Dave, Richard, Kevin and Fiona (2003, pxi) observed that the Internet represents a tremendous opportunity. For customers, it gives a much wider choice of products, services and prices from different suppliers and the means to select and purchase items more readily. For organizations marketing these products and services it gives the opportunity to expand into new markets, offer new services and compete on a more equal footing with large businesses.
How significant is Internet to businesses? According to Dave et al. (2003, p4), the answer to this question varies dramatically for different products and markets. For companies such as electronics equipment manufacturer Cisco (www.cisco.com), the answer is ‘very significant’ – Cisco gains over 90% of its multi-billion-dollar global revenue online. It also conducts many of its other business processes such as new product development and customer service online. Similarly, easyJet (www.easyjet.com), the low-cost European airline, gains 90% of its ticket sales online and aims to fulfill the majority of its customer service requests via the Internet. However, the picture is quite different for the manufacturers of high-involvement purchases such as cars or fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands. Here the impact is less significant – the majority of their consumer sales still occur through traditional retail channels. However, the influence cannot be described as insignificant any longer since the Internet is becoming increasingly important in influencing purchase decisions – many new car purchasers will research their purchase online, so manufacturers need to invest in Internet marketing to persuade customers of the features and benefits of their brands. The FMCG manufacturer finds that consumers are spending an increasing proportion of their time on the Internet and less time using other media so the Internet has become an effective way of reaching its target markets.
Harriet, Diane and Peter (2003) pointed out that Internet use is growing exponentially and the value of a Web site for small businesses is becoming increasingly clear. Many small businesses can use the Internet to develop their customer base, to enhance public relations campaigns, to add value for customers, and to meet firm objectives. Harriet et al. (2003) also pointed out that reasons as listed below are why a small business would benefit from having a presence on the Internet.
1. To establish/build an image
2. To add value for current customers
3. Participate in affiliate programs to add another income stream
4. To cut costs
5. To develop new customers
6. To participate in business-to-business commerce
7. Use social responsibility and the triple bottom line as a strategic advantage positioning
8. To capitalize on product/service made for the Internet
9. To market specialty items
10. To overcome a location which limits the market
11. To capitalize on the auction model
12. To market a new product in mature industry with established players
13. To aid in recruiting employees
14. To research competitors and new products
As a matter of course, according to a consumer survey conducted by the Dieringer Research Group in United States of America 2003, there were 114.1 million adults searched for product information online and 98.9 million adults made actual purchases either online or offline after doing online research (Chien-Huang and Shu-Fen, 2004).
In a study of “do small businesses need a website?” Mack (2006) is convinced that a website can be used simply to let potential customers know you are there. For small businesses particularly those that rely on a local customer base this can be an invaluable source of additional customer enquiries. (Trillianjedi, 2006) Another point to take into consideration is people who know of the company but do not know how to get in touch. They may know the company by name but have no idea where they are located or their phone number. These sorts of potential customers may already be typing your company name into search engines and finding no results. By simple having a site on the web it is possible to capture these customers.
Kathlene (2001), director of E-Business for Aurora Casket Company, at “Five Key Principles of Online Marketing for Funeral Service” indicated that the Internet is a powerful tool for marketing a number of businesses-including funeral service. Kathlene (2001), speaking to an enthusiastic crowd during the National Funeral Directors Association convention of the year, also indicated that websites have the potential to help funeral homes (licensed undertakers) in a number of ways such as:
1. Can reach new markets
2. Enhance firm’s image
3. Sell products and services and
4. Built customer relationships through the Web
Ramin Ganeshram (2006) at “Online funerals are catching on across cultural and generational lines” observed very truly that
“The World Wide Web: It’s not just for the living any more. At least, not if a small, but growing, group of savvy funeral directors who are offering funeral services, including Web casts of viewings, funeral masses and even graveside ceremonies, via the Internet … virtual funerals are simply a matter of good business sense. Kevin Gray, president and director of Star of David Chapels in Babylon, New York realized the need for Web-based services … One company in particular, Online-Funeral.com of Toronto, Canada … offers an online forum where visitors can post images and video clips to the memorial page for the deceased.”
Todd and Duane (2001) at “The Internet and the Funeral Industry” said that the Internet is going to revolutionize the funeral industry; however, it will not change the basic principle of the industry … to provide personal, one-on-one service to every family. Todd and Duane (2001) regarded that the Internet will provide funeral directors (qualified and licensed funeral service providers) with a way to enhance many of their current business practices.
As per Harriet et al. (2003) pointed out, that, to add value for current customers, for example, in the traditionally bricks and mortar funeral industry an Internet business, FuneralNet (http://www.funeralnet.com/), was started to enable funeral homes to offer online registration and memorials for its families.
Harriet et al. (2003) found that, to participate in business-to-business commerce, for example, funeralnet.com has Funeral Directors register to enable them to “get access to industry news, our listing of on-line classifieds, and much more.”
Harriet et al. (2003) also found that, to market a new product in mature industry with established players, for example, funeralnet.com is an example of using the Internet to market a new product in a mature industry with established players.It also offers Web design services to those players who may not be online yet.
Todd and Duane (2001) mentioned that the Internet provides funeral directors with new, productive ways to promote their business, while establishing a gateway to opening larger markets, as well as the creation of new opportunities to provide additional services to bereaved families.
“Imagine having a tool that allows you to reach your target audience, track what sections of your web site they review, determine how many view it and for how long. Now, combine these benefits with the ability to receive feedback from your web site’s visitors, thus allowing you to customize and enhance your material. All of these features are currently used in web site development. No longer are you bound by the budgetary and territorial limitations of traditional media. Utilizing the Internet, services and materials can be offered to your families anywhere around the world … 24 hours a day … seven days a week!”
“Imagine having the ability to offer friends or family members who cannot travel to the funeral service with an affordable option to view it live, or on-demand only hours after the service is over. How about providing loved ones with a way to sign a guest book … forward personal tributes … send pictures … or participate in the visitation time. Consider the possibility of offering families who live thousands of miles away with a means to select flowers and music.In the not-so-distant-future, virtual visitations will become a reality. Simply stated, the Internet eliminates distance boundaries.”
Patricia Bondor (2003) at “Getting It, E-Care and the Funeral Industry” said that
“Four years ago, when I went to the CANA convention, I practically had to drag people (funeral directors) over to look at my booth. When they realized I was a – YIKES! – ‘WEB’ company, they walked as far away from my booth as fast as possible. THIS year’s CANA was quite different!I was practically beating them off with a stick!
In the last four years, funeral directors have been bombarded with speakers & articles covering topics such as, “What makes a good web site”, “Why Cremation.com?”, “Marketing on the Internet”, etc. At conventions, they have seen Internet companies that make web sites, host web sites, and market web sites. The difference in the reactions of funeral directors today shows me that the funeral industry is finally starting to “get it”. They now understand that the Internet is here to stay and that thousands of consumers are using it everyday as a usual part of their lives. Today, although funeral directors may “get it”, do them truly understand what they can “do with it”?”
To understand what funeral directors can “do with web site”, a journalist of Economist Newspaper Limited (1997) at “Virtual heaven” noticed that
“For those whose wiring has lost its earthly current, a multimedia Web site obituary is the latest adornment to the funeral process. Non-commercial tributes have been around for some time, but the funeral industry is catching on to the potential profit. For around $1,000, an American company (accessible at www.memorials.com) offers a dedicated page on its Web site. Rather than physically visiting the family tomb, relatives and friends can refresh their memories of a loved one at the click of a mouse.
The Web site can offer video and audio clips (for example of the deceased and the funeral) as well as a family tree that may in future be linked by hypertext to other obituary sites. Even by the standards of the funeral trade, the profit from charging hundreds of dollars to store data that will at most be downloaded a few times a year is truly awesome.
Attractive though this concept is, interactive digital technology has only just begun to affect the funeral business. The design and planning of funerals, for example, would be revolutionised by becoming impersonal. Rather than visit an undertaker, and suffer the inevitably distressing attentions of a stranger, customers (aided by special funeral planning software) can quietly compare different prices and services at home. Once bandwidth blockages ease, funeral homes can offer visitation via the Internet for distant mourners. Their presence could be recorded in an electronic visiting book. Software already exists to help the lovelorn but inarticulate to compose love letters. Condolences will be next.”
As observed by Todd and Duane (2002), many funeral directors have embraced technology with about the same enthusiasm as a child on the first day at a new school. They have come to see technology as a necessary evil, often costing more in time, effort and money than is realized in benefits. There is an easy way to implement technology solutions in the funeral industry so that it adds value to a funeral home’s services, increases their market share and helps the funeral home become more profitable. In fact, technology solutions provide funeral directors with the ability to realize new merchandizing opportunities, offer expanded services, open new marketing options, expand their market share, and maximize personnel all while lowering procurement costs, reducing inventory and curtailing marketing expenses such as:
1. Virtual Showroom
2. Floral Sales
3. Pet Memorialization
4. Web Broadcasting
5. Interactive Website
7. Life Remembrances
8. Online Tours
Chine-Huang, L. and Shu-Fen, Y. (2006),Consumer Adoption of the Internet as a Channel: The Influence of Driving and Inhibiting Factors, Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridgem Hollywood: Sep 2006 Vol. 9, Iss.2; pg. 112. http://0-proquest.umi.com.lib.city.edu.hk/ (accessed August 14, 2006).
Dave, C., Richard, M., Kevin, J. and Fiona, E.C. (2003),Internet Marketing (second edition): Strategy, Implementation and Practice, Prentice-Hall, England.
Ramin, G. (2006),Viewing the Body: Online funerals are catching on across cultural and generational lines, DFire Archive, Issue 30: November 7, 2006, Stony Brook, New York. http://www.dfire.org/x5591.xml (accessed December 14, 2006).