Planning a Funeral Online: Making Arrangements From Your PC is on the Horizon

The growth of online startup Basic Funerals and Cremation Choices should make us consider now how comfortable we are with the idea of arranging for our own or a relative’s burial or cremation via the Internet.

The longtime tradition of working face-to-face with a funeral director and developing a relationship with a regional funeral home to make final arrangements is beginning to show signs of erosion as technological advances and the lure of convenience are spurring the death care industry to evolve.

Just like a traditional funeral provider, Basic Funerals and Cremation Choices coordinates visitations, burials, and cremations. Unlike its rivals, however, the company arranges 90% of these services through its BasicFunerals.com website.

Not making friends with its funeral home brethren, the newbie e-commerce company replaces brick-and-mortar parlors with an automated system (complete with a real-time chat feature if you insist) and bucks the industry’s revenue-generating method of upselling clients to pricier products and services. For cost-conscious consumers, such as tech-savvy Baby Boomers who are faced with planning funerals for their parents, the move is a breath of fresh air. Basic Funerals and Cremation Choices offers customers looking for a funeral more affordable options because its business model boasts lower overhead costs. It doesn’t own or operate funeral homes, manage a large staff, or maintain a fleet of hearses.  

The executives who head up the death care services discounter — Eric Vandermeersch and Dominic Mazzone — are young (at 29 and 39, respectively) but they’ve been around long enough to hear that customers want more options. Baby Boomers value convenience, customization, and pricing choices. The firm, founded in 2009, is banking on the fact that people will welcome the idea of bypassing sales pitches at funeral homes to book their basic funerals over the Web.

Based in Mississauga, Ontario, the company has arranged 1,000-plus funerals through its website and became profitable in 2010 with just shy of $1 million in revenue. It operates on its home turf of Ontario, primarily, but has extended its reach to the US in Illinois and Colorado. With more than a dozen employees now (eight of which are funeral directors who work from home), Basic Funerals and Cremation Choices anticipates bookings to reach 1,500 funerals in 2011 and its revenue to hit about $4.5 million, with both figures doubling in 2012.

The success of the industry’s online funeral discounter should pique the interest of behemoth providers the likes of Service Corporation International and Stewart Enterprises, who are looking to grow their market share without costly overhead expenses.

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Photo by Jeff Kubina through a Creative Commons-Share Alike license.
Catherine Colbert

Tracking the moves of consumer products makers since 2003, Colbert is a company insights writer and blogger. Before covering companies, she spent ample time in magazine publishing, technical writing, ad copywriting, medical writing, and marketing. Follow her on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. This is a really interesting trend! I’ve also found a great website that I got my parents to use called MyWonderfulLife.com. It allows them to plan their funeral in their own way. There are also places to upload photos and letters to loved ones. They have designated me as their “angel,” and I am notified via e-mail every so often that they are a member of the site. It will be interesting to see how this industry evolves.

  2. Catherine Colbert Catherine Colbert says:

    Sara: My hat’s off to you for setting that up for your parents and holding their hands through the process of sharing their lives online. They’ll have the chance to plan their own personal, customized life celebration that way, rather than relying on you and other family members to guess what they would have liked. I see room in the industry for many more of these services, particularly online, that seem to focus on celebrating life, rather than putting off the topic of death until it’s a morbid discussion after the fact. I wonder what the age limit is for creating a profile. There’s no age limit, I’d think, for starting to document and celebrate one’s life and post personal letters to loved ones!

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