Walmart Gets in Auto Insurance Game

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COLUMBIA - Retail giant Walmart announced Wednesday Missouri customers can now buy auto insurance policies through a new marketing partnership with AutoInsurance.com.

Drivers in Missouri and seven other states will be able to compare and purchase policies offered by Progressive, Travelers, 21st Century Insurace, Esurance, The General Insurance and Safeco Insurance on the site. Walmart said it plans to expand the program to other states later on.

John Bell, the owner of Columbia's Stuart Insurance Agency, said he welcomes the competition.

"We've always found that brick and mortar stores - not just in this community - can offer very competitive prices, sometimes, even more so than the online products and companies," Bell said. "If there are any questions on the billing at all, we're here to assist them."

AutoInsurance.com follows a similar layout to travel sites such as Expedia and Priceline, which give users the chance to compare flight and hotel costs.

"Today, nearly 90 percent of people comparison shop online for products and services like airline tickets, but our survey data shows that only one in five comparison shop for auto insurance," Joshua Kazam, the founder of AutoInsurance.com, said in a news release. "We want to make comparison shopping for auto insurance much simpler and faster for everyone who wants to save money on their premiums."

One Walmart customer, Winfred London, said he already uses Geico, but thought Walmart had the right idea.

"The key to most insurances companies I've found is that people like having a local office, where you knew someone," London said. "I think it's just as important to be everywhere because your local agent doesn't usually follow you but there's usually a Walmart in every state."

Bell said he may now have to compete with Walmart for customers in the Columbia area.

"You know, if Walmart can start holding church services and doing babysitting services and teeth extractions, that would be good, too," Bell joked.

Several other local insurance companies said they had not yet heard that Walmart was getting in the auto insurance game.

Bell did acknowledge Walmart's new program does have its benefits.

"One of the stresses that's put on the auto industry is that there's a great number now that are driving with no insurance," Bell said. "If Walmart can provide and help bridge the gap for the people that do not have insurance by providing them an opportunity to buy insurance, this is a good thing."

Walmart doesn't own the auto insurance website, but the chain will get promotional payments for each participating store every month. AutoInsurance.com will then make a commission off each new policy bought through the site.

The seven other states that offer AutoInsurance.com through Walmart are Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

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