Forget the 3-D TVs, the iPad minis and the new "Call of Duty" video game. The hot new item on the shelves of America's #1 retailer this Black Friday is consumer-friendly, off-the-shelf life insurance.
Last month, some 200 Wal-Mart stores in Georgia and South Carolina began stocking MetLife's new eye-appealing boxes of one-year, prepaid life insurance policies as part of a year-long pilot program.
The MetLife retail product, which bears the company's trademark Snoopy image, comes color-coded by age group: blue for 18-44, yellow for 45-54, green for 55-59 and red for 60-65. You can purchase a death benefit of either $10,000 or $25,000. Prices vary by age group and range from $69 for a one-year, $10,000 policy purchased by an 18-to-44-year-old, to $429 for a $25,000 policy purchased by someone age 60-to-65.
Tossing a box of life insurance into your cart doesn't guarantee coverage, however. For that, you'll need to call a toll-free number and answer six health-related questions. If MetLife doesn't like your answers, you'll be invited to return your policy card to Wal-Mart for a cash refund.
If you're more inclined to put your cash toward healthy living, Aetna this year launched a wellness card available at some Best Buy stores that can help. For about $20, the "My Resources for Living Well" card hooks you up with your choice of online wellness programs designed to help you get fit, lose weight, kick tobacco or manage stress.
In need of homeowners insurance or auto insurance? Head down the street to the nearest Costco, where they offer property and casualty insurance as well as home mortgages to the stores' warehouse club members.
Retailers have met with limited success when tiptoeing into the insurance and financial services markets, most notably with Sears' ill-fated "socks and stocks" experiment after it acquired the Dean Witter brokerage, and Wal-Mart Stores' efforts to get into banking.
But times have changed dramatically, and with them public perceptions. The financial meltdown and the aftereffects that turned many consumers against traditional banks have opened new vistas for trusted retailers to partner with insurers and offer off-the-shelf life insurance, homeowners insurance and auto insurance.
Insurers such as Aetna and MetLife are testing the waters to see if simplified retail offers -- packaged and presented on familiar retailer shelves -- might reel in some new policyholders. Health insurance, of course, is headed to just such a friendly marketplace when state exchanges open in 2014.
How about it, America? Would you buy life insurance at a Wal-Mart?
Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus
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