Consumers are more likely to go to an insurer's website than any other channel to get a quote on coverage. But when it comes to converting those quotes to sales, agents still have the upper hand.

That's according to J.D. Power & Associates' 2017 Insurance Shopping Study, covering the personal auto segment. In total, 22% of the more than 16,000 consumers surveyed got an auto insurance quote last year. Among those, 45% got their first quote from a website, compared to 27% who went to an agent first. Overall, half of survey respondents said they got a quote from a website at least once, vs. a third who said they went to an agent at some point in the process

However, agents far outperformed websites in closing the business with a policy. Just 10% of website quotes led to a sale, compared to 33% of agent quotes.

"Agent recommendations have become an increasingly important driver of customer consideration and quote generation," J.D. Power says. "Shoppers are also increasingly reliant on agent recommendations when considering and quoting insurers, compared to 2015."

J.D. Power found that consumers still look for some sort of assurance from a human, no matter what the preferred channel for gaining a quote. One major differentiating factor in whether or not an online quoter converted to a buyer was the presence of online chat. Consumers who reported using online chat were 89% more likely to close a sale compared to those who didn't.

And, when comparing agency writers to direct writers, both reported about the same amount of quoting activity through their websites. However, customers changed channels to close the deal. A quarter of direct-writers' business is closed through their call centers -- twice as much as their websites. For agency writers, 37% of business is closed with an agent, more than six times the amount that is closed via website.

"Direct writers have a distinct advantage over agency companies in the website channel due to investing in website purchasing capabilities, functionality, and features," J.D. Power says. However, the data indicates that "they also still rely on their traditional, people-driven channel to close business."

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