By Leader Contributor Glenn Gould III of MKJ Marketing
Funeral home websites have been in constant evolution since the development of the internet in the early 1990s.
A popular conversation during that period was whether websites would impact a funeral home’s business. After all, very few private homes had a “home computer,” and cellphones were carried in large silk bags. There were not many website development companies during that period, and the estimated cost of a viable funeral home website was in the mid-$60,000 range due to the scarcity of website designers and programmers and the cost of developing an obituary platform and database.
Over time, these factors were addressed, and the cost now ranges from free to the funeral home to as much as $20,000 based upon personalization. These personalized websites can include features such as custom videos to promote an on-site cemetery and details explaining the difference between a funeral home with cremation facilities versus a simple, stand-alone funeral home.
Another factor that directly impacts the cost of a website for the funeral home is e-commerce obituaries. The sales generated from funeral stores accessed through the website obituaries create sufficient revenues and commissions that a funeral business can receive a free website and earn commissions on those sales.
Of course, innovation of this magnitude generates discussion:
- Is it ethical for a funeral home to offer an online store?
- Does offering flowers via the internet cut sales to the local florists and what impact does this have on the funeral home’s standing in the community?
- Are the flowers purchased over the internet as fresh and lovely as those from a local florist?
- How broad of a selection of memorial gifts and services should an online store offer?
- At what point does it surpass convenience and become a business in its own right?
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Let’s examine these points from the perspective of traditional funeral home services and the role a funeral home plays in a community.
From the time when general mercantile stores sold wood coffins to the present, the singular purpose of a funeral home and funeral director was to provide service; after all, how many families on the American frontier had the wherewithal to build a coffin of sufficient durability to transport their loved one to boot hill? When Frank E. Campbell built the first funeral chapel in New York, the objective was to move the visitation and funeral services out of the family’s parlor and into a room designed for that purpose, complete with drainage for the melting ice.
When families visit a funeral home to make arrangements, one of the questions in their mind is “What services will the funeral home provide and what instructions will we receive regarding what we need to do?”
In other words, a funeral home is in the business of making services and products convenient.
- They provide limousines to transport family members to the funeral home to make arrangements, as well as to visitations, the funeral, and cemetery services.
- Funeral directors process death certificates for the family.
- Increasingly, funeral homes offer on-site reception facilities.
- Funeral homes provide pallbearers if the family cannot.
- Funeral homes can recommend clergy or celebrants to officiate services.
- Some funeral homes provide concierge services such as arranging flights, hotels, and restaurant reservations.
- Many funeral homes offer online cremation arrangements.
- Many funeral homes offer a children’s room.
- Many funeral homes offer an on-site crematory for peace of mind as well as convenience when family members desire to participate in the cremation process.
- Most, if not all, funeral homes offer convenient payment options such as credit cards, insurance assignments, and insurance policy processing.
- Funeral homes provide the family with thank you cards for flowers and other memorial gifts they received.
- Many funeral homes even provide the family with photographs of each floral arrangement received with the name of the giver.
- Some funeral homes offer on-site flower shops.
Cemetery/mortuary combinations represent the epitome of convenience, which is why families select a combination. They want funeral services, and they want cemetery services; having both at one location is obviously the most convenient option.
In the final analysis, a funeral home’s service to a family is to provide services that alleviate the inconvenience of the death so that a family can experience grief without having to wrestle with many of the legal and logistical details.
Remarkably, on average, there are 800 individual visits to a funeral home website per individual obituary. Certainly, some people will visit the funeral home website multiple times to:
- Learn of the individual’s death.
- Check the time of the visitation and funeral.
- Get the correct address of the funeral home.
- Learn of the final disposition, whether burial or cremation, and find the cemetery location.
Each of these visits is an opportunity for the funeral home to extend its services beyond the immediate family to others in the form of a funeral store. In our mobile society, many of the visitors to the funeral home website will not be local; they will likely not be familiar with the local florists, gift shops, and food service, but they want to extend their thoughts and wishes to the grieving family in a tangible way. This is the service the obituary’s online store provides.
There are many sources for online flower orders. Some send fresh flowers; others are not so fresh. FTD will ship flowers from their various warehouses directly to the funeral home, but they are often not fresh and require the funeral home to make the flower arrangement. Teleflora is an internet flower service that will coordinate with local florists to fill a flower order; however, the chargebacks to the local florist are rather steep, which can — and has —undermined the local funeral home’s relationship with the local florist. Another provider has created relationships with local florists with little or no chargebacks. Instead, they charge the purchaser a handling fee for filling the flower order. The flowers are fresh, and the florists appreciate the business.
Obituaries are an important and traditional part of providing funeral services. Obituaries make highly personal, yet newsworthy information, available to the community. This is why funeral homes published obituaries in local newspapers for hundreds of years. Because obituaries are newsworthy, newspapers did not charge for obituaries. But as the internet changed the way people received information, the need for daily — even twice daily — newspaper revenues declined, causing the papers to begin charging for posting obituaries. The high cost of publishing an obituary in a local paper is why families opted for the digital alternative, and now, consumers have learned to access this information via the internet.
Obituaries on funeral home websites are just another example of how the digital world has replaced traditional forms of communication. Just like emails have replaced letters, advertising, correspondence, bills, invoices, and payments being sent through the mail, obituaries are delivered via the internet. Frankly, digital communication is just plain more convenient and easier.
For many products and people, the internet represents a place to shop; it’s convenient and fast, and the goods may cost more or less than interacting directly with the local merchants. In either event, consumers accomplish tasks on the internet without leaving home, such as sending flowers to the bereaved via online stores. And the broader the selection of goods and services offered via e-commerce obituaries, the greater the convenience, i.e., memorial trees, memorial jewelry, and food.