MANUFACTURERS’ WEBSITES: The life online

Date: Monday, November 13, 2017

What Van? has once again compared and analysed the major LCV manufacturers’ websites. Jack Carfrae reveals the best and worst online market stalls from the foremost brands

Peugeot was set to launch a revamped business website in October 2017, just after our assessment.

What Van?’s annual analysis of the top van manufacturers’ websites is now in its sixth year, and the polar opposites of the LCV brands’ online shop fronts are more obvious than ever.

Some have really embraced the digital world and cater well for their virtual punters, while others lag behind the pack, both in terms of their sites and their digital customer services.  

While car websites get all the bells and whistles, van equivalents can still feel unloved so, as usual, we have rewarded the manufacturers that have poured significant efforts into their online LCV pages – and it is often those with standalone van brands that flourish.

Some have really moved the game along since autumn 2016, not least VW, which has an all-new commercial vehicle site, while Renault’s efforts to address several of the issues we previously highlighted – chiefly, pages clogged with self-promotion – have seen it leap up the rankings.

Mercedes’ site is in the midst of major change – it got a new homepage, a ‘van-chooser tool’ and an online service purchase facility in September – and as What Van? went to press, the manufacturer told us there were imminent plans to add customer review pages, an accessories section and a configurator.

Meanwhile, Ford’s UK website has been redesigned, while Toyota has added trade and converter pages. Citroen now offers the ability to search for a van via fuel type and CO2 level, along with updated model pages that give quick access to a specific vehicle via the configurator. 

As for the future, Fiat Professional is due an all-new website in January, while Peugeot is set to launch a revamped – and much-needed – business website in October 2017.  

What we assessed

We have maintained the same 10 key areas of assessment as 2016, ranking manufacturers’ websites from one (lowest) to 10 (highest) in each respective area, and adding the category scores to create a percentage total. Priorities are LCV-specific content, ease of access to basic info, such as vehicle prices, along with the speed, accuracy and helpfulness of manufacturers’ responses when we contacted them.

We have rewarded those that have developed and updated their sites, and penalised those that have made things difficult, such as insisting on your personal details before you can download a brochure. We conducted our analysis in mid-September.

  • Ease of use: A manufacturer’s site should, at its heart, provide information about the products in an accessible and digestible format. You don’t want to wade through heaps of pages to find something simple, such as the price of a van.
  • Design: It’s aesthetic, but the easier on the eye a page is, the more likely a user is to remain on it. There’s an element of crossover with ease of use, as the layout governs the user’s navigation.
  • Van configuration tool: Lots of LCV pages still don’t have them, and some that do limit them to one or a few models. Those without scored lower, but we’ve ranked them on access to similar information, such as prices and specs.
  • Brochure download: They can seem old hat in the digital age, but brochures are still a great one-stop shop for vehicle information. Those that don’t ask for your personal details, are easy to find online and well laid out get our vote.
  • Email response: We emailed the generic enquiries address on each site asking if a popular model has metallic paint as standard or if it is a cost option (and if so, how much). Those that responded were scored on accuracy and speed.
  • Telephone enquiry: We also phoned the customer services number published on each site, and asked if the manufacturer’s vehicles comply with Euro6 emission regulations. Speed and accuracy were once again the barometers.
  • Find a dealer: The website is your first port of call if you want to locate your nearest dealer, so the feature should be useful and easy to find.
  • Social media presence: Brands usually pour heaps of effort into their car-themed social media channels; less so for vans. We like those that buck the trend.
  • Mobile site: More people than ever are accessing websites via smartphones and tablets, which makes a comprehensive mobile format incredibly important.
  • Extras: Additional features of use or relevance to van operators get a big thumbs-up from us.

Live chat: ditched by some, championed by others

Nissan and Peugeot appear to have done away with online live chat services since our 2016 analysis – when neither particularly impressed us – leaving only four of the top 10 LCV brands with the offering. We asked each one whether or not a popular model had aircon as standard and, if not, how much it costs. 

  • Vauxhall is still well ahead of the pack with live chat. We had an accurate answer in three minutes, and the agent sent a link to the LCV price list – which isn’t easy to come by on the site.
  • Renault’s service (it seems to no longer offer email correspondence) took two attempts and a long time to load, but the agent gave a detailed answer, plus links to brochures and price lists and offers of more assistance, in less than 10 minutes.
  • VW launched live chat in June. We criticised VW in last year’s analysis, as it offered a less than helpful service via its car site, but things have improved hugely. It took a minute or two for an agent to appear, but they gave a definitive answer in 10 minutes, and offered to put us in touch with a local van centre.
  • A Ford spokesperson said it had recently added the service when it had one last year, albeit far from helpful. The function didn’t work first time and didn’t appear at all on two more occasions. There is a service called ‘Ask Ford’ that attempts to match your question to an automated answer and links to other pages; there’s no human interaction, but it got us closer to the relevant info than any manned Ford service ever has.
  • Mercedes offers live chat on its car site, but the operative said they would “look into” a van query for us; an hour later, we’d heard nothing more, so we gave up.

The upshot is that live chat services have successfully answered six questions in four years from 18 individual attempts. Four brands have ditched the service within that time, but VW’s recent addition and the fact that Renault does live chat instead of email, proves that some companies understand its worth.

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To read What's Van?'s detailed breakdown of how the brands got their scores, click the 'Results' files in the 'Related Files' section at the top.



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