The maturation of the Internet has turned it into a viable marketplace and no industry has benefited more than the auto insurance business. In May of 2006 alone, Yahoo saw almost four million searches on "car insurance." Three of the strongest insurance companies in the country do their selling primarily over the internet or telephone: Progressive, eSurance and Geico.
There are other highly popular sites on the web that provide multiple quotes from standard insurance companies, but do so without the benefit of an insurance agent. Those sites that provide quotes generally will turn the sales portion of the customer interaction over to the insurance provider that has been selected.
Exact numbers are hard to come by, but assembling a few fragments gives us a fair picture of the industry. According to Forrester Research, by 2004 30% of all Americans were using the Internet to research auto insurance. By 2005, 16% of the populace were not only doing their research on line but completing the auto insurance purchase as well.
The relatively low percentage of people completing online purchases compared with the amount of Internet research and the success of online companies highlights an important component of the business. It is still not terribly easy to complete and auto insurance buy online. Many people will do their research online and turn to the telephone to complete the process. Personal experience shows that the insurer has to do a quick search on your driving record before locking in rates, and that is something that is much more quickly accomplished in a real-time interview.
Every major insurance company has an online site that will offer up a quote. Some - still a minority - will close an insurance contract online. And between the Internet and the web, companies like Geico have leveraged themselves into the top 10 auto insurance sales companies. eSurance and others have the distinct advantage of holding their costs to website maintenance and operation of a quality phone center. They have no agent commissions to pay and no storefronts to support.
There are also some quality sites like http://Insurance.com that can provide quotes from multiple, well established insurance companies on demand. These sites build their traffic through web searches, using a large amount of content to achieve keyword responses, and purchasing online advertising as well. These sites tend to provide libraries of information about the industry, shopping trends and techniques and advice columns of various sorts. The insurance company sites provide supporting content as well, but the multiple bid sites need it to draw traffic and rely heavily on a well-developed, multidimensional site to bring in inquiries that result in referrals.
Geico and eSurance, on the other hand, spend a lot of money on television commercials. Geico has become so dominant in the field that their commercial buys can be seen on prime time TV shows that are very expensive for advertisers. eSurance has developed a ubiquitous presence with their cartoon avatar Erin, buying TV spots on less expensive shows but buying a lot of them.
There has been a tremendous amount of news reporting about auto insurance prices dropping recently. Much of it attributes the drop to fierce competition and low rates introduced by online providers. It is fair to say that online auto insurance is a major component of the market, even if the sales themselves are being completed offline in some fashion. Eventually, the sales tools will make the online purchase as simple as the rate research.