“I just wanted to buy a car…”

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Above: Press release photo for the 1969 American Motors Javelin SST.

I started shopping for a vehicle last weekend, doing my research on the Internet and making decisions. It shouldn’t be hard, right? Guess again. This ended up being a great way to look at how websites decay in Trinidad and Tobago from companies that should have the budget to handle it.

This is, ultimately, intended as constructive criticism. However, it’s balanced with the frustration of a potential buyer who wanted to be informed before getting entangled with giving out my information to people who really believe I want to buy a vehicle from them.

Subaru

I checked the Subaru (T&T) website first, and their website was full of brochures from 2013. I would later, on Monday, call the number listed for South Trinidad on the website only to find out from a very patient man that the number on the website itself was wrong and apparently has been wrong for at least 4 years.  

The second hit from Google was the Subaru Trinidad and Tobago Facebook page, which has been sporadically updated and contains no real information. I checked Twitter, and there is a Twitter account associated with Subaru in Trinidad and Tobago though it doesn’t mention Tobago, making it invisible if you search for ‘Trinidad and Tobago’. 6 Tweets in June of 2015.

Now, you could tell me that there was some issue updating things – but 5 years is outrageous. To be more effective, they could just list the correct phone numbers and be done with it.

I did eventually get a hold of someone at Subaru, they apologized about all of which I had written, and promptly emailed me brochures. If only there was some technology to make that easier. You know, like a website. If this is any sign of how they run their business, would I want to purchase a car from them?

Mazda

Mazda was a bit better, making the brochures for a few models of their cars available, while others were simply placeholders. Granted, they seem to have done something in the last year, but the website is as informative as an upside down romance novel cover.

Again, is this a sign of how they run their business?

At this point after seeing the 2 brands I have trusted internationally over the years fail so much locally on the Internet, I felt like someone who backed Brazil at the World Cup 2018. Neymar’s on the ground again – someone get me a pacifier, will you?

I changed the way I did my searching at this point. I went to the parent company websites to attack the problem from a different angle. I was curious now not about getting a vehicle but how bad all of this user experience was even before buying a car – and why.

Southern Sales Group Of Companies.

The Southern Sales Group of Companies motto for user experience seems to be, “If they will click once to find something out, make them click twice!”.  An example – click the Audi link, and you will find a placeholder that asks you if you want to visit the Audi website. That’s just downright dumb. It should go directly to the Audi website. I taught better website design when I was teaching at the University of the West Indies School of Continuing Education, I know I did.

Navigating the different brands showed me that there seemed to be no coherent strategy in how the different brands were represented – it seemed like someone said, “Let there be a website!”, and they hired someone to throw things against a wall until they had something functionally frustrating enough to cause someone to call the salespeople.

Massy Motors

Massy Motors is kind enough to ask me if I want to enter their website, just in case I got there by accident. That’s a wasted click. Why? Clearly I came to the site, why do I have to raise someone’s self esteem by clicking that? ‘Approved.’

After that, though, things fell in place fairly well – but there’s a disparity in the brands that they sell. Subaru’s subsite is stuck in 2013, but other brands are not. Models are shown throughout the site which don’t necessarily reflect what they have on the showroom floor, and of course the Trinidad and Tobago standard of not showing prices on these websites – which, really, is annoying if you’re not an idiot.

Lifestyle Motors

I went into shock. Lifestyle motors has a real website, and on the front page itself – a dollar amount clearly visible under their featured vehicles at the bottom of the page. Someone dealing with design might be familiar with the concept of ‘above the fold’, where featured items might belong. And yet, when I drill down into the site, it’s about as informative in the others – not very – but it has the grace not to frustrate me further.

Ansa Motors

Ansa Motors website is functional as a landing page, though it makes me think of the default design of websites in the late 1990s. ‘If it’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it’, is a sound mantra, but does it encourage people to buy it new cars? Hold that thought.

The Honda portion is… flashy and annoying. I didn’t navigate to the site that has a Honda logo with things spinning around it while the page loads. Is this some sort of subliminal sales strategy? If it is, it needs some work because all it did was annoy me.

Mitsubishi? Less annoying, somewhat more informative. Ford? Less annoying, less informative. Jaguar, Landrover, BMW, Mini – less annoying, somewhat more informative.

The Trends

Having done this with all these websites now, I came to a few conclusions about the way new auto sales companies treat their customers before they enter the showroom and absolutely nothing of worth when it came to knowing about what they had available on the showroom floor.

I know, because I spent 2 hours on Monday on showroom floors throughout San Fernando. Each place I went to, I encountered good salespeople and I mentioned to every single one of them that their web presence sucked.

I empathized with them, but I was not there to do that – I was there with a few key questions that were important to me, and ultimately I chose one vehicle after a followup. That I chose a particular vehicle is a personal choice, but if you see me driving around in it you’ll figure out my ending to this story.

For companies that expect people to go into debt to the tune of $200,000 TT and up, the use of technology to help impress people is surprisingly lackluster. And given the new tax laws for them to bring in the vehicles, the lack of pricing would be acceptable except they never had the prices in the first place.

These websites were not designed. They were tossed up in the air like spaghetti if only because some group of people at a meeting said, “We need a website! We need a social media presence!”.

They still do.

Taran Rampersad

Taran Rampersad has over three decades of experience working with technology, the majority of which was as a software engineer. He is a published author on virtual worlds and was part of the team of writers at WorldChanging.com that won the Utne Award.

He is an outspoken advocate of simplifying processes and bending technology’s use to society’s needs. 

His volunteer work related to technology and disasters has been mentioned by the media (BBC), and is one of the plank-owners of combining culture with ICT in the Caribbean (ICT) through CARDICIS and has volunteered time towards those ends.

As an amateur photographer, he has been published in educational books, magazines, websites and NASA’s ‘Sensing The Planet’.

He presently is doing personal land management, agricultural, writing and technology projects and is focusing on agriculture and land management.

A rare sight in cities, you’ll most likely find him offroad somewhere on a hill in his 4×4 writing or taking pictures.  You can contact him via email.