It is estimated that 50 million Americans will file their taxes today, the final day before late fees and penalties begin kicking in. Many will be using Intuit's ($INTU) TurboTax, the country's most-popular (and oldest) computer-based filing software. Since its inception in the 80s, TurboTax's popularity grew as Americans became more comfortable with computers.
And, for years, TurboTax was the only game in town: competitors were scarce and TurboTax had a massive lead in terms of brand trust and user experience.
But competitors like H&R Block ($HRB), TaxAct ($BCOR), and TaxSlayer ($PRIVATE:TAXSLAYERLLC-2) are catching up as customers look for less-expensive, simpler options. This is revealed in social and traffic data that shows a fading popularity for Intuit's TurboTax along with growing interest in rival brands.
Facebook mentions on the decline
One thing is certain today: millions of Facebook users will be updating their statuses upon finally filing their taxes. Indeed, mentions of TurboTax historically spike in the new year and into April as Facebook users celebrate or complain their refunds and tax bills, respectively.
But a troubling trend (at least for Intuit) is revealed in the Facebook mentions data over time: mention spikes have declined over the years during tax season.
2017's tax season saw a high of 120,000 Facebook mentions; 2018 saw 63,000, just more than half of that; 2019 resulted in even less: 47,000 mentions on Facebook. This rate of decline can't be good for a brand that relies on word of mouth and positive consumer sentiment.
Web traffic trends on the decline
Data interpolated from Alexa.com, Amazon's universally-accepted web-traffic rating platform, shows a similar decline in traffic spikes for turbotax.com, the web-based front-end for the tax-filing software.
Traffic spikes in users and pageviews his their apex in the 103 tax season, with notable swells in February (likely when people begin filing their returns) and April 14 (the last day to file). But since 2014, those traffic spikes have decreased over time (although 2018's numbers appeared to be a slight increased over those of 2017).
Silver lining: social media followers remains healthy
Both Facebook and Twitter followers for TurboTax have been on the rise, with notable accelerations during tax season since 2017. That's a good sign for Intuit, as it shows that consumer interest in the brand remains strong, and that any dilution in the space due to competition hasn't quite undermined interest.
More silver lining: positive software reviews
TurboTax is, at the end of the day, a software product. It's also now a mobile product — users can file their taxes completely via smartphone or tablet. It's good news for Intuit, then, that its app scores favorably on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, garnering a 4.5 and 4.2 out of 5.0, respectively.
Enter the competition
Now for some more bad news: as more consumers turn to their computers and smartphones to file their taxes digitally, they're also looking for alternatives to TurboTax. TurboTax's largest competitor is, by most accounts, H&R Block.
H&R Block saw a good number of mentions on Facebook during the 2016 tax season. 2017 and 2018 weren't as good for the brand, but 2019 looks to be a return to form for the company that has typically traded in brick-and-mortar, in-person tax filing services. It seems it may have finally figured out its digital presence and could be stealing some of TurboTax's thunder (and dollars) this season.
TaxAct is a relative late-comer to the tax-preparation industry. Founded in 1998, it's now a subsidiary of search-engine powerhouse Blucora. Since 2017, TaxAct has done respectably, but 2019 is already looking like its best year yet. The brand broke 50,000 Facebook mentions in January 2019 in a sign that users are giving it a serious look this tax season.