After kicking the tires for a couple of years, Wal-Mart has settled on a vehicle to offer its customers online comparison shopping for auto insurance.
But rather than drive, America's largest retailer plans to ride shotgun. Instead of offering insurance directly, it will point customers to an insurance partner site through a link on Walmart.com as well as through promotions in the company's Wal-Mart stores.
Wal-Mart's program offers quotes on policies from multiple auto insurers including Travelers, Safeco, Progressive, 21st Century and Allstate's Esurance.
Wal-Mart-referred auto insurance is available in only eight states so far:
But the retail giant plans to add more carriers and expand its auto initiative nationwide.
Insurance from Overstock, too
In a related development, online discount retailer Overstock.com has thrown its rhinestone driving glove into the insurance arena, unveiling an insurance tab on its website that walks customers through the steps toward their best deal on auto, homeowners and even small business insurance.
Like Wal-Mart, Overstock won't actually be insuring anyone but is working with a partner. Unlike Wal-Mart, Overstock's offerings will be through private label insurance agencies rather than well-known brands.
Wal-Mart's insurance flirtations
Before settling on its new outsourcing arrangement, Wal-Mart test-drove several auto insurance models, including a single-carrier pilot in Georgia and South Carolina; a multiple-carrier experiment in Pennsylvania; and even an Esurance discount card in Illinois. Some of them even worked -- in Pennsylvania, for example, customers reportedly saved an average of $1,168 per year on auto insurance.
The retail giant decided to partner with an online insurance agency, which keeps all customer information from the carriers until a policy is actually purchased and makes customer service reps available to help consumers with their shopping questions.
It's not Wal-Mart's first foray into insurance, of course. The company has long marketed third-party, limited-benefit health insurance plans to members of it Sam's Club big-box chain; it established its own small business health insurance exchange; and the company even sold MetLife life insurance products off the shelf, right next to the cereal.
A ready market
While you may be as disappointed as I was to learn that there won't actually be a rosy-cheeked insurance agent spinning on the bagging carousel at your local Wal-Mart, there's no denying that consumer interest in one-stop insurance shopping is on the rise.
A February survey by Accenture found that two-thirds of us would consider buying our insurance from someone other than an insurance company, and nearly a quarter of those would do so online at sites such as Amazon, Google -- and presumably, Wal-Mart and Overstock.com.
Here's more on Wal-Mart's bumpy ride into auto insurance.
Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus.
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