By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

When shoppers are ready to buy a new car or truck, chances are they visited the online sites of the vehicles they are considering.

That’s welcome news to smart, Jeep, Lincoln and Acura, which were the top four websites in a new J.D. Power and Associates report (and also are all sold at Charleston area dealerships).

According to the 2013 Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study, people tend to test drive an auto if they first logged onto the carmaker’s online page and liked what they see.

The twice-a-year report looks at the usefulness of auto manufacturer websites in four categories. Ranked by importance, they are information/content, navigation, appearance and speed.

This is the 14th year that J.D. Power and Associates has come out with the study. The consulting group discovered that 72 percent of auto shoppers on desktop computers are more likely to test drive a vehicle if they were “delighted” with their experience on the carmaker’s website. Just 25 percent of “disappointed” shoppers would do so, J.D. Power and Associates said.

“Finding the right balance of content, ease of navigation and site speed is what ultimately drives new-vehicle shopper satisfaction with the website,” said Arianne Walker, the company’s senior director of media and marketing solutions.

“Satisfaction with a website increases the likelihood that shoppers will visit a dealership and test drive a vehicle,” she said.

Walker pointed out that automakers ought to design sites that are in keeping with its brand image and that make it easy for shoppers to find what they want.

“Each site should have a unique look and feel,” she said.

A growing segment of shoppers are tablet owners, J.D. Power said. Tablet ownership has risen 23 percent in the past six months among consumers who check out a manufacturer’s website.

Carmakers try to accommodate tablet device shoppers by directing them to either a desktop version or a mobile version of their website. The desktop display tends to be preferred by people looking to buy a car or truck.

“Shoppers on a tablet are able to access all of the shopping information when they’re directed to a desktop website, compared with a mobile site,” Walker said. “However, it is critical that the desktop sites be designed to accommodate tablet navigational needs.”

Meanwhile, the study found that motorists doing research on a car or truck are more likely to take a look at automotive information while at home —favored by 37 percent of perusers — than while shopping or running errands, picked by 16 percent.

And, 92 percent of new-vehicle shoppers who own a tablet and/or smart phone expect to have the same content available on a desktop website as on other devices, according to J.D. Power.

“Shoppers want the same content-rich experience, whether they’re on a desktop, tablet or smartphone,” Walker said. “The challenge for automakers is creating sites that meet the needs of shoppers across platforms.”

According to J.D. Power and Associates, carmakers are choosing for the most part to have desktop and mobile sites but not tablet sites, thus reducing the task of keeping three sites updated.

On its scale of up to 1,000, the top brand was smart with an 845 score followed by Jeep at 840, Lincoln at 835 and Acura at 834.

The average of automotive brand websites is an 812 score.

Westlake Village, Calif.-based J.D. Power and Associates conducted the study based on responses from 10,006 new-vehicle shoppers who said they will be in the market for a new vehicle within the next two years. The survey took place November 2012.

For more information, visit JDPower.com.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com