J.D. Power play: The third-party websites to use for car shopping

So many websites and so little time.

It’s what you may feel like on third-party websites if you’re beginning a search for another vehicle.

But since most shoppers start – and many finish – online, we set out to help you get to the most useful third-party websites based on the U.S. Automotive Website Evaluation Study Cross-Device by J.D. Power, which provides consumer insights, data and analytics about the auto industry.

Fortunately, the results are less cumbersome and more easily understood than the title of the report.

Woman working on computer

“This study examines which current site functions and designs are most effective in helping shoppers narrow their consideration set and increasing their likelihood to recommend and return to the website,” said JDP in a press release accompanying the survey results.

In other words, the survey seeks to identify which third-party websites offer the best online experience for shoppers, accounting for appearance, navigation, speed and information/content of each website.

This year’s websites ranked above the industry average are:

Last year’s websites ranked above the industry average are:

  • Mobile: Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, Carfax, CarAndDriver, TrueCar and Cars.com.
  • Desktop: Autotrader, TrueCar, Cars.com, CarGurus, Carfax and Edmunds.
  • Both lists: Edmunds, Carfax, TrueCar and Cars.com.

Highest-rated websites combining above-average results from the last three years:

  • Mobile: Kelley Blue Book, which ranked No. 1 all three years, Edmunds.com and Cars.com.
  • Desktop: Cars.com, which ranked in the top three 2017-19, Edmunds and Autotrader.
  • Both lists: Cars.com and Edmunds.

Consumer satisfaction scores for third-party websites actually were higher for the mobile experience the last two years, according to the Power survey. The industry average was 808 out of 1,000 points this year and 782 last year for mobile users, compared to 759 and 762 averages, respectively, for desktops. Mobile and desktop experiences scored about even among 2017 survey participants.

“This year’s study finds that smartphone satisfaction dramatically increases while desktop satisfaction declines,” said the JDP press release. “This indicates that many companies are going all-in with enhancing the mobile experience, to the detriment of the desktop experience.”

“Five years ago, we would have been amazed to see higher satisfaction for vehicle research and shopping on a five-inch screen,” said Amit Aggarwal, senior director of JDP’s digital practice, after the 2018 survey. “Year over year, smartphone users are visiting more content areas to configure vehicles, compare vehicles, search for inventory, view technical specifications and more.”

Results this year were based on 4,085 survey participants, comprising desktop and mobile users, who expect to go shopping for a vehicle within the next 24 months.

Besides the rankings, Power last year had some advice for vehicle shoppers based on the survey:

  • Employ the full range of services and options the website offers, including comprehensive vehicle viewing information, intuitive dealer locator and inventory search tools.
  • Take advantage of the websites that include both new and used vehicles in their inventories, and allow you to initiate the buying process online.
  • Look for vehicle reviews on the website – from consumers, experts, and dealers.

The breathtaking number of automotive websites can be as confusing as the array of vehicles themselves. Now, at least, you have a better idea where to spend time researching your next purchase.

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