J.D. Power Says Hummer Has Friendliest Web Site

A new J.D. Power and Associates study taps General Motors' Hummer brand as having the friendliest consumer-facing Web site. The firm's 2008 Manufacturer Web Site Evaluation Study is a semiannual survey-based report that measures the usefulness of manufacturer Web sites for people shopping new cars and trucks.

The study, which rates the beneficence of OEM sites in terms of appearance, speed, navigation, and information/content, gave Hummer.com the top rank, based on a 1,000-point scale. Hummer got 867. Ratings are culled from surveys between October and November last year of 11,466 new-vehicle shoppers who said they would be in the market for new vehicles within the next 24 months.

After Hummer came Lincoln and Kia, respectively. The firm says that while both Kia and Hummer are regulars at the pinnacle of the ranking, Lincoln is there for the first time. Other automakers with consumer Web sites ranking in the Top 10 are Honda, Mazda, Jeep, Acura, Lexus Saab, Toyota and Ford. Below the industry-average ranking of 842 were Mini, Hyundai, Saturn, Volvo and Chrysler, in that order. The five worst-scoring automaker Web sites in the survey were GMC, Pontiac, Volkswagen, Scion and Audi.



Arianne Walker, director of automotive marketing and media research at J.D. Power, says that as the vast majority--around 70%--of new-vehicle buyers are going online to shop for vehicles, and that over the past eight years, the popularity of manufacturer sites has grown. "The third-party sites [like Edmunds.com or KKB.com] were very important, but we have seen manufacturer sites become much more important as they have offered things like vehicle comparisons and better content."

She says that shoppers are most likely to buy vehicles from automakers whose Web sites they have visited early on in the shopping process. But automakers can easily lose that buyer if their sites aren't easy to use and enticing. "It is showing shoppers' intention: If a buyer knows he or she wants a Kia, they will go there first," she says. "But if they can't get the information they want, they will go somewhere else, and they may be swayed by the new automaker, if that manufacturer's site is better."

Walker says that in the study, the quality of information content comprises 34% of the weight of a final score given a manufacturer's Web site. Twenty-four percent comes from ease of navigation, 22% from users' perception of speed of the site, and 20% of the score is based on appearance of the site.

"Honda does a nice job of having a different look and feel for the pages housing each of its vehicle models, but the navigation for the entire site is consistent," she says. "So, if you are looking at a compact car, then a minivan, the process is identical for each model, but the look and feel is different."

She says Hummer benefits from being a niche brand with relatively few vehicles. "They navigation is clean and straightforward, partly because they don't have a lot of models to contend with, and they do it beautifully." She adds that Hummer's liberal use of Flash media is appropriate. "People looking for Hummers tend to have higher household income, and high Internet bandwidth. It's also a very clean site, with all the right information there and available."

Walker says the sites that were near the bottom of the ranking suffered for issues like poor or drab color schemes, and difficult navigation. "Some sites are very dark, so they are hard to read, some are also drab, with lots of greys--not a lot of color, not exciting--and not only with pictures but with text and background," she says. "We see that across the board as the scores drop."

She says that although GMC redesigned its Web site to make navigation simpler, "they actually now have less information on the home page, and they now require shoppers to choose trim levels for a product before getting additional information on it. But a lot of buyers may not want to choose a trim level. So, they tried to do something to make it simple and easy and actually went a little a little too far."

Pontiac, she says, may have been trying to create a brand aura on its Web site, but "they have made the site incredibly dark; Pontiac went for a mood but now [respondents say] it's unreadable."

Audi's consumer Web site came dead last, with a score of 784. Among other problems, says Walker, was Audi's overabundance of grey on the site, a problem that Chrysler's eponymous division also suffers from.

"Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep's sites were redesigned to have the same structure, which is a terrific idea, but Chrysler's score dropped because they used dull colors: greys, light blues--nothing exciting, and the text blended in with the background. Consumers across the board want an exciting experience."

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