STUDY_AUTO

2013 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study Results

3/27/2013
Third-party automotive websites face challenges in their efforts to establish themselves as a top source of information for vehicle purchasers. However, those that rank highest in satisfaction have an opportunity to create a large and loyal readership. Comprehensive information presented in an easy-to-use format will usually attract favorable attention and positive publicity. This is true whether shoppers are looking for a new or used vehicle, according to the recently released J.D. Power and Associates 2013 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study.SM

This first-ever study is based on evaluations from more than 4,200 new- and used-vehicle shoppers who indicate they will be in the market for a new vehicle within the next 24 months. The study was fielded in January and February 2013. According to this inaugural study, overall satisfaction with third-party automotive websites averages 720 points, on a 1,000-point scale. The study measures the usefulness of third-party automotive websites during the new- and used-vehicle shopping process by examining four key measures (in order of importance): information/content; navigation; appearance; and speed.

The study finds a strong correlation between overall satisfaction with a third-party automotive website and the likelihood that shoppers will recommend and return to the site.

"The websites with the highest overall satisfaction also have the highest advocacy and loyalty rates in the study," said Arianne Walker, senior director of media and marketing solutions at J.D. Power and Associates. "A more satisfying experience will keep shoppers coming back, positively impacting site analytics and increasing exposure to the revenue-generating advertising on the sites."

Providing the most satisfying experience possible may prove more challenging for third-party automotive websites than for automotive manufacturer websites for several reasons. First, third-party websites typically depend on advertisers to generate revenue, whereas manufacturer websites are regarded as an advertising expense. For another, manufacturers only provide information about its own vehicles, while third-party websites are expected to provide nearly as much information (plus images) for virtually all vehicle makes, trim levels, and model years.

"The large amount of information required for third-party automotive sites to be useful presents a unique challenge, as the information must be organized in a user-friendly way, weighing heavily on strong navigation and good user experience principles," said Walker.

Cars.com ranks highest in the inaugural study with a score of 782. Following Cars.com in the rankings is Kelley Blue Book (777) and AOL Autos (753).

According to the study, satisfaction is slightly higher among shoppers looking for a new vehicle than among those shopping for a used vehicle (735 vs. 715, respectively). This is partially because when shopping for used vehicles, the site visitors must be specific as to make, year, and trim level--and they're often unfamiliar with trim level names and features of older vehicles.

"With most third-party automotive sites, the shopping experience is different among new- and used-vehicle shoppers," said Walker. "Websites that perform particularly well in the study provide a consistent shopping experience, including much of the same content, for both groups of shoppers."

Based on the study, J.D. Power and Associates offers the following tips to consumers shopping for a vehicle on a third-party automotive website:

  • While most third-party automotive websites feature similar vehicle data, they offer different evaluations of a vehicle, so it's a good idea to look at several  websites when shopping for a vehicle.
  • Combine the information on third-party websites with information found on the manufacturer's website, as well as vehicle reviews in consumer and trade publications.
  • Third-party websites are often a convenient way to compare directly competing models.
  • If you're researching an older vehicle, inform yourself beforehand of the specific year, model, and trim level you're interested in.

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