Guardian

Funerals are expensive. And family firms are under threat from new tech

By August 22, 2021No Comments

(This article originally appeared on The Guardian)

“See that place?” my father always used to say when we drove by the local cemetery. “People are just dying to get in there. Ha ha!”

It was funny – at least for the first 50 times I heard it. Hey, dads are allowed to tell dad jokes. But when someone does die it’s no joke to their families. Besides the grief, there’s the cost. And people have been grumbling about the costs of funerals since there have been … well … funerals.

People are in no condition to bargain with a funeral home over the cost of a casket. And so they do wind up paying more than necessary. How much more? A casket that could cost anywhere from $1,800 to $3,300 at funeral home can be bought online from Titan for about a thousand bucks.

Now there are a host of startups aiming at cutting those costs. Titan Casket, for example, can’t take away the pain of losing a loved one. But it can certainly help take away some of the financial pain of laying that loved one to rest. And it’s using technology to do it.

The company, which is based in Seattle, is helping consumers to buy caskets online – right from its own website and even from Amazon. The idea is to release the bereaved from the grip of the funeral home and allow more choices and cost savings.

“Most customers go to a funeral home and they buy their casket and the prices are exorbitant,” the company’s co-founder Josh Siegel told tech site GeekWire. “Directors know that people don’t shop. You’re going to go to the same funeral home you’ve always gone to. It’s not right, it’s not wrong, it’s just what people do. The director kind of knows he has you.”

He’s right.

Titan isn’t the only startup with aspirations of disrupting the funeral industry.

For example, the company that makes a video storytelling platform called OneDay for Senior Living recently raised $19m to allow it to, among other things, expand its platform to funeral homes. UK-based Tyde recently launched a funeral planning online service. Startup Eterneva closed a $10m round of financing to enable it to further partner with funeral homes “to reach consumers seeking more meaningful and personal memorial options,” like making diamonds from ashes or hair.

Want more examples?

There’s GoodTrust, a cloud-based service that allows people to store all of their pertinent financial and private information like passwords and the location of documents online, as well as offering for their own burials. Or Empathy, which recently raised $13m “to help families navigate the logistical aspects of bereavement, including documentation, funeral or memorial arrangements, validating a will and other necessary tasks.” Lantern offers an online checklist and guide to help its customers navigate their own death preparation.

And Solace Cremation which lets users take care of the entire cremation process – from picking up the body to delivering ashes and death certificates – from their smartphones.

The US funeral market is currently estimated to be worth around $20bn annually, with 2.4m funerals taking place each year. Dying is certainly a profitable business. And yet funerals today are pretty much handled the same as they’ve been for decades. It’s an industry made up mostly of family-owned businesses that have been doing things the same for generations.

My message to those business owners is they better wake up. This industry is ripe for disruption and there are many startups developing new technologies and services that are going to change the way we bury – and remember – our loved ones.

So yeah, people “are dying” to get into that cemetery. And it looks like there are plenty of entrepreneurs dying to get a piece of that business too.

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