What Can the Funeral Industry Learn from the Sharing Economy?

Posted July 4, 2016

5 min read

Consumers are increasingly turning to community-based platforms and to peer-to-peer apps, such as Airbnb and Uber, for a brand new kind of exchange of goods and services. These consumers are choosing services based on trust, sharing and experience. It is expected that in the future more consumers will use services that fall under this “sharing economy” title.

The sharing economy, in general, refers to when individuals and companies take advantage of under-utilized assets in order to make money.

In the well-known case of Airbnb, the company takes advantage of homes that aren’t being used, offering on-demand hospitality to people around the world. Many consumers have switched to sharing not just with hospitality but also with gifts, home furnishings, apparel, accessories and transportation. With Uber or Sidecar, two other examples, it is clear how many people are willing to offer (and accept) rides just like a taxi service.

Better Than New: More Sharing & More Collaboration

The level of intrigue with companies and brands that have positioned themselves as a part of the sharing economy is high, and consumers seem to enjoy being a part of this peer-to-peer, more collaborative experience. From bike sharing to book swapping to co-working, what can the funeral industry learn from this network effect?

One thing is clear: the ability to use digital platforms in order to find, share or trade under-utilized products and services is not going away any time soon.

For funeral homes, this change in perception around sharing (versus ownership) could mean an increase in rental caskets and in shared cars, and it could be applied to other areas (services and products) that could be shared between families. In certain geographies, there could be an increase in outsourced embalming specialists and funeral directors renting funeral homes/space in those areas they don’t cover or if they don’t have a physical location.

Changing Perceptions About Owning vs. Sharing

In the past, the idea of sharing various parts of the funeral service may not have been popular, but we may see that more and more touch points for the consumer may be rented out or shared altogether, especially with the rise in desire for green funerals. Funeral directors will want to embrace the possibilities so that they can offer families products and services from the funeral home (and the funeral director), versus third parties.

Many believe that the network effect provides consumers with more “power” due to availability of choices and in their decision-making. But keep in mind that the shared economy could result in greater flexibility or ability to personalize for the families that funeral homes serve.

In some scenarios, it could mean less investment is needed up-front in order to deliver what consumers are demanding. With all the options available, even from rental platforms and services (e.g. Zilok or Rentoid) that are not solely focused on the funeral industry, funeral directors will need to be able to effectively communicate all that is available to families, including how funeral directors are best equipped to deliver those services.

A Focus On Trust, Sharing & The Entire Experience: Will Wakes Adopt the Airbnb Model?

The trend currently is that consumers want to spend their money on experiences, in particular personalized experiences. Looking ahead, families may have the desire to honor a deceased loved one in their home as it was done decades ago, or in another location of choice. It’s not clear yet how the sharing economy will impact funeral service, but it is clear that consumers are embracing sharing in many aspects of their lives. Thinking outside the box, being prepared to offer options to families and trying new ways of working is key.

As a funeral director, how will you adapt?

For funeral directors, the lesson from the rise of the shared economy is that people are increasingly making choices that are based on trust, sharing and the experience—and the idea of ownership within that experience is changing.

Knowing that products and services are more often being rented out and shared, funeral homes must be prepared for areas of the experience that will be impacted by this shift. In other words, families may want the “end result” or a memorable experience, but they don’t need full ownership as they once did.

One thing is certain: if funeral homes partake in any kind of sharing or collaboration with consumers, it has to be a frictionless encounter, and perceived as an “easy” exchange. Just like with Airbnb, consumers have to have a high degree of trust in the platform (or in the collaboration) they are taking advantage of.

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