Usability

Heuristic Evaluation of Cars.com

Last year, I was a man on a mission. A mission, that is, for a new car. My family needed a new set of wheels and I was determined to do all the research I could to find us the best vehicle with the best features for the best price.

If that sounds familiar, then you might be one of the millions of users who visit Cars.com each month. Cars.com is a leading website that allows users to find their dream vehicle with ease and speed.

In my research, I found that Cars.com was one of many valuable resources. However, as I quickly learned, the website is not entirely without problems. So, for a project in my Usability Studies class, I decided to run a heuristic evaluation on Cars.com. As an informed consumer, I felt like this was a natural fit, and besides, with potentially millions of users depending on this website’s data for important purchasing decisions, Cars.com ought to be a leader in ease-of-use.

For my heuristic evaluation, I asked evaluators to run through the website while performing the following tasks:

  1.     Use the Cars.com web page to search for a used hatchback or wagon with less than 50,000 miles and manual transmission within 250 miles of zip code 35801. Select one vehicle that fits these criteria.
  2.     Find the physical location of the vehicle on the website, complete with dealer name, as well as city, state and zip code.
  3.     Reset the search engine and instead search for a new Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium with exterior color gray and interior color black, within 30 miles of zip code 35801.

For the evaluation, I recruited two testers, both of whom are young professionals in their early 30s, one male and one female. Both have college degrees, full-time jobs and at least some familiarity and interest in shopping online.

When my evaluators conducted the test, they found several issues. However, two were the most prominent. First, both noted that the Cars.com homepage did not have enough filters for its basic search. When first navigating to the site, one cannot select filters for body style, mileage, transmission or several other features. Instead, the user can only select new/used, make, model, price and distance from a certain zip code, as shown in Figure 1 below:

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 9.05.28 PM

To fix this, I propose adding more options on the homepage, perhaps directly under the search fields already included. A similar feature already exists with the “Advanced Search” link, but that takes the user to a new page, which takes away from the user’s freedom and control over the process.

The second recurring issue was that, after conducting an initial search, the users had trouble resetting the search engine. There was an option to clear all selections, but not an option to start over, which would make more sense. This is shown in Figure 2 below:

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 9.06.37 PM

The fix for this one is easy. A clear option labeled “Start Over” would make the user’s experience much more pleasant.

Other problems came up, including a catastrophic issue that apparently resulted from a programming glitch. But the two problems outlined above were found by both of my evaluators, which leads me to believe many users will have similar concerns. I believe that by following my recommendations, Cars.com could improve users’ experiences and make their search for a new vehicle even more simple than it already is. Although the website is strong overall, there is always room for improvement.