Keynote Competitive Research, the industry analysis group of Keynote — an Internet and mobile cloud testing and monitoring company, announced May 3 the results of a study examining the business and technical effectiveness of rental car booking websites. In the study, took first place for Overall Customer Experience, while in the “Technical Quality” portion of the study scored first overall.

The rankings are based on responses from users, who were observed as they accomplished tasks on each of the sites studied, as well as real data collected through Keynote website monitoring to assess the technical quality of the sites. For each study, Keynote recognizes the companies with the overall top ranking, as well as those exhibiting excellence in specific categories.

Keynote observed and conducted online interviews as they interacted with the websites of a total of 10 leading rental car booking companies including from both opaque websites and the car rental companies. The 10 sites are Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Expedia, Hertz, Orbitz, Thrifty and Travelocity. Each study participant had used the Web to research and/or book a rental car online and planned to do so again within the next 12 months.

Customer Experience

For the “Customer Experience” component of the study, Keynote sent 200 U.S. resident Internet users to each of the 10 rental car websites. The participants were first asked to spend long enough on the site’s home page to form an impression of the site and gain an understanding of its unique offerings.

Next, users were asked to think of a trip they might take to a major city, where they would rent a car and to choose specific dates using the site to find a rental car that would accommodate them and anyone they might typically travel with (e.g., family, business colleagues, etc.). Participants were asked to look for a rental car that would best suit their needs — including price, special options and availability for specific dates.

Once they found a rental car that fit all the proper criteria, the participants were asked to write down the total cost. Next, they were asked to proceed through the process of reserving the vehicle, going as far as possible without actually completing the reservation, include anything else they might need (e.g., special options) and adding them to the reservation as well, making note of the final price quote.

Finally, the participants were asked to use the site to find the answer to a question or problem they may have had when finding, reserving or renting a car, either during this evaluation or in the past. If they were unable to find the answer on the site, users were instructed to explore the options available for contacting customer service for additional assistance.

The study revealed that when tested by online users, offers the strongest Overall Customer Experience, followed closely behind by — which scored first for Brand Impact — and then by, which rated highest for Customer Satisfaction.

Other key findings for Customer Experience:

  • Five sites — Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Budget and Hertz — comprised a clear top tier, providing the best customer experience for site visitors in 2012.
  • Reservation Process, Price Satisfaction, Quality and Reputation, Design & Organization, Find Rental Car, Visual Appeal, Car Descriptions & Details and Locate Help also continue to be key drivers for brand and conversion.

Several sites experienced significant shifts in year-over-year performance:

  • Travelocity improved significantly for Overall Customer Experience, Conversion, Customer Satisfaction, Design & Organization and Visual Appeal.
  • Budget improved significantly for Overall Customer Experience, Customer Satisfaction, Quality & Reputation, Design & Organization and Visual Appeal.
  • Avis improved significantly for Overall Customer Experience, Conversion, Customer Satisfaction, Quality & Reputation, Design & Organization and Visual Appeal.
  • Both Budget and Travelocity refreshed their Car Rental homepages in ways that led to greater user satisfaction.

“Almost all the sites did well in creating a satisfying reservation process,” said Chris Musto, general manager of the Keynote Competitive Research group at Keynote. “Where they tended to diverge was in customer support for questions or issues, price satisfaction and panelists’ feelings after using the sites about the quality and reputation of the car rental agency or online travel agency they visited.”

Technical Quality

For the “Technical Quality” portion of the study, Keynote performed 6,000 total measurements for each site, for a total of 60,000 total measurements from 12 locations in the U.S. The data was collected every day over a one month period during the websites’ peak period (8:00 AM-Midnight, EST., Monday-Sunday).

The Keynote study examined two broad aspects of technical quality: responsiveness and reliability. Responsiveness comprises high speed response, DSL (midband) response, response time consistency, geographic uniformity and load handling, while reliability is comprised of availability and outages.

Keynote measured a typical transaction of searching for and reserving a rental car online. Each measured transaction began at the site’s Home Page then followed the process of searching for and selecting a rental car, ending at the reservation page that prompts the user to enter their personal information. Based on the thousands of transactions monitored over the course of the study, Thrifty’s website ranked first in Overall Technical Quality.

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