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Walmart Eases Into The Auto Insurance Business

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Walmart store sign (via Wikimedia)

Walmart store sign (via Wikimedia)

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Walmart sells everything -- everything but insurance. Now, the big-box retailer is hoping that a new foray on that front will boost revenue at a time when many of its shoppers are struggling.

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The New York Times reports that Walmart is partnering with AutoInsurance.com to promote sales of car insurance. The website won't have a storefront under Walmart's roof like opticians and fast-food restaurants do, but it will be promoted in stores, and it will be linked throughout Walmart.com.

AutoInsurance.com is a comparison-shopping site. Customers submit one application, then receive quotes from numerous insurers, including big-name carriers like Progressive and Esurance. For now, the site serves customers in eight states -- Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas -- though it hopes to reach the rest of the country within a few months.

That's good news for Walmart, because the broader AutoInsurance.com's reach, the higher the fee Walmart can command for its promotional services. And at the moment, Walmart really needs those fees: the company has struggled for years with image problems (unfair wages, shoddy products, undercutting mom-and-pop stores), and that's taken a huge bite out of its sales. 

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Making things worse: much of Walmart's customer base consists of low-income shoppers who've had a much harder time recovering from the Great Recession than their middle-class, Target-shopping peers. This partnership could be a great fit for them, as they struggle to regain their economic footing. What effect it'll have on Walmart's public image, however, remains to be seen.

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