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2016 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study: Visual Web, Minimalist Navigation Tools Drive Increases in Shopper Satisfaction

2016 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study: Visual Web, Minimalist Navigation Tools Drive Increases in Shopper Satisfaction

By Joseph Dobrian, March 24, 2016
Shopper satisfaction with third-party automotive websites continues to improve, according to the J.D. Power 2016 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study.SM The increasing use of visuals on these websites and a streamlined approach to site navigation appear to be the main drivers of this improvement.

The study, now in its fourth year, measures the usefulness of automotive third-party websites during the new- and used-vehicle shopping process by examining four key measures (in order of importance): information/content; appearance; navigation; and speed. The study measures satisfaction on a 1,000-point scale.

In spite of the improvements, third-party auto websites still trail manufacturer (OEM) websites in customer satisfaction with the website’s appearance: 742 vs. 825, respectively. Appearance is the highest-scoring measure for OEM sites and second lowest for third-party sites.

“The common bond among top-performing third-party auto sites is a heavy reliance on the ‘visual Web,’ with its very streamlined, easy-to-use site navigation features,” said Arianne Walker, senior director of marketing analytics at J.D. Power. “Expectations continue to increase not only because auto manufacturers have such visually stimulating sites, but also because websites in many categories have focused on enhancing visual aesthetics and easy navigation.”

Design Elements Are Key
According to the study, the highest-scoring third-party auto websites employ heavy use of visual Web design elements such as edge-to-edge imagery, cleaner spacing, and aesthetically pleasing call-to-action colors. However, vehicle shoppers still insist on solid content, and it’s here where third-party websites show their strength—thanks in particular to their inclusion of ratings and reviews. Shoppers indicate that the subjects they want most to see covered in an expert review are safety (38%), performance (24%), and functionality (11%).

The study finds that 83% of highly satisfied shoppers (overall satisfaction scores of 901 or higher) using third-party websites say they “definitely will” return to the website in the future, and 81% say they “definitely will” recommend the site, while only 3% of displeased shoppers (scores of 500 or less) say they “definitely will” return and only 2% say they “definitely will” recommend.

TrueCar, Carfax Rank Highest among Third-Party Auto Websites
In the 2016 study, overall satisfaction with automotive third-party websites averages 751. TrueCar ranks highest (795), followed by Carfax (793) and Cars.com (775). Websites evaluated in the study were selected based on meeting the following criteria: must be an automotive third-party site; have the ability for consumers to shop for both new and used vehicles; and be among the most frequently visited sites based on behavioral data.

Consumer Tips
Based on the study, J.D. Power offers the following consumer tips:
  • Take advantage of all the various websites that offer vehicle information—OEM and third-party. Don’t overlook the various online automotive magazines.
  • Opinions can vary dramatically on issues such as the look of a vehicle, the smoothness of its ride, and the level of its performance. Hard numbers are important, but they don’t tell the full story.
  • If certain specific objections to a certain vehicle keep showing up on various third-party websites, check to see whether the manufacturer has addressed that issue.
  • Third-party websites will sometimes tell you if a certain vehicle is due for significant changes in the next model year—which might inspire you to wait for the new model.


About the Study
The 2016 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study is based on evaluations from more than 5,000 new- and used-vehicle shoppers who indicate they will be in the market for a vehicle within the next 24 months. The study was fielded in January 2016.

Additional Research:

Untitled Document

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