LAS VEGAS – Dealers who think of themselves as progressive may not be moving as fast as they think, according to two marketers involved in Internet sales.

Some dealerships pride themselves on having websites when competitors don’t, but that’s not enough. Dealers also must take into account rapidly evolving mobile platforms, as well as how shoppers use the Internet.

“We have to figure out how to best serve a customer who’s going to choose to be in contact with us in many, many ways,” Matt Murray tells attendees at the DrivingSales Executive Summit conference here.

Murray, vice president-enterprise solutions at Dealer.com, says automotive retailers often are slow to recognize online trends. “The consumer was certainly ahead of us in 2001,” he says about the first boom in online car shopping. “We always follow the consumer, and we wait until (a trend reaches) critical mass.”

Dealerships were slow to make their presence known on social-media sites such as Facebook, and now that those sites have sponsored advertising, Murray says it’s time for dealers to take advantage.

“Waiting for that curve is not being the progressive dealer we plan to be,” he says.

Search-engine optimization, comprised of algorithms used by sites such as Google or Yahoo, is key to grabbing consumer attention.

While dealers have come a ways in making sure they are at the top of search queries, new technologies – particularly Apple’s Siri speech-recognition system for its iPhone – are upping the ante, says Jim Flint, president of Local Search Group.

“There will be a fundamental change in where our dealerships are located. Your cost per square foot will be just as profitable off the highway,” Flint says.

When a shopper asks Siri, or any other GPS-aided locator, for directions to the nearest car dealer, they may be led to a competitor. Drivers are just as likely to ask for “car dealership” rather than “Hyundai dealership,” Flint says.

Technology such as Siri also complicates pricing of vehicles, Flint says. Asking Siri for the price of a Ford Fusion may yield different results from different dealers based on incentives and other pricing factors.

“The adoption rate of smartphones is far exceeding the adoption rate of the Internet. I think this will hit us faster and harder than anything we’ve seen in the past couple (of years),” Flint says.

Regarding search, Murray says consumers are more savvy about finding their way to dealer inventories online instead of dawdling on a dealer’s website. Too much emphasis is placed on photos of the sales staff or “display” – the look and feel of the website, without clear links or direction to inventory listings.

“The point is not the most beautiful website, but to have the most functional website,” he says.

Both marketers agree that Millennials, both on and off the sales floor, are a crucial part of the future of dealerships. Flint says sales staffs should be readily able to cater to Gen-Y customers, while Murray cautions that younger, tech-savvy salespeople easily can outgrow an outdated dealer and take their talents elsewhere.

afoley@wardsauto.com