AutoTrader – iPhone Website Review

I am currently in the market to buy a slightly used car, so naturally I have been spending a lot of time on AutoTrader.com.  I was really disappointed when I went to the App Store looking for an AutoTrader app, only to find that there isn’t one.  That’s why I’ve chosen it as the next victim of my iPhone website reviews.

AutoTraderHome

The first thing you see when visiting AutoTrader.com from your iPhone is a welcome screen which gives you 3 options – Find Cars, Find Dealers, and My AutoTrader.  Unlike many iPhone optimized websites, they chose to display the navigation and search bar at the top.  Many websites will by default hide the navigation bar, making it so that the user must scroll up in order to search or navigate away from the page.  Either AutoTrader decided they wanted to leave it available, or they neglected to take this into consideration.  I personally feel that hiding it is always the best option, because it makes the user have to work to leave your site.  It also frees up a few pixels of screen space, allowing you to add more content or styling to a single page.  Another thing that I am noticing is that the overall site layout is not as clean as you will find with other mobile websites.  The site really looks like a miniature version of the full website.  More successful mobile sites make the full version look like an enlarged version of the mobile site, not the other way around.

Because I am looking to purchase a car, I selected ‘Find Cars’.  While the options on this screen very much represent the options you would see on the full website, I am less than impressed with the presentation.  For starters, users have to scroll down to see all of the search criteria, and this is something I think should never take place on an iPhone optimized website.  The general layout stays the same, but now they’ve added advertisements at the top and bottom of the page.  While the advertisements are taking up valuable screen space, eliminating them would allow the search criteria to fit on the screen without the need to scroll up or down.

Despite the negative design aspects, this page does have some positive functionality.  The search criteria is simple and broad, and you are given the option to narrow your search results after submitting your initial query.  Also, the options that are presented on the welcome screen are now presented in tab format at the top of the page, just under the advertisement banner.  Scrolling to the very bottom places the tabbed navigation at the very top of the screen, making working from this position simple and painless.  If only they had designed the page this way, putting all of the most valuable content as the first thing the user sees.

Next we get to the most frustrating aspect about the mobile version of this site.  On the full version of AutoTrader.com, you have the option to refine your search to display only cars with the exact specifications that you want.  Like most car buyers, I know exactly what I am looking for, and don’t want to have to browse through hundreds of cars to find it.  The iPhone version of this site limits the search criteria to Distance, Zip Code, New/Used, Make, Model , Year, and Price Range.  This general search query returned more cars than I cared to look for, and rendered the site basically useless to me from the iPhone.

Other things to note about the site is they do not allow for zooming in or out, panning left and right is unnecessary, and you have the option on the first screen to view the full site.

So to recap the mobile version of this site, I’ve found the design to be somewhat sloppy and inconsiderate of the user.  The positioning of vital content is less than ideal, and the overall functionality barely resembles a shrunk down version of the full website.  AutoTrader definitely needs to find a way to allow users to narrow their search results, saving them valuable time searching for vehicles on the go.




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