The Best and Worst Automaker Websites

Source: Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet
Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Shopping online is about as commonplace today as Surge and plaid flannel was back in the 1990s. People talk with one another about their online shopping experiences all the time too, and while it’s safer now than ever before, there’s a set amount of risk involved when conducting online shopping.

By now everyone knows the name J.D. Power: These guys have a penchant for putting every imaginable good and service through the ringer to see how it stacks up against its competition. This is a great service, as it serves as both a critiquing platform as well as a third-party form of checks-and-balances.

So when the agency released its 2015 Manufacturer Website Evaluation a few weeks back, we at the Cheat Sheet had a small celebration: This has been an area of contention for quite some time when it came to “fact finding” and general information.

As avid consumers and automotive addicts, we feel that researching and building a car the way you want it online should be as painless as possible. This isn’t like buying a new pair of gym socks, we’re talking big bucks here, and many Americans are opting to shop online instead of going toe-to-toe with the dealer for twelve rounds of knock-down, drag-out haggling. But if the website has incomplete links, or you find yourself having to go back to add options when you shouldn’t, then the chances of a potential buyer padding off to another manufacturer spikes significantly. So automakers are trying their damnedest to make online researching and building both a blast and a breeze, yet research shows that certain automakers are still not putting their best digital foot forward.

Source: J.D. Power 2015 Manufacturer Evaluation Study--Summer
Source: J.D. Power 2015 Manufacturer Evaluation Study–Summer

So here it is, and even though its website isn’t the fanciest thing out there, we were a surprised to see that Subaru scored so low. So how did these websites come to be arranged in such an order? This whole study is based on a point allocation system, where automaker websites are judged on a certain set of criteria, and the more boxes they tick, the higher their overall score.

Now in its 16th year, this study measures “the usefulness of automotive manufacturer websites during the new-vehicle shopping process by examining four key measures.” Listed in order from most to least important, these attributes include information/content, appearance, speed, and navigation. Overall satisfaction has been evaluated on a 1,000-point scale, with the average customer satisfaction level coming in just a hair below a “B-” or 798 points.

It is important to note that J.D. Power has based its findings entirely on the responses from over 9,300 new vehicle shoppers, who all admitted that they will be actively looking to purchase a new vehicle within the next two years. The study was conducted between May 5 and May 21 of this year, and what they discovered was that “rich imagery paired with concise, informative text and interactive content is becoming the new standard,” and that “information/content and website appearance are the two most important measures contributing to overall customer satisfaction.”

While BMW and Porsche sit atop the heap with 830 points a piece, it’s the former of the two which is the real winner today. BMW (along with Volvo) were praised for being the most improved brand sites in the study thanks to enhanced visual imagery and better storytelling. The study also shows that 57% of new-vehicle buyers who were “delighted” with a manufacturer’s website (901 points or higher), were far more likely to go out and test drive a particular vehicle, which is in stark contrast to the 13% of buyers who were “disappointed” and gave scores of 500 points or lower.

Long gone are the days of scrolling through mountains of text, or staring at motionless images, wishing that you could see the car from a different angle. Today’s consumer wants to be romanced a bit, and all of the highest-rated sites tell gripping stories about how their vehicles came into fruition, accompanied by polarizing visuals, along with informative foot-notes and interactive content. It’s kind of like buying a nice bottle of Belgian Abbey Ale, or a rare Malbec. There’s the ABV and country of origin clearly labeled, accompanied by an attractive image or two, followed by an illustrious inscription in the glass that tells the tale of how the product came to be, and while this may tempt someone into making a purchase, buyers only really care if it is within their price range and how it tastes.

Arianne Walker, senior director for automotive media and marketing solutions at J.D. Power says it best. “Manufacturers can influence shoppers by creating an emotionally connected online shopping experience through compelling, visually appealing storytelling to engage, entice, and reassure shoppers that they are making the right decision.” This is where the sappy center comes into play, because while we may not want to admit it, if an automaker can make someone feel a bond with a car long before they ever get behind the wheel, chances are quite good that they are going to buy it.

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