Usability Key Feature for Auto Sites

July 28, 2010

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.

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