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TORONTO, Ontario — J.D. Power and Associates rolled out its 2010 Canadian Manufacturer Web Site Evaluation Study today and found that the brand ranking the highest for customer satisfaction when it comes to automaker Web sites is Lexus.

However, it appears the industry has a ways to go in terms of improving Web site functionality, which is proving to be increasingly important to consumers.

Looking at Lexus' performance, the Japanese luxury brand earned a score of 843 out of 1,000. Finishing second was Mazda (825), followed by Toyota (822).

Basically, the study evaluates how satisfied new-vehicle intenders who plan to buy within 12 months are with various automakers' Web sites. Their satisfaction is measured across four criteria: information/content, speed of pages loading on the Web site, ease of navigation and appearance. 

Web site satisfaction can be paramount in helping to generate interested shoppers.

A consumer who is highly satisfied with a brand's Web site is 22 percent more likely to come in for a test drive than a consumer who is less satisfied. J.D. Power determines a highly satisfied score to be 900 or more, and a less-satisfied score to be 700 or less.

"Sixty percent of shoppers in the market for a new vehicle in the next year have already visited a manufacturer's Web site, and twice as many shoppers visit a manufacturer's site compared with a third-party site," explained Ryan Robinson, Canadian automotive practice leader at J.D. Power.

"As a result, it's crucial for manufacturers to provide shoppers with an effective and satisfying Web site — particularly when it is likely to result in increased showroom traffic," Robinson added.

Continuing on, J.D. Power noted that advanced functionality — for instance, the Web site allowing for service-appointment scheduling or the ability to fill out a credit application — is important to consumers when it comes to an automaker's Web site.

In fact, two-fifths of shoppers said they want an OEM Web site to allow them to fill out a credit application. A year ago, only 30 percent said the same.

J.D. Power suggested this illustrates how crucial it is for automakers to "to create an effective transition between the digital and physical shopping experience."

And although shoppers appear to want more of these advanced functions, many sites still don't include them. For instance, over three-fourths (76 percent) of shoppers wishing to get a sales appointment schedule through an OEM site said they didn't have that option. Likewise, 72 percent of shoppers looking to fill out a credit application could not fulfill that task.

"Although advanced functionality on manufacturer Web sites was once thought of as more of a novelty, shoppers are becoming increasingly comfortable using these functions and have come to expect them," Robinson commented.

"Ensuring that these options are present, function properly and are easy to use may go a long way in improving the overall Web site experience for shoppers," he concluded.