Website usefullness onlineautomotivereview-dealers_aug2007

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Website usefullness onlineautomotivereview-dealers_aug2007

  1. 1. Online Automotive Review—Dealer Edition August 2007 Is Your Web Site Useful? By Amit Aggarwal Given the ubiquity of the Internet in the lives of so many people, it’s easy to forget that the medium is just over 10 years old. In the early days, Web sites had fewer features, were dominated by text, and utilized graphics that were often more fun than functional. Consider how much kbb.com and Autobytel.com have changed in the past decade, based on these screen shots from 1996 and 2007. www.kbb.com, Dec 18, 1996 www.kbb.com, May 18, 2007 www.autobytel.com, Oct 19, 1996 www.autobytel.com, May 18, 2007 Source: www.archive.org Modern sites offer greater functionality, and organizing this content is now a primary design consideration. Web site design is often discussed in terms of usability or ease of use, meaning the efficiency with which visitors can use the site. This article applies the broader lens of “usefulness,” which encompasses visitors’ ability to meet their goals on the site and their experience in doing so. Usefulness includes usability/ease of use, quality of the content, and relevance of that content toward users’ needs, among other factors. Copyright © 2007 J.D. Power and Associates, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 21
  2. 2. Online Automotive Review—Dealer Edition August 2007 Is Your Web Site Useful? (continued) Usefulness is a prerequisite of success for any transactional site. Shoppers won’t stay on a site if they aren’t able to quickly find what they want. For example, if Amazon makes it too difficult to buy books online, myriad competitors ranging from Barnes & Noble to cheaptextbooks.com would be happy to take that business. While dealer sites are not transactional (after all, consumers can’t “Click to Buy” a vehicle), as the online manifestation of the dealership they must be useful in order to drive additional business. It’s rare for a dealership to design their own Web site in-house—there are plenty of vendors who have the expertise to design, create, and maintain them. But the past, present, and presumably future of the Internet is littered with poorly designed sites that have smart and experienced people behind them. A dealer must still be involved to ensure that its vendors create a functional and useful site. But what makes a dealer site useful? J.D. Power and Associates employs a model for Web site usefulness that is applicable across industries and types of sites—including dealer sites. Generally speaking, site usefulness consists of four primary attributes: Information/Content, Navigation, Speed, and Appearance. The four primary attributes will be discussed below. Information/Content Shoppers come to dealer Web sites for information and providing the right content contributes heavily to making a site useful. Contact details and location are critical pieces of information that should be available everywhere on the site. Inventory search and request for a quote are key functional elements. Some dealers have also added in-depth vehicle research (features/specifications, colorizer, and configurators, among others) that were previously only available on OEM sites and third-party sites such as Edmunds or Yahoo! Autos. Dealers certainly have many options regarding the Web site content they offer, depending on their goals, time, and budget. However, all this added functionality must be incorporated into sites in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the overall usefulness. For instance, it doesn’t do any good to have a great inventory tool that is updated regularly if no one can find it on the dealership Web site. Copyright © 2007 J.D. Power and Associates, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 22
  3. 3. Online Automotive Review—Dealer Edition August 2007 Is Your Web Site Useful? (continued) Navigation Navigation is defined as how easily site visitors are able to find the information/content they want. There is a vast body of literature discussing design principles for good navigation, most of which boil down to common-sense guidelines that are too often overlooked. The following is a brief summary of some major navigation considerations. ■ Visual consistency. Consumers visiting your site for the first time must learn how to use the site. Consistency of menus, heading, page layout, colors, and font, among others, ensures that they don’t have to constantly relearn the navigation as they explore. For instance, the main menu should generally remain in the same location throughout the site to provide a consistent navigation touch point. ■ Menus and links. All menu items and link labels should clearly describe the information contained in that category. The labels should use differentiated words that the average consumer would understand. ■ Text. The following recommendations apply to all text on the site, but are critically important for menus and navigation links: — Font size. Use the largest font possible—12-point text is ideal for most users — Contrast. The greater the contrast between the text and background, the easier it is to read the text: black text on white backgrounds is best—avoid gray text on gray backgrounds ■ Minimize scrolling. Any links or content that are not immediately visible without scrolling will not be seen by the majority of Web surfers—this is especially critical for any users with 800x600 screen resolution. Ideally, anyone should be able to look at any page on your site and quickly recognize where they would go to find different content. Keep in mind that most Internet users scan Web pages rather than actually reading them. Extra clicks are a sign of less-than- ideal navigation and frustrated site visitors. Copyright © 2007 J.D. Power and Associates, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 2
  4. 4. Online Automotive Review—Dealer Edition August 2007 Is Your Web Site Useful? (continued) Speed Speed is the user’s perception of the site’s speed. While technical factors such as page weight, server load, and load time are certainly influential, it’s important to recognize that user expectations play a large role. For instance, users expect home pages to load quickly and will abandon those sites that don’t load within seconds. In contrast, users also understand that advanced content such as video and inventory search take longer to load and will be more patient—but even then, tasks must complete in a reasonable period of time. The navigation setup also impacts the perception of site speed. If users spend a lot of time looking for information (or can’t find it), they will have a negative perception of the site’s speed. In other words, poor navigation equals extra clicks, which equals poor perception of site speed. Appearance The dealer site should look professional and respectable. Similar to the real world, a Web page with a professional appearance implies that the user will be treated professionally. Attractive Internet store front sites are much more inviting than tackier, “my teenage nephew built this” Web sites. Dealer sites should give shoppers the impression that the site is updated regularly—this shows that the site reflects the current state of the dealership and wasn’t just built and forgotten. For instance, remove service coupons that expired 6 months ago. This may also inspire greater confidence that dealer representatives will promptly respond to inquiries and service scheduling, among other needs. Branding is also part of site appearance. For OEM sites, the importance of branding is usually second only to that of promoting new-vehicle sales. The current stage of evolution for dealer sites is to focus almost entirely on functionality, but this may change over time, forcing dealers to put more effort into the vehicle brand message conveyed by their sites. Note that branding of the dealership itself (vs. the vehicles it sells) will give the site more personality. What’s the history of the dealership? Who’s the owner? A dealer may also choose to tout their dealership’s position in the local community, such as being a proud sponsor of local Little League, fundraisers, and similar events. Copyright © 2007 J.D. Power and Associates, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 2
  5. 5. Online Automotive Review—Dealer Edition August 2007 Is Your Web Site Useful? (continued) Putting It into Practice To illustrate these concepts, OAR audited the Web site of Keyes Acura, a large Los Angeles-area dealership. For this analysis, we viewed the site in 800x600 screen resolution, which can reveal more potential navigation issues. www.keyesacura.com, May 20, 2007 Information/Çontent ■ Dealer address and phone number are on every page, but the phone number is cut off (and unreachable even by scrolling) in 800x600 resolution ■ Site incorporates advanced content such as vehicle research, inventory search, and service scheduling Navigation ■ Layout is consistent—The menu remains in the same place and unchanged throughout the site ■ Large and high-contrast text ■ Menu options “Specials,” “Career,” and “Español” are cut off in 800x600 screen resolution and not reachable even with scrolling ■ Menu titles such as “Internet/Fleet” and “Dealership” are not sufficiently descriptive of their content ■ Dealership logo takes up a lot of available screen, forcing more scrolling than might otherwise be necessary Speed ■ All Web pages load quickly. Even inventory search has only a slight delay Appearance ■ High-quality and professional look, especially appropriate for a premium brand ■ Service coupons expired in January 2007 Overall, this is a high-quality site with great content, but a few simple tweaks could improve its usefulness even further. Copyright © 2007 J.D. Power and Associates, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 2
  6. 6. Online Automotive Review—Dealer Edition August 2007 Is Your Web Site Useful? (continued) Conclusion While vendor- and OEM-sponsored templates may restrict your ability to make changes, even minor tweaks to content and regular site updates will enhance your site’s usefulness. Always remember that your site should streamline users’ experience. Obviously, there is no one user that you can build for—instead, you should provide multiple paths to information and help your site visitors accomplish their goals. If they are able to do that, then you have a useful and effective site that will contribute to your business and bottom line. Copyright © 2007 J.D. Power and Associates, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 2

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