Audi has tried to cultivate a tech-savvy image in the United States, becoming one of the first brands to offer Wi-Fi in most vehicles. But until recently, Audi of America's Web site, audiusa.com, did little to shore up that image.
When shoppers configured cars, the photos were small, drab and not very useful, says Mark Ramsey, general manager of digital retail operations at Audi of America. Customers struggled to operate the pop-up menus on smartphones and tablets. The menus made it tough to navigate from one area of the site to another.
"If you look at the Web site that we used to have," Ramsey said during an interview, "it didn't live up to a lot of the expectations that I think customers had for the brand."
At the end of May, Audi launched the first redesign of its Web site since 2009.
Audi's digital agency of record, AKQA of San Francisco, programmed the page to display properly on screens of a variety of sizes, from smartphones up to desktop computers. The redesigned site also lets customers search the inventory of all Audi dealerships simultaneously without heading to individual dealership Web sites.
"We want this to be a true shopping tool for consumers, and a tool to assist our dealers," Ramsey said. "The shopping Web sites shouldn't just be our dealer Web sites. Our brand Web sites should enable customers to find the right car as well."
Audi is not alone. Mazda's Web site, for instance, already shows online shoppers the inventory of all Mazda stores nationwide. Still, Audi says it is the first brand in its "import high group" peer set -- which includes German luxury rivals BMW and Mercedes -- to take the step.
People who configure a car on the Mercedes-Benz and BMW Web sites can request a quote or schedule a test drive. But they must click a link to a dealership's Web site to see that store's current inventory.
When customers search for a ZIP code on Audi's Web site, they now see the inventory of the nearest dealership. All other cars are listed as available "upon request" -- meaning the local store gets a shot at making a trade and turning a lead into a sale.
Mazda's Web site shows the cars every dealership has in stock. But Ramsey said Audi ran the new system past its dealer council, and chose to show search results for one store at a time.