Econsultancy, in association with Global Reviews, has released a number of Customer Experience Benchmarking reports this week, on of which looks at key usability success factors on automotive websites.

This report looks at car comparison tools, which are supposed to help users to decide which car and model is most suitable for them. Providing a usable comparison tool makes it easier for customers to research their purchase and produce a shortlist of suitable cars.

A lot of car websites tend to do a pretty poor job of this, and can often be terrible to use. Too much Flash is often a problem, the intro to Saab UK website is one such example, while navigation is often unclear. I had a look at used car search tools on some of the manufacturers’ websites last year, and found that many were slow-loading and difficult to use.

While car manufacturer websites are OK to use if you have already done your research and have an idea of what car / model you want to buy, what they often fail to do is to provide the tools to help user research earlier in the purchase process.

Providing an excellent comparison tool makes it more likely that your car will be purchased, as customers will feel they have been provided with all the information to make an informed decision.

There are some good examples from UK sites which use filtering options to help users to narrow their search:

Ford’s website provides a ‘help me choose’ link from the homepage, which leads to this selector tool: 

Ford 'help me choose' tool

As customers select filtering options from the right hand side, the cars that match fit these needs are highlighted by the orange ring underneath. There is also the option to select up to three cars to compare in more detail, but this wasn’t working when I tried it.

Fiat’s comparison tool looks appealing, and is easy enough to use. By selecting the filters at the bottom to set your preferred price range, performance, economy and space, cars that don’t fit these parameters will disappear from the screen: 

Fiat car comparison tool

However, once you have narrowed the selection to two or three cars, there is no option to compare them side by side in more detail, and users are require to look at each car individually.

Vauxhall’s selector tool is one of the best I’ve found, as it allows users to select cars according to needs (affordability, environment, space etc) as well as by specific filters such as engine size and body style.

Vauxhall selector tool

As with the Fiat tool. cars that don’t fit the bill vanish, but it has the advantage over the other tools, in that it allows for side by side comparison of different models.

Even better for increasing customer trust is to allow them to compare not only models by the same manufacturer, but to compare their selected car against competitors, as Jeep does here: 

Jeep comparison tool

To use this comparison tool, though, you need to manually select make and model from a huge drop-down menu that includes just about every other car on the market, which isn’t great for usability.

Toyota also provides comparison with competitors’ models, but makes selection easier, and also helps by suggesting similar models from other manufacturers.

It provides a more comprehensive comparison of features than Jeep does, providing options to compare models according to different feature; safety, economy etc, as well as highlighting the areas where its models have an advantage over others:

For more on this, see our Customer Experience Benchmarking: Automotive Industry: Car Comparison Tools, produced in association with Global Reviews. We also have benchmarking reports for the telecoms and finance sectors.