One of the great debates in funeral service today is whether you should display your merchandise or offer a digital catalog for your client families to look at. We asked Doug Gober to provide insight and guidance on this important topic.
Question: Should I display my casket, vault or urn merchandise in my funeral home or just have a digital catalog?
Doug Gober: The key elements to this question are information and control. Ask yourself the following: how does the consumer access information? For today’s consumer, it is mostly online. However, is that the best methodology for a consumer to purchase an unfamiliar product combined with an unfriendly state of mind?
Most product purchases made today that are infrequent, higher priced purchases that are not routine are usually done in a positive state of mind. As funeral home owners and cemetery operators, we have a consumer who is going to make an equivalently high-priced purchase but in the worst possible state of mind.
So therefore, the merchandise offer must be presented in a manner in which a grief-stricken consumer can understand and discern the unique differences in products. They may ask, “Why does this blue one over here cost more than that blue one over there?” Can the consumer understand those visual differences on their own? Funeral products are strictly purchased based on what they look like and their price. The biggest challenge for at-need funeral service products is that you don’t have the option of saying no. In normal retail, I can just decide to not buy that day. Here, we do not have that option. It is our responsibility to make the transaction the least burdensome as we possibly can.
There are multiple product scenarios in place where this occurs in funeral service. Let’s use caskets as an example. A funeral home owner can use the traditional full-size casket room method where a grieving consumer has difficulty removing emotion from their decision. Most of us would agree that funeral arrangement decisions are made by women. Not only will they be overwhelmed by a room full of caskets, it is almost impossible for a female consumer to not have the mental visualization of their loved one in the casket. This mental visualization will always get in the way of making a rational, normal buying decision. The idea of full-size casket rooms as your only viable option has been debunked for over 20 years. However, over 50% of the funeral homes in the Unites States still use this method today.
If the objective is to serve the consumer in a manner that makes it easier but removes much of the emotional difficulty, the consideration of fractional product display or a digital catalog will help to remove the emotional challenges.
Fractional product displays have been proven successful in the objective of meeting consumers needs in the same manner that they would buy product elsewhere. By virtue of the fact that it is not a full-sized casket in front of them, it decreases the opportunity for the visualization of their loved one in the casket, but it doesn’t eliminate it. However, with less negative emotion attached, it allows the consumer to use their learned consumer behavior to accomplish the purchase. In its simplest terms, she is able to buy a high-priced product without the emotional obstacle created by the circumstances.
By using the digital catalog, we can have the same impact as the fractional product display from an emotional standpoint. However, the nuance of purchase decisions is altered simply because in a virtual depiction of large merchandise, it is difficult to discern the product differences. The digital option is a positive from an emotional standpoint but a negative from an evaluation standpoint as the consumers ability to identify the distinctions of each product is dramatically reduced. The use of online catalogs can broaden the product offer and be used as a support mechanism after seeing the product display fractionally or full-sized. Online purchasing of consumer goods is normally reserved for products that the consumer is very familiar with such as groceries, clothing, and general staple items. Even though it is increasing, it is still a small percentage of the total goods and services sold in North America. If online purchasing was the only methodology that appealed to the consumer, there would be no more physical stores.
In any buying circumstance, what do you do if you do not have clear understanding of what is for sale and what the product offer is? The consumer tends to limit their risk and buy down. In the funeral and cemetery profession, our challenge will always be the ability to overcome the emotional mindset and the capability to evaluate what is for sale at the same time. Grief and commerce simply do not mix. So, we must take every step possible to make those two things as palatable as we can for the consumer under less than optimal buying circumstances. As anxiety goes down, cooperation goes up. As you lower my anxiety and my ability to understand what is for sale, my cooperation and confidence in you goes up. You have made it easier for me to understand the offer to make a logical decision for my family.
As a profession, we must always strive to give the consumer what they want in a manner in which they can understand it. It can separate us from those in the business who choose not to keep current with a changing consumer.
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