More and more consumers are shopping online, and insurer websites are playing a greater role in the auto policy shopping process.

A recent J.D. Power and Associates study reveals that as more than one-third of auto insurance shoppers prefer to buy their policy online, the experience shoppers have on an insurance company's website impacts their likelihood to shop and recommend the insurer.

The “2012 Insurance Website Evaluation Study” measures online shoppers' experiences with 13 insurer websites—Allstate, American Family, Amica Mutual, Esurance, Farmers, GEICO, Liberty Mutual, Nationwide, Progressive, State Farm, The Hartford, Travelers and 21st Century—during the auto insurance shopping process.

For the study, J.D. Power asked 1,650 auto insurance shoppers to measure five factors contributing to overall satisfaction: ease of navigating the website, appearance of the website, clarity of information provided on the website, range of services that can be performed on the website and speed of the website. And Allstate, Esurance, GEICO and Travelers performed particularly well.

J.D. Power points to Travelers and Esurance as good examples of ensuring that discount information is easy to locate, both during the initial information-gathering phase from the homepage as well as highlighting the discounts that are applied when presenting a quote. As a result, more than 50 percent of shoppers who visited these sites indicated the information was “very easy” to find, compared with a low of only 20 percent for the lowest-scoring insurer.

The study finds that only 72 percent of shoppers who requested a quote online were able to receive one immediately, compared with 18 percent who were required to wait for a follow-up response and an additional 10 percent who were unable to obtain a quote at all.

The process of requesting a quote is a key aspect of the online shopping experience, according to J.D. Power. While many insurers streamline this process by minimizing the number of questions they ask a prospect and use of pre-filled information, not all insurers excel in providing a positive quote experience.

"The insurance industry spent more than $5 billion in 2011 on advertising to attract consumers to shop for insurance," said Jeremy Bowler, senior director of the insurance practice at J.D. Power. "For certain carriers, increasing marketing spend becomes increasingly inefficient, as up to 30 percent of the prospects they attract abandon their site with no quote in-hand and 15 percent of online shoppers report leaving an insurer's website to verify or follow up on a web quote rather than bind online. An insurer that cannot provide a fast, simple quote via their website likely has a dramatically lower chance at winning that business."

Also highlighted in the study, GEICO sees success in its ability to close shoppers who obtain a quote online. Part of GEICO’s success of closing 34 percent is their ability to provide a superior website experience and allow shoppers who want to purchase auto insurance online to do so.

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