Walmart plans to add a new consumer service to its arsenal of offerings on Wednesday, teaming up with a website that helps customers comparison shop for auto insurance.
The website, AutoInsurance.com, allows consumers to review prices at several insurance companies and contrast them with their current insurance.
Effectively, Walmart and AutoInsurance.com will be marketing partners. Walmart will promote the website in its stores, and receive a monthly fee in return, while AutoInsurance.com will collect commissions when insurance is sold on its site. Customers will also be able to access the site from Walmart.com.
Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Walmart U.S., said the company is using its size to broaden its offerings for customers and to get an edge on the competition. While some companies have rebounded more easily from the recession, Walmart's core customer base, largely low-income people, has struggled to regain a foothold, so its sales have been sluggish.
Six insurance carriers, including Progressive, Travelers and Esurance, which is owned by Allstate, are participating on the website. While the list includes a few industry giants, missing are some of the biggest players like State Farm and Geico, which are the first- and second-largest auto insurance providers in the country, respectively, according to SNL Financial. Walmart said it hopes to offer more carriers in the future.
Advocates say that while a comparative tool like this can be useful, it is important to cast a broader net because what is being offered is limited.
"It's a good place to start, but I would also check around," said J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America. "Like if you go to Expedia," for plane tickets, he continued, "you should probably go look at one of the other ones just to be sure."
Together with Tranzutary Insurance Solutions, which bought the AutoInsurance.com domain name in 2012, Walmart began testing two different ways to enter the auto insurance market last year. (Walmart and Tranzutary previously teamed on the retailer's life insurance pilot, offered by MetLife.)
In Illinois, Tranzutary tried a single-carrier website, and in Pennsylvania, it offered a platform with several insurance carriers listed side by side. They decided to go with the latter, which will be available in eight states -- Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.
Walmart said it hopes to expand the website to the rest of the country in the next few months.
A Walmart spokeswoman said the company would not have access to customer data collected on AutoInsurance.com.
This partnership is the latest in a series of announcements from Walmart. Also in April, the retailer said it would start selling Wild Oats organic products for the same price as brand-name, nonorganic foods, undercutting organic competitors by at least 25 percent. A week later, it said it would start offering store-to-store money transfers. And now, car insurance.
Mr. Eckert said this was just another way to help customers save money and simplify a complicated process. "What it does," he said, "is it engenders trust."
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