While the percentage of auto insurance shoppers has reached a six-year low, the percentage of those shoppers who select a new insurer is at a six-year high, according to the just-released J.D. Power and Associates 2013 U.S. Insurance Shopping Study.

The study found that only 23 percent of auto insurance customers shopped for a new policy in the past 12 months, but 45 percent of those that did ultimately switched insurer.

J.D. Power notes that the proportion of insurance customers who shop has decreased from a high of 33 percent in 2011, while the switching rate among shoppers has steadily increased from a low of 33 percent in 2010.

The findings come as overall customer satisfaction with auto insurance companies has improved to an all-time high of 804 (on a 1,000 point scale) in 2012. Overall new buyer satisfaction with the auto insurance shopping experience averages 828 for the third consecutive year.

In a press release, Jeremy Bowler, senior director of the global insurance practice at J.D. Power and Associates says:

Unlike many other industries we measure, policy retention rates for personal auto insurance in the U.S. market average 90 percent. With customer satisfaction generally high and climbing, this industry has witnessed fewer customers shopping, but those who are shopping are serious about switching insurers.”

Another key takeaway from the study is that insurer websites are becoming increasingly important in the new-buyer purchase experience, increasing to 24 percent in 2013, up from 22 percent in 2012.

The call center representative is less influential among customers selecting a new insurer in 2013 (20 percent), compared with 2012 (22 percent), while the local agent remains as influential as in previous years.

As more shoppers are buying their insurance online, J.D. Power says it is vital that insurers provide a high-quality and effective Web experience, whether customers are accessing the site via a desktop computer, a tablet or a smartphone.

The study examines insurance shopping and purchase behavior and overall satisfaction among customers who recently purchased insurance across three factors (in order of importance): price, distribution channel, and policy offerings.

The 2013 U.S. Insurance Shopping Study is based on responses from more than 16,900 shoppers who requested an auto insurance price quote from at least one competitive insurer in the past 12 months.