Consumers go through three behaviour phases during the online sales process

By Susan Yellin | July 07 2016 07:00AM

Insurance companies should brush up on the latest trends on the internet, including the growth of the mobile market, if they hope to catch a larger share of increasingly tech-savvy consumers, an executive with the world’s most popular search engine told a Toronto gathering this spring.

Sanjay Gosalia, head of industry, financial services at Google, told mostly property and casualty (P&C) insurers and brokers at the event, hosted by industry association the CSIO, that there are about 1.2 trillion searches every year on Google, a golden opportunity for companies hoping to sell their products direct to consumers.

“That’s a lot of problems being searched, a lot of needs and a lot of opportunities for advertisers to connect with consumers for products and solutions,” said Gosalia.

In particular, he said there are four main “touch moments” when a consumer goes onto the web to search for a product – they want to know, they want to do, they want to buy and they want to go. Each of these lifestyle moments provides an opportunity for advertisers.

Gosalia said Google worked with Ipsos Reid last summer and interviewed 4,000 Canadians delving into the thought processes involved when consumers went on the internet to buy P&C insurance.

Think stage

He said there are three behaviour phases people go through when buying a product online, the first of which is called the “think stage.” This is a process that takes an average of nine days following the revelation by consumers that they need, or want, to buy a new home or a car. Situations vary as to why they need a home or car at any particular time, but it could be because the consumer’s family is expanding or one of the breadwinners in the family has lost a job, said Gosalia.

“These triggers are your first signal of truth; your first notion of intent of consumers,” he said. “These are things that normally advertisers would not target on. But this is when the consumer enters the insurance market.”

When consumers start looking for a car or a home they don’t necessarily think about buying insurance. But in the last few years, advertising on the same search page as car dealers and manufacturers has increased and may represent a boon for individual insurers. “Advertising has become so relevant, so sophisticated, that you are able to show up as an advertiser against this type of content.”

Text is king when it comes to the internet. But video content, especially from video-sharing website YouTube, is growing and now ranks in second place. “There is a tremendous shift of consumers moving from text-based content to video-based content,” said Gosalia, adding that by 2017, 70% of all consumer data consumption is expected to be through video online.

Research phase

The second stage of the purchase is known as the “research” phase and typically takes an average of three days. At this point, he said, a consumer is actively in the market. According to the survey, consumers can now be highly influenced by the speed of search engines and rely heavily on tools available on the insurer’s website.

But consumers aren’t just going onto their PCs to find information. Some 36% of all searches for auto insurance take place on mobile phones, a number Gosalia said he expects will grow to 50% in Canada by next year. As a result, insurers should make great efforts to ensure they have adequate funding in place to expand their advertising on mobile-friendly devices, he said. 

Buying stage

While many consumers have gone online to look at the cost and coverage for car insurance, companies should also be aware that the third and final phase, the “buying stage,” requires insurers to provide human support services.

Gosalia said the survey indicated that 26% of those buying car insurance said they liked to do much of the research themselves, but still needed someone to help them finish the process – some human interaction to close the deal. Another 42% said they could make it most of the way through the process online, but it was important that they knew that someone could help them if they needed it. Only 31% of those buying online car insurance said they were confident enough to get through the process on their own.

He said the first crucial element at this stage, especially for those on mobile sites, is page-load speed. About 57% of customers looking for auto insurance will leave the site within three seconds if the page isn’t loading.

“Google is optimizing its results based on your site speed,” he said. “The faster you are, the higher your results will be. Think about that. We are expecting advertisers to become faster and faster over time.”

He suggested that most insurance-buying clients spend two days, on average, in the buying phase.

Distinct need for brokers

While self-serve is taking an increasingly larger share of the P&C insurance market, there is still a distinct need for brokers, said Gosalia.

He said Google is starting to see signs of brokerages building their capabilities by educating their brokers and providing them with tools to work online. He said he knows of insurers that have brought on board their top brokers to discuss strategic planning and to help influence and shape how tools are used. While this is a multi-year journey, many P&C insurers already know how to give their brokers a more successful presence online, he said.

Gosalia said the survey did not specifically target how consumers dealt with life insurance companies online. A number of Canadian life insurers provide online services to clients, including the purchase of some kinds of products, along with the ability to speak directly to an advisor.