By Patti Martin Bartsche.
Even before COVID-19 upended our daily routines, there was little question that everything we do has increasingly been moving online.
From the way we network to the way we get our news, online is the place to be – and shopping is no exception.
Consider for a moment these facts:
• In 2021, an estimated 2.4 billion people worldwide will purchase goods online. (Statista)
• U.S. consumers will spend $933.30 billion on e-commerce in 2021, up 17.9% year over year. (eMarketer)
• 68% of shopping occasions begin online. (Thinkwithgoogle) • 62% of online buyers shop at least once per month. (Optimizely)
• E-commerce sales will continue to grow at a healthy clip, reaching 23.6% of total retail sales by 2025 versus 11% in 2019. (eMarketer)
These days, consumers shop online for everything from electronics, clothing and apparel, and household goods to books, office supplies and groceries. In slowly growing numbers, consumers are turning to funeral home websites to make purchases.
It makes perfect sense. Online shopping is convenient. It can be done 24 hours a day. It offers a variety of choices. In other words, it is exactly what today’s families want – and expect.
Consider this scenario: A friend’s mother dies in another state. Traveling to the service is not going to be possible, but there is a desire to send flowers to the funeral home – or a gift to the family. Why the person could choose to Google florists in the area or search Amazon for something.
But what if there was an easier way?
What if they could go to a funeral home website, click on a tab on the well-designed website and find themselves on a page that offers a variety of offerings – from floral arrangements to gift baskets or memorial jewelry? Wouldn’t that make the shopping experience more convenient?
Ask consumers, and the answer would be a resounding yes.
In consumers’ minds, e-commerce is a well-established online tool. So why shouldn’t funeral homes adapt to what consumers want – and expect?
It was back in 2012 that Joe Joachim, founder and CEO of funeralOne, first wrote about how funeral e-commerce presented a new opportunity for funeral professionals looking to increase the level of service provided to their community while also increasing revenue.
While Joachim was promoting The Sympathy Store – funeralOne’s done-for-you, e-commerce plug-in that allows firms to sell gifts and flowers directly on their website, he did make an important point: an e-commerce store offers visitors the ability to send grieving families sympathy gifts and flowers at the same place they’re viewing obituaries and sharing memories – anytime, anywhere.
The e-commerce component can be built into a firm’s website in several different ways, whether it’s a “freestanding store” off a tab on the funeral home’s main page or a button on the side of an obituary that, with the click of a button, brings a visitor to a variety of offerings. With FrontRunner Professional’s Heartfelt Sympathy store, for example, visitors can purchase flowers, plants or even plant a Memorial Tree in partnership with American Forests.
The key, in whatever solution you choose, is to make sure it provides detailed product descriptions. With any online shopping experience – whether it’s a couch or a floral arrangement – detailed descriptions are imperative.
Consider this description of a Peaceful White Lilies Basket (complete with a high-quality photo of the arrangement) from The Sympathy Store by LifeTributes.com:
Whether you send this beautiful arrangement to the family home or to the service, all will appreciate its elegance and grace. The contrast of brilliant white blossoms and dazzling greenery create a wonderfully calm and dignified setting.
• Gorgeous flowers such as white lilies, carnations and miniature carnations mix with vibrant greens in a large basket. Simply stunning.
• This arrangement will be hand designed and delivered by a local florist.
• Arrangement measures approximately 26 inches W X 25″ H.
Just as important as meeting the needs of consumers, e-commerce provides additional revenue for funeral homes. Commissions are paid on every product sold on a firm’s website … providing an opportunity to serve customers the way they want to shop, while providing a new income source.
It’s not just funeral homes, though, that can benefit from an online shopping experience.
“The simple truth is that cemeteries are missing out on helping the local community by not offering more information online,” CemSites CEO Scott McAfee said, pointing out that 80% of consumers are already shopping online.
“That percentage will never go down and will only increase over time. Progressive cemeteries are selling preneed services online now,” McAfee said. “It has become increasingly common for people to live far from their place of birth, so many go online to find services when a loved one passes. If your cemetery isn’t using the proper SEO tactics, they may not find you.”
Part of the reason the cemetery industry has been resistant to offer an online experience, McAfee believes, is because it doesn’t want to appear salesy versus personal.
But when you think about it, McAfee points out, death-care related transactions are at the top of the list for personal transactions people have to make.
“Cemeteries want to hold on to that personal touch. They need to embrace the change and find ways to keep that personal experience,” McAfee said. “This can be done, it’s just an evolved version of the traditional way. The key is allowing and empowering people to make decisions online, then fulfilling the transaction in a more personal way.”
McAfee points to CemSites’ Revenue Plus add-on, which allows any service or product offered by a cemetery to be sold online, as one example. The reasons for embracing e-commerce are many, he points out:
• Staying current.
More people shop online today than yesterday. It’s a fast shift and will probably speed up in the short term.
• Increasing revenue.
Getting information in front of the community inherently increases revenue. Revenue Plus, for example, offers the ability to set reminders for customers on specific anniversary dates. Things like grave cleaning, flowers, or wreaths can be emailed and ordered, all online. It will even conveniently remind clients of a loved one’s anniversary date so they remember to purchase flowers.
• Empowering clients.
Give the power to shop for goods and services to those who are not located close to the cemetery.
For McAfee, there is no question that e-commerce is the future.
“Eventually, e-commerce will become a requirement for cemeteries, and cemeteries that don’t implement it will be left behind by those offering more online,” he said. “It’s where the future public will do business, and that includes death care.”
Click here to read the full story in the latest issue of American Cemetery and Cremation Magazine!