Ecommerce or Just Internet Communication?

22ndJun. × ’11

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about ecommerce, ‘… (it) consists of the buying and selling of products or services over electronic systems such as the Internet and other computer networks’.  They say a little more of course, and concede there is often a physical deliver component, but for the most part, the classic definition of ecommerce involves little more than circuits and networks.

The Seduction of Insurance Ecommerce

And the idea of ecom is alluring, how can it not be?  You set up a website, humans find it and enter information, get coverage and pricing information, and then enter payment information.  On the other end,  money comes out, straight into the pocket of the insurance provider.  And there’s flaw number one with insurance as ecommerce from an insurance agent’s perspective:  There is no role for the insurance agent in the foregoing scenario.  If insurance consultation and purchase could be conducted this way, why would anyone need an agent.  This view of insurance and ecommerce was pretty much the thinking in 1995 and it hasn’t come to pass yet.

Life Insurance and Auto Insurance for Basic Needs Consumers

That isn’t to say that some insurance sales have gone mostly online, term life and personal auto are two examples.  But even there, many consumers would be better served by involving a trusted adviser.  I sometimes ask agents how often coverage options on an original car insurance quote submission end up the issued policy limits.  The answer is almost never.  That’s because, even for basic auto insurance, consumers don’t understand how to determine coverage needs or the interplay between deductibles and other credits.  And while term life quote requests are easy to complete, not every company offers advantageous rates to consumers with health concerns or  a little long in the tooth.  A little experienced guidance would come in handy for many term life prospects.

A Shot in the Foot?

Advertising by term life insurance companies, and particularly advertising by the likes of direct marketing giant GEICO, lead people to believe they don’t need an agent.  And that mentality extends beyond just those two products.  Insurance agents have lots of opportunities now to participate in ecommerce through auto and home rating portals for comparative rateers, like EZLynx and Silver Plume, and company provided website widgets that allow website visitors to quote and buy online.  But if we just throw these on our websites indiscriminately aren’t we just reinforcing the message being pounded out by GEICO?  Are we shooting ourselves in the foot?

Internet Communication with a Sprinkle of Ecommerce

Most agents are local businesses and are no where close to fitting a traditional ecommerce model.  Most insurance agents can deliver benefits that can’t be matched by ecommerce alternatives but they need to make the case for agency value proposition and that’s where internet communication comes in.  Using email, the agency website, and social media agents have multiple low cost channels through which they can reach out to customers and prospects and communicate differentiate value propositions; but we need to actively communicate and those communications need to include a clear and advantageous alternative to quoting and buying online.

There is evidence that consumers want, and maybe even expect, to be able to get comparison pricing online.  So let them do it, but also let them know that going lone wolf may not yield the best combination of price, protection, claim paying ability and service, and convenience.  And let them know you have a good alternative – your insurance agency.


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