If you’re like me (and most people I know, for that matter), I would guess that your shopping habits have changed drastically over the past ten years. While I still see the need for “brick and mortar” shopping (mostly for televisions and other items I like to see and/or touch), it takes a force of nature (or my wife, who can be a force of nature) to get me to pay a visit to my local mall these days.

However, the online shopping experience can vary drastically too. Companies like Amazon have set the bar high for offering a great shopping experience, yet, if you have spent much time shopping online, you have probably had experiences that were less than stellar. I don’t know about you, but I do most of my shopping online for two basic reasons – to save time and to save money, period. When I can do both, I am a happy camper, but sometimes I will be fine with only saving time or saving money. If a company can’t do either for me, I’m immediately checking out other options.

Can I save me money by buying a policy online?

I will get to the time-saving part in a minute, as I would like to address the money-saving part first. The bottom line is, whether you purchase a policy online or from your local neighborhood agent, the premium (price) will be the same, provided it’s the same policy from the same company. If you shop online for this coverage, you’ll probably see advertisements that claim to “Save up to 70%” on your life insurance. Let’s just call a spade a spade here – this is false advertising, or at best, misleading advertising. The big question to ask the folks running these sites is, “save 70% from what?” As the insurance company sets the prices for policies, these claims are just not true.

Can I save time?

Yes, you can definitely save time, but the amount of time saved depends on which websites you visit. You can go to most of the insurance company websites and request quotes. If you’re a good shopper, you’ll definitely want to do some comparison shopping. However, while this may save you time compared to calling or driving to local offices of various insurance companies, this can still be quite time consuming. Add to that the fact that most of these companies’ websites don’t provide you with instant quotes (more about that later), you’ll find your time savings to be minimal, if at all.

Independent Agencies

As I mentioned before, the prices (premium) for policies are set by the insurance company and won’t vary, no matter who you purchase it from – even if it’s directly from an insurance company. The price is set in stone and must be filed with all the States’ Insurance Departments. So, rather than chase down prices from a half a dozen or so insurance companies, you can visit a website run by independent agencies, who are licensed in all states and appointed to sell policies from all the major carriers.

Are the quotes really instant?

It depends on how you (or the website owners) define “instant.” Some websites will collect your information and then have agents call you with your quotes – not really that instant, is it? There are also websites that are lead-generation sites that will collect your information and sell it to agents who will then call you with quotes. In some cases, these “lead-gen” sites will sell your information to up to 8 agents, who will then all call you to try to sell you a policy – not very instant or very privacy-oriented either.

The websites that truly give you instant quotes are definitely the ones that will save you the most time. However, not all instant quote websites are created equal either. Most will give you quotes instantly but, in some cases, you will need to provide them with your name and contact information. While this only adds slightly more time to the process, you have to realize that there will be follow up calls and emails if you don’t immediately apply for a policy on the website. This might not be what you had in mind when you started looking for quotes online.

This leaves us with the most instant quote of all – the website that will open up their database of insurance company quotes, with minimal information (age, amount of insurance and length of term, state of residence) required – without you having to leave your personal contact information. This type of website, of which there are a handful out there, offers you the most instant quotes available with the greatest amount of privacy. Sounds like an ideal shopping experience to me.

The author, Richard Reich, is president of Intramark Insurance Services, Inc., a national life insurance agency representing major life insurance companies through LifeInsure.com, a life insurance website offering instant life insurance quotes without collecting personal contact information.