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Dealer and Car Company Websites; Usability is Key Feature that Drives Conversion

Usability Key Feature for Auto Sites

Auto manufacturer websites that focus primarily on brand image promotion and interesting design features rather than usability may be hindering vehicle shoppers in their search for information, according to [pdf] the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study (MWES)—Wave 2.

Usable Sites Earn High Marks
Two high-performing sites, Honda and Kia, are found by J.D. Power to each focus on usability and allow shoppers to access information quickly and easily. As a result, both Honda and Kia perform well in each of the four measures examined in the study: speed, appearance, navigation and information/content.

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Honda ranks highest among automotive manufacturer websites for usefulness in new-vehicle shopping with an index score of 871 on a 1,000-point scale. Following Honda in the rankings are Kia (868), Mazda (866), Acura (860), and Infiniti (860). The industry average is 838.

‘Edgy’ Sites Fare Worse
In contrast, some of the lowest-ranking websites use what J.D. Power identifies as an edgy, brand-centric design that put marketing goals ahead of meeting shopper needs. As a result, they perform particularly poorly in the appearance measure. Certain design elements on these sites hinder speed, ease of navigation and user access to information and content.

For example, some websites feature links to streaming music and options for selecting the website background scheme, which distract users from vehicle shopping. Other websites deviate from traditional pull-down menus in an effort to incorporate brand logos into the site design, which forces shoppers to learn an entirely new navigation scheme.

The four bottom-ranked sites, ranked upward from the lowest score, are Cadillac (798), Scion (800), Audi (804) and Jaguar (805).

Imports Dominate High, Low Scores
Interestingly, import brands dominate both the high and low ends of the site ranking. The highest-ranked US auto manufacturer website, Lincoln, comes in sixth with a score of 857. While the lowest-ranked site, Cadillac, is a US manufacturer, the second- through seventh-lowest-ranked sites are all import manufacturers. US manufacturer Buick is ranked eighth from the bottom with a score of 818.

Domestic Autos Earn Top Appeal
For the first time since 1997, domestic auto brands, collectively, have surpassed import brands as a whole in vehicle appeal, according to the recent J.D. Power and Associates 2010 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Domestic brands have been improving steadily in vehicle appeal during the past four years, with the greatest improvement occurring between 2008 and 2010. In 2010, the APEAL score for US domestic brands averages 787 on a 1,000-point scale; 13 points higher than the score for import brands (automakers headquartered in Europe or Asia Pacific). By comparison, in 2009, import brands outpaced domestic brands by five points.

About the Data: The 2010 Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study—Wave 2 is based on evaluations from more than 10,621 new vehicle shoppers who indicated they will be in the market for a new vehicle within the next 24 months. The study was fielded in May 2010.

SOURCE: Marketing Charts

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Tags: Car Company, Car Dealer, Drive Conversion, Key Feature, Website Usability

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Comment by Andrew Brinkworth on August 4, 2010 at 2:06am
I guess my question is who is the control group that's testing usability? What level of internet knowledge do they have. Are they a younger group who has been immersed in technology for years or are they older users who use their computers primarily to forward funny emails?
What are the core demographics that each car maker is trying to attract?
While I admit that the Scion site is not standardized but it does appeal to Scion's core demographic of young people who want customization and modification. Think MySpace versus Facebook. They're deal is they are a community so they're trying to do more than just sell a car. They're trying to create a lifestyle. So if usability is just whether or not its easy to buy a car I guess they fail. But if they're trying to show that buying a Scion is more than just buying a car I think they succeed.

On a secondary note and I surfed Audiusa and Honda.com.
First off I had to choose which Honda Brand I wanted before I could look at the cars. You choose your brand by clicking on the brand logo you want to go to. Not Cars, just a graphic that says Honda. I got lucky and picked the right one.
But once on the site, I can honestly say that there wasn't anything on the Honda Site that Audiusa didn't have. I could find special offers just as easily on both sites, I could find pricing just as easily, build a car, dealer locator etc.
I guess it's the thumbnail images of each car in 20px x 20px size that's the difference?
I guess my point is don't spend 10,000 on a new site until you find out more about the study.
Comment by Dara Moore on August 3, 2010 at 7:29pm
Eddie, that is such a great point to bring up. Geographical location is an underestimated influencer. Even though the general statistics of consumer groups may be identical you can not build the same thing and market the same way if they are from different areas. A group from San Francisco has vastly different visual and general interface needs as that from Salt Lake City. Even if the different areas are similar in structure, both major metropolitan areas, the essence of that area must be captured to fully engage the consumer with your website. They have to feel that it "get's" their individual needs otherwise they will move on to one that does.
Comment by Eddie Coleman on August 3, 2010 at 12:27pm
It will be interesting to see how the brands look at regional conversion rate factors. Here is a piece on the subject that might go well with this line of thinking.

Different Geographical Areas and Web Design

One of the most meaningful discoveries we have noted since we coined the concept of conversion rate as it pertains to web design is the considerable contrast in buying habits from one geographical area to another. Of particular interest is that his is true even while staying within the context of one kind or type of buyer.

For example, let’s say you have two groups of customers. One group is in Dallas, Texas and the other group resides in Phoenix, Arizona. Both of these groups are comprised of individuals who are sub-prime lending candidates in the $10,000 price, $250 per month payment range.

Now, let’s say these two groups have similar shopping habits, are all the same gender and all fall within the same age group. To take it one step further, all of these individuals work in a similar occupational field and all listen to the same kind of music. Wouldn’t you think that a bruised credit website that is effective in creating reach from one of these groups would be effective in reaching the other group? There was a time when I certainly would have believed that! The reality is that nothing could be farther from the truth.

If we bench marked this website using the typical visitors to sales lead conversion rates that we see today from most dealership websites and lead generation services, we might very well see a consistent level of performance in each area without taking into consideration that the bar can be set much higher.

If, however, you have created an online campaign that disseminates to one of these groups in a specific area such as Dallas, Texas, and your campaign is based on specific psychological research pertaining to Dallas’s specific marketplace and demography and then you launch the same website in the same manner, with the same advertising campaign plus or minus a couple of tweaks in Phoenix, Arizona, you will undoubtedly witness a massive disparity in success rates between the two geographic areas.

My point here is that it is astonishing how a similar group of consumers respond differently to colors, shapes, line movement, eye trail, and advertising in general based on their geographic location. In addition, when e-dealer marketing research is conducted with a focus on the dealer’s local marketplace, a remarkable and massive increase in website originated sales leads can result without an increase in the dealer’s website traffic.

If you’re a business that owns multiple locations in multiple geographic areas, this information should equip you with an extra (and powerful) tool when strategizing and planning the incorporation of your website with the marketing scheme of your individual stores.

-Eddie Coleman, Hyperdrive Systems

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