How Coronavirus has affected Funerals & driven further growth in the direct cremation market

The COVID-19 pandemic has re-shaped our society and affected all of us at some level. One of the most tragic aspects of deaths occurring during our lockdown phases has been the inability of families to come together for a funeral service and to grieve together.

Funeral homes have been forced to quickly adapt to new ways of serving families. This has led to a further increase in cremation services and implementing technology to offer online funeral arranging, document submission, and live-streaming of services.

The funeral industry has previously been critiqued as being slow to adapt to change. During this pandemic, many funeral businesses had to rapidly shift their business strategy.  An industry that was slowly responding to new technology, has witnessed exponential growth in embracing technology.

How has COVID-19 impacted on funeral home services?

Social Distancing

The biggest impact has been the impact of social distancing.  In many cases, this has prevented any funeral services being held.  For other families, it meant the difficult task of choosing those selected to attend the limited attendance number allowed at funeral services.

Grieving and saying goodbye affects everyone differently.  Not being able to physically see a loved one to say goodbye, or attend a funeral service, has left many bereaved family members struggling even more to come to terms with a death.

Social distancing is something that has changed how we all go about our daily lives.  I have found it strange to have to stop hugging family and friends. And, a funeral is a time when we most embrace our social selves and aim to impart compassion by touch.

Delaying services

In some areas, funeral homes and crematories have been so overwhelmed with death cases, that services have not been able to go ahead in a timely fashion. Instead of being able to arrange services in the days following the death, families have had to wait weeks before their loved one could be laid to rest or cremated.

This has put a strain on funeral homes to cope with the storage of remains, be it embalmed remains or refrigerated remains.  Normally, the majority of funeral locations deal with dispositions as they occur and only have a limited capacity to store bodies.  Some funeral homes had to bring in mobile refrigeration units to help them cope with the additional storage needs.  This obviously increased overhead costs for a funeral business without the opportunity for planned provision of additional storage expansion.

Virtual FuneralTechnology

Technology has been slowly adopted by the funeral industry.  For many funeral businesses, it was the era of setting up a website, offering online obituaries, offering online e-commerce for flowers and other funeral products.  Those a little more savvy had added options such as web-casting funeral services or offering an online funeral arranging portals.

With the impact of COVID, technology became a vital tool to connect with families and maintain services.  Web-casting and online arrangement portals became valuable tools to assist funeral directors and families alike.  One of the biggest adaptations funeral businesses are making is to add facilities for families to remotely sign and authenticate permissions and authorizations.  Docusign suddenly became the ‘go-to’ document processing facilitator.

Direct Cremation as the funeral alternative

Cremation services were already on the increase. Nationwide the cremation rate was approaching 55%.  But the rate at which direct cremation has grown over the last five months will most surely have a significant impact on the final cremation rate for 2020 and may impact on cremation prices in the future.

Many families had no option but to opt for a direct cremation in the height of the pandemic.  It was their only solution to arranging a dignified disposition for their loved one.  Then, we have the economic impact of the lockdown, and those families struggling financially who had little option but to opt for a low-cost direct cremation service.

The COVID pandemic has brought death as a threat and reality into all our lives.  As a consequence, it has become a little more acceptable to discuss death and funeral options. As a result, we are observing an increase in interest in cremation planning.  Especially, in the age range of ‘senior’ individuals, who want to remove the cost and stress from their children.

As with any crisis, it will leave a legacy, and there will be those businesses that adapt, adopt, and become adept. I think it will be some time yet before we can evaluate the full impact on the “last responder” industry.

Funeral Kiosks: Puts a whole new meaning to Shop Til You Drop!

funerals-shopping-mallFunerals have been given some more media coverage this week as the story hit the news about a funeral company in California that had opened up funeral kiosks in shopping malls.  Of course, this coverage of funeral planning is not bad news, it does draw to the public’s attention the notion of pre-purchasing a funeral, a casket or even a cemetery plot or cremation niche!

The shopping mall today is our new religion and where many of us congregate in our leisure time – a funeral IS a purchase, so why not open outlets in shopping malls?  Til We Meet Again, a custom casket and cremation urn retailer started opening locations in malls some time ago and now operates locations in four states.

It seems culturally we find the idea of funerals being sold in malls distasteful and I wonder why!  Forest Lawn, the Californian company now operating funeral kiosks, claim the mall is a much ‘happier’ place for people to reflect on their end of life wishes.

Interestingly The Consumerist asked readers to vote for where they would rather purchase funeral arrangements.  The results were:

  • Online 45.89%
  • At a funeral home 43.29%
  • At a shopping mall 10.82%

So it certainly seems that the mall is not the location many of us would choose to make our funeral arrangements.

Funerals have always been regarded as difficult to market.  A funeral is a purchase that everyone will need, yet no one wants to think about!  According to the executive director of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association “Funeral planning is something everybody knows they must do, but at the same time it’s something nobody wants to do.”

Our grandparents were of the generation that did take out burial insurance or set up a funeral plan with the local funeral home.  But as we have become a more mobile population, and a culture more interested in the now and instant gratification, there has been less interest in ensuring our final wishes are prepared for.

The fact that the largest majority would prefer to purchase funeral arrangements online is surely a reflection of how our times are changing!  Many of the funeral providers we work with are now offering online funeral planning arrangements.  Some cremation providers even offer complete online cremation arrangement so there is no need to visit a funeral home!

To find out more about making cremation arrangements online, visit your local DFS Memorials provider.