Online shopping is nothing new. But that doesn’t mean consumers haven’t found innovative ways to explore the digital landscape.
According to recent data from comScore, one of the top 25 market research firms in the world, the insurance industry can take advantage of a variety of routes to reach consumers, who are adopting new digital behaviors in ever-increasing numbers. At last month’s Big “I” Young Agents Leadership in San Antonio, Susan Engleson, senior director at comScore, noted three important ways today’s consumers are continuing to go digital.
Embracing New Devices
Between June 2012 and June 2013, the percentage of U.S. mobile owners who have a smartphone increased from 47% to 59%, according to comScore. And in the last three years, smartphones and tablets have doubled consumers’ average time spent with digital media—while desktop usage has remained relatively stagnant.
“When we think about the digital landscape, it’s very important to keep in mind that it’s not just what people are doing on their PCs,” Engleson said. “Just looking at the total digital population, you can see it’s very flat for people using desktops. When we look at the mobile audience, we can see that the mobile trend is definitely going up.”
And mobile usage is not “just a fad,” Engleson said. “There’s just been rapid, rapid adoption, and we do see almost half the people who have a mobile device doing some sort of financial service activity.” Although that typically involves banking, Engleson noted that much of the behavior traditionally confined to PCs “is definitely moving to mobile devices.”
Tablet usage is also becoming more pervasive, Engleson said. “Even as quick as people have adopted smartphones, tablet adoption actually had a much steeper adoption curve,” she explained. “A few years ago, tablets barely existed. And now you can see that a huge amount of time is being spent on smartphones and tablets.”
According to comScore data, there’s no doubt that consumers are going online to quote. When compared to calling, visiting an agent (whether independent or captive) or dialing toll-free numbers, going online is “by far the most common way people are getting price quotes,” Engleson said.
But quoting isn’t the entire package. “One very important trend we’ve seen—we’ve been doing the study since 2008, and this has been very consistent—is that people go online to get a price, and then they go offline to purchase,” Engleson said. “Tons of people quote online and then buy offline, and most often with a local agent in person.”
The “multi-channel” approach is becoming more common among consumers, many of whom choose to shop online in addition to using other methods. When asked if they have ever purchased auto insurance offline after receiving a quote online, 81% answered yes. Of that subset, 52% purchased from a local insurance agent in person, and 32% purchased with a local agent over the phone.
That’s good news for independent agents, but Engleson warned that the tides are shifting. According to the data, over the past four years, consumers have become far more likely to use a method other than a local insurance agent to buy their auto insurance. In 2009, only 16% identified as likely to find alternate routes, but that number has since risen to 22%.
“That section of the audience that’s exceedingly loyal to local agents is getting a little bit smaller,” Engleson said. “People are definitely more willing to go the direct route, be that online or over the phone.”
So how can independent agents win? According to comScore data, shoppers most of all want multiple quotes—which independent agents are well-suited to provide.
“For people who called or visited local agents who are captive, most of them aren’t getting multiple quotes,” Engleson said. “And people who are going to independent agents, it’s much easier, obviously.”
But while many consumers still prefer working with an actual person for their insurance needs—71% would be unlikely to purchase auto insurance online specifically because they want to speak to or meet with a person—agents do still need to be price-competitive. ComScore found “the local agent quoted me the best price” to be the No. 1 reason consumers choose to go through the agent channel.
“Ten years ago, people thought the internet didn’t exist,” Engleson said. “So their only option was to go to an agent. What we’ve seen is that the reasons people are going to an agent are changing as they get more options.”
Jacquelyn Connelly is IA assistant editor.