John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

As much as some car dealers dread change, it may be time for them to catch up to the 21st century – even if they do it kicking and screaming. The first step of change is awareness. The second is taking action.

Forward-thinking dealerships who don’t want to be yesterday’s news are making much-needed changes to their Internet presence. That’s because customers head online in droves when they seek out their new rides.

The Internet has revolutionized the way humans do commerce. That’s no longer limited to books, movies and mail-order home supplies. The waves of the online revolution are now crashing on to auto retailing and forever changing the ways of car shoppers and the auto pros who want to stick around.

Scout Automotive is a resource that caters specifically to dealerships interested in being among those not swept under with the rising tide. It’s a tool that’s incorporated into a dealership website.

It uses NADAguides information to help dealerships manually calibrate vehicle trade-in values, based on current information. In this manner, dealerships supply straightforward information to customers without requiring them to do the extra legwork.

Another highly visible online platform that’s helping bring dealerships into the 21st century is Automark Solutions. Its EZ Cart can provide customers with information in a single click. Customers can obtain price quotes, lease quotes, trade-in values, loan payoff information and financing options. This also facilitates a method of obtaining finance pre-approval.

Financing considerations for these platforms are facilitated in cooperation with Equifax, which performs what’s called a “soft pull” of the potential buyer’s credit. This gives shoppers an idea of what they qualify for, all the better to narrow their search and help them find a vehicle.

Soft pulls differ from actual credit inquiries in that they don’t require a customer social security number. Soft pulls don’t show up as inquiries on a credit bureau.

For many dealers, the implications are earthshattering. The ability of customers to now qualify for ballpark credit in advance – in particular buyers who fall into marginal categories and may have challenging credit to work with – means drastic cuts in time spent trying to qualify them.

Time saved is reflected in the time a customer has to wait in a dealership while due diligence is performed. It is also reflected in dramatically shortened time frames F&I personnel will have to spent trying to get customers into vehicles they may wind up not qualifying for.

The notion that the time is right for dealerships to perform major overhauls of their websites is one that’s being shared by a growing number of thought leaders within the industry. AutoNation is currently in the process of spreading its digital storefronts into all of its markets, which it intends to complete by the end of 2015.

AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson emphasizes the importance of bringing car sales into step with other online product purchasing methods. The company has invested millions in its digital-storefront push.

Digital storefronts developed by dealerships – both independent and chain brands alike – represent a shift that is revolutionizing the industry.

Companies like Make My Deal are gaining additional traction for their ability to network participating dealerships into their shared database of car listings. Via the online platform, customers can take greater control of the buying experience by keying in monthly payment budgets and receiving electronic offers.

This platform communicates messages from buyer to dealership and vice versa. Transparency is the new sales methodology.

No longer should a dealership website be simply informational – providing prices and options and images for customers to pore over – they should also be transactional, where dealerships can engage customers early in the game.

Savvy dealers recognize that technology has enabled customers to have more control of the buying situation than ever before. A massive revolution is underway.

F&I veteran Rebecca Chernek is the founder and president of Chernek Consulting. Her online F&I learning platform, Chernek Consulting Virtual Pro, is in use among dealerships throughout the U.S. and Canada. For more information, visit www.chernekconsultingvirtualpro.com