Information Sources (UNI Reference HF5351 .E59; lists leading trade journals in major industries)

This page is based in part on the University of Florida Business Library Industry Tutorial.

Last updated: October 15, 2013