For this month's Marketing Shoot-out, we asked 100 WebScore panelists to visit two car rental sites, Avis and Hertz. We asked our panelists which site they preferred, which one made it easier to rent a car and, finally, which services they liked best.
For the site itself, 58 of our panelists preferred Avis' Web site to Hertz's.
The results for the ease of renting a car were much closer, with 49 panelists saying cars were easier to rent at Avis, 47 preferring Hertz's site, and four saying both sites make it easy to rent cars.
Interestingly, eight of the people who preferred Avis' Web site thought Hertz made it easier to rent a car, while three people who preferred the Hertz site said Avis made it easier to rent a car. All four panelists who thought both sites were equally easy to rent cars liked Avis' site better.
Some respondents reacted strongly to the tone and feel of the sites. For example, 20 panelists chose Avis because they thought it was friendlier or more fun than Hertz. Several complained that the tone of Hertz's site was impersonal. Only one respondent felt the Hertz site was friendlier.
On the other hand, many respondents liked Hertz's site for its direct professional approach, saying they felt Avis' friendliness was unnecessary "fluff."
One major difference between the two sites was the process by which consumers receive answers to reservation and rate questions. At the Avis site, after filling reservation preferences, prospective renters have to enter some personal information, including an e-mail address and full name. Avis then returns rates and reservation information later by e-mail.
Some people preferred this method, with one panelist saying, "I can read the response later at my pace, instead of waiting for an answer online."
Slow response time
Still, 23 respondents from both groups said they preferred Hertz's method, while only three preferred Avis' method. Two panelists complained about the time it took for Avis to get back to them.
At the Hertz site, which did work for most of the respondents, users receive all the requested information online. Quite a few respondents chose Hertz solely because they did not want to give a stranger personal information, with two saying they didn't believe in giving anything away for free.
The most common complaint about the Hertz site from people who preferred the Avis site was that Hertz was very slow. A typical comment was, "I felt Avis' site provided everything the Hertz site did, but at a faster load time. The Hertz site was just too slow."
Hertz was slow to load
In many ways the Hertz site may have been visually more appealing, but it caused overloading on some end users' systems. Five panelists were either unable to access Hertz's site at all, or got error messages when trying to retrieve information.
Still, two of the Hertz promoters reported they liked the Hertz site because it downloaded faster. We have intentionally built our WebScore panel with a variety of computing environments represented.
Overall, the respondents were very enthusiastic about their chosen site. The most mentioned service was Avis' map service with downloadable U.S. maps. Thirty-seven respondents, including some Hertz fans, mentioned this service.
The next most mentioned service (9) was Avis' "Fun" section. This includes features such as a gallery of Avis ads and employee home pages.
Of 100 panelists, only one said he would not rent online. Nearly everyone else loved the idea. u
Lynda Frohman is director of online services for New York-based CLT Research Associates, which offers the WebScore service. She can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.