J.D. Power study shows Canadian car shoppers happiest using Toyota, Buick and Volvo sites

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By Lawrence Papoff

Imagine you are a Canadian car shopper. As part of your homework, you visit an OEM’s website, where you are invited to build and price the car of your dreams right down to colour. Then you want to find a dealer who has that very car, so you look for an “inventory locator” button. But you don’t find one.

Next, you hit the “dealer locator” button. Then you have to click your way round from dealership to dealership website until you find one that lets you search for the car you want.

That doesn’t make you a happy shopper, certainly not as happy – in fact, “significantly” less so – as your American counterparts.

That’s one of the findings in the recent J.D. Power 2014 Canadian Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study released in early May.

“Within the information/content measure, the largest areas for improvement, compared with the U.S. market, are locate inventory (51-point gap) and vehicle images (44-point gap),” J.D. Power said.

J.D. Ney is the manager of automotive research and consulting at J.D. Power in Toronto. He managed the survey for the research company.

Ney explained that compared to U.S. consumers, “Canadians tend to be more critical and have higher expectations for big-ticket purchases such as houses and vehicles.”

He told Canadian AutoWorld that the absence of a “locate inventory” button or tool is one of the “key differences” between U.S. and Canadian automaker sites.

“Here it’s the dealer who has the responsibility.”

The consumer spots the shortcoming easily when the web site encourages them to build and price a model, including colour, but doesn’t help them with a locate inventory tool, he said.

He went on to say that the absence of the tool opens “white space” for a dealer fill with their own locator tool.

Making the vehicle search easier is crucial since J.D. Power studies have found over the years that the relationship between the site and the dealer is a crucial one: The more successful the site, the more likely the consumer will come in for a test drive.

The annual study is based on responses from 3,120 new-car shoppers who say they will be in the market for a new car within the next 24 months.

“We asked them to give us their shopping list and evaluate one of the brands.”

The research company fielded the survey in February and March.

The study shows overall satisfaction with OEM sites here versus the U.S. is “significantly lower here where the average was 777 on a 1,000-point scale as opposed to an average of 814 in the U.S.

Elsewhere, only 25 per cent of Canadian shoppers use videos. But amongst those who do, satisfaction is higher.

He cautioned against complacency here.

“That’s a reflection of the availability of videos on OEMs’ sites,” he said.

But when videos are available, satisfaction grows.

He went on to add that the differences between the American and Canadian sites in this area is cost.

“Media assets for a website are expensive.”

Still, it’s not just a matter of the number of views that is important; it’s what those images and videos say about the vehicle that counts, he said.

And that may leave more white space for a dealer to fill with homemade videos.

“This study doesn’t reveal trends because so much changes year over year in the web world,” Ney cautioned. “The study is a snapshot.”