Automotive Blog

OEM websites as the primary information source for new car buyers: are improvements necessary?

Pascal Oem Blog

Laptops, smartphones and tablets are widespread nowadays, and it is absolutely normal for many people to be online throughout the entire day, in fact this is often expected.  This online presence is an opportunity for industries, such as the car industry, to attract potential customers through various online channels such as corporate websites, corporate social media profiles, or apps. 
This massive growth in internet use means that virtually all car buyers conduct information research online, often intensively, before they visit a dealership.  As ICDP’s consumer surveys have validated, manufacturer websites are the primary contact point for customers in receiving detailed new car information, whilst for manufacturers they represent a means of steering potential buyers throughout their customer journey.  But do these websites really match customer needs, or is there space for improvement in order to achieve better customer engagement? 

Recent ICDP analysis of 30 manufacturer websites in Germany, the UK, and France has revealed potential improvements to customer steering and to the services offered.  We looked at websites of 5 volume (VW, Ford, Opel, Renault, and Peugeot) and 5 premium brands (Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover and Volvo). 

When considering the overall web traffic of all the websites, the growth trend is clear; from May to October 2014, total traffic volume rose to 19,167,000 page visits (+12%), showing their increasing relevance as an information source for new car buyers. 

However, between the websites, structural differences and a varying product and service offer as well as differences in the brand experience provided remain, reflecting the different marketing strategies of each brand, as well as their responses to different national cultures, values, disposable incomes, and not to mention their own sales fortunes. 

As an increasing number of potential customers access manufacturer websites by smartphone or tablet, page optimisation for these devices is key.  Incredibly, when we looked (using an iPad), 30% of the sample of websites had not optimised their pages for tablets, whereas only one volume brand website was not optimised for smartphones.  This should be addressed as a matter of urgency, otherwise potential car buyers might leave the site immediately!  When testing the car configurators, huge differences appear in whether configurations can be shared or saved.  Webchats were only offered at 40% of the websites.

Overall, the analysis revealed plenty of manufacturer websites which appear to be well prepared to guide or steer potential customers by providing the information and services they are looking for.  Nevertheless, more could still be done to attract customers, as some of the weak examples with poor usability and a lack of relevant services shows.  Personally, I would not consider buying my new car from a brand which did not give me most of the information needed for the buying decision on the website.  I would also find complicated handling and long response times of webchats off-putting. 

Manufacturers face an ongoing challenge in integrating their websites into the increasingly multi-channel picture of their networks, and the question of how the primary information source for new car buyers might be turned into an effective sales channel is a relevant one.  In some markets at least, customers appear to be willing to buy cars directly from the manufacturer online.  It will be exciting to watch how this challenge will play out, and to see if manufacturers succeed in responding to this apparent demand whilst avoiding cannibalization between their online and offline channels

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