Investigating the potential for technology to disrupt the funeral industry and create new business opportunities

The funeral industry has remained largely unchanged for decades, relying on time-honored traditions and face-to-face interactions. However, like many other sectors, it is now poised for disruption as new technologies emerge that streamline processes, reduce costs, and open up fresh possibilities.  

In this article, we’ll explore some of the most promising technological innovations shaking up the funeral business, including online platforms, 3D printing, virtual reality, and more. We’ll discuss how these developments could create opportunities for forward-thinking entrepreneurs while improving customer experiences during difficult times. 

Bringing the funeral industry online

Traditionally, planning a funeral has meant numerous in-person meetings and phone calls – with the funeral home, florist, cemetery and more. It’s a stressful, time-consuming process for grieving families. But what if key aspects could be handled quickly and easily online?

That’s the idea behind a crop of new websites and apps aimed at simplifying funeral arrangements, such as:

Funeralbooker – Allows families to compare prices and services of funeral homes, purchase products, and even arrange a cremation or burial entirely online. 

Everdays – Helps users create personalized memorial announcements and coordinate events like visitations or receptions through their app.

FuneralFolio – Provides modern, fully customizable templates for creating professional-quality funeral programs and prayer cards that can be edited collaboratively and printed on-demand. As the most feature-rich platform of its kind, FuneralFolio has been steadily growing in popularity with funeral homes looking to add value for client families.

The convenience and transparency of handling arrangements online is likely to appeal especially to younger generations used to managing major life events with a few taps on their phone. For providers, these tools reduce time spent on administration and can integrate with back-end systems to keep everything running smoothly.

3D printing custom urns and more 

3D printing has progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years, with the ability to turn digital designs into physical objects made from materials like plastic, metal, ceramic and even wood. Forward-thinking companies are now leveraging this technology to create unique funerary items.

For example, French startup Anima has developed a service to 3D print custom urns in the shape of objects that were meaningful to the deceased – like a guitar, ballet shoe, or seashell. Families provide a few photos and the company generates a 3D model that can be further personalized with colors, text or images before printing.

This points to the potential for “mass customization” in the funeral industry – the ability to cost-effectively produce bespoke items at scale. Some other applications include:

Custom headstones – Adding names, dates, epitaphs or even photographs and decorative elements to traditional stone grave markers.

Memorial jewelry – Lockets, rings and more incorporating ashes or locks of hair in novel shapes and styles.

Printed burial suits – Customized with meaningful quotes, lyrics, or artwork.

As 3D printing becomes faster and material options expand, the creative possibilities for honoring a loved one’s memory in a one-of-a-kind way will only grow. Funeral providers may opt to invest in industrial 3D printers to create items on-demand or partner with specialized vendors.

Virtual and augmented reality for immersive tributes

When the COVID-19 pandemic restricted in-person gatherings, some innovative funeral homes turned to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to provide immersive remote experiences for mourners who couldn’t attend services.

For example, using 360° cameras and special headsets, a funeral could be live-streamed so that far-flung relatives feel as if they’re right there in the room, able to look around and see other attendees. Interactive elements can even be added, like the ability to leave a digital note or flower.  

Some families are going a step further and creating VR experiences that celebrate a person’s life, such as:

– A virtual tour of a beloved grandparent’s home, with voice-over sharing precious memories 

– A digitally reconstructed scene from a favorite camping spot or holiday

– An avatar of the deceased telling their life story in their own words

With AR, digital elements are overlaid on the real world, as in the popular game Pokémon Go. Headstones can be enhanced with animations, photos, and recorded messages that play when viewed through a smartphone app. Japanese grave marker company Ryoshinsha has even proposed AR “virtual graves” for cremated individuals, where mourners can pay their respects to a holographic headstone projected in a serene spot.

As the required hardware becomes more affordable and software more sophisticated, VR and AR could become a more common way to experience funerals and revisit memories. These technologies lend themselves well to our increasingly digital lives and may resonate with younger people looking for new ways to process grief.

Artificial intelligence for personalized funerals

Artificial intelligence (AI) is making inroads in all kinds of industries, and the funeral business is no exception. Forward-thinking firms are harnessing the power of AI to analyze data and generate tailored recommendations for clients.

One example is Spanish company Eter, which has developed an AI-powered “digital will” platform. It uses machine learning to sift through a person’s social media posts, emails, and other online content to identify their preferences – like favorite songs, photos, and charities. This information is then compiled into a report that can inform the funeral planning process and ensure the service authentically reflects the individual.

Other potential applications of AI in the funeral industry include:

Chatbots – Drawing on a vast knowledge base to answer common questions and help families make decisions 24/7.

Predictive analytics – Using past data to forecast things like which products or services a client is likely to want.

Personalized memorials – Creating customized tribute videos, musical arrangements, and printed materials based on information about the deceased.

As AI continues to advance, it could increasingly be used behind the scenes to create highly personalized funerals with minimal effort on the part of arrangers. However, this technology is not a replacement for the human touch that funeral professionals provide, especially in terms of emotional support.

Streamlining operations with software

As in many industries, specialized software is helping funeral homes streamline operations, with tools for everything from case management to marketing. These programs can save valuable time and improve service by keeping all key information in one place.

For example, FuneralTech’s all-in-one solution includes features for:

– Managing funeral information, documents, and checklists 

– Tracking decedent locations and transfer logistics

– Generating forms, contracts, and other paperwork

– Collecting online payments and donations

– Coordinating staff schedules and tasks

This kind of end-to-end system is becoming increasingly essential as customer expectations for seamless, digitally-enabled experiences rise. It ensures nothing falls through the cracks and frees up staff to focus on more meaningful interactions with families.

Other types of software that are proving invaluable for funeral professionals include:

Customer relationship management (CRM) – Keeping track of client families and their preferences, as well as leads and pre-need contracts.

Accounting and payroll – Managing finances and paying staff efficiently.

Marketing automation – Handling repetitive tasks like email newsletters and social media posting.

Website builders – Creating interactive, e-commerce enabled sites without coding.

As the funeral industry plays technological catch-up with other fields, providers that implement the right software stand to gain a significant competitive edge. Choosing flexible, funeral-specific solutions that connect seamlessly is key.

Putting it all together

The funeral industry is on the cusp of a technological revolution that will change the way providers operate and families celebrate the lives of their loved ones. From online arrangements to 3D printed urns to AI-generated memorials, a host of innovations are poised to disrupt business as usual.

For entrepreneurs and forward-thinking funeral professionals, this digital shift presents significant opportunities to:

– Increase market share and revenue by meeting growing consumer demand for convenient, personalized, technology-enabled experiences.

– Boost efficiency and reduce costs by automating time-consuming tasks and processes.

– Offer stand-out services that attract a new generation of customers and build lasting brand loyalty.

Of course, integrating emerging technologies into a traditionally slow-to-adopt industry is not without challenges. It will require investment in new equipment, software, and training, as well as a willingness to experiment and iterate.

But the funeral providers that embrace innovation now will be well-positioned to thrive in the years ahead. By staying attuned to the latest trends and tools – and always keeping the needs of families front and center – they can create meaningful, memorable experiences that honor the dead and comfort the living.

Key Takeaways

– Online platforms like FuneralFolio are simplifying funeral planning with easy-to-use templates and collaborative tools.

– 3D printing is enabling mass customization of urns, memorial jewelry, and other items.

– Virtual and augmented reality can create immersive experiences for remote mourners or digital tributes.

– Artificial intelligence is being harnessed to generate personalized funeral recommendations based on online data.

– Specialized software is helping funeral homes streamline everything from case management to marketing.

– To thrive in a changing market, funeral professionals must embrace new technologies while still providing a human touch.

Is your funeral home ready for the digital age? Now is the time to explore how technologies like those discussed here could elevate the level of service you provide. With creativity and care, you can harness innovation to create unforgettable farewells that families will cherish forever.