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Funeral Planning Industry

2.1 Funeral planning industry

It can be said that most people would “be compelled to purchase funeral or other death-related services or products when a loved one dies” (Schwarts et al., 1986:40). Kopp and Kemp (2007) also find that nearly every person would purchase or consume these types of products or service for themselves or on behalf of someone else. Funeral service or death-care industry was originated in the United State during the 20th century. It is referred to “the array of providers of funeral and burial goods and services, such as funeral directors, cemeterians, and third-party sellers” (Gimmy, 2008:328). Historically, the industry has been fragmented. Each business has provided its own products or services, i.e. funeral home sold funeral goods; cemetery arranged cremation services; and florists sold flowers. There was limited overlap among segment. At present, this industry has become more complex, running by a quality management. It combines a variety of funeral products together with services to response diversified needs of customers (ibid, 2008). Even though an individual has been familiar with this unpleasant industry, it still represents an industry most individuals shun (Butler, 2007). Similarly to Chinese beliefs, death and dying remain taboo subjects in communities for fear of invoking bad luck (Hsu et al., 2009)


According to the assumptions that life is highly predictable (Milo, 1997; Rando, 1993), subject to our control (Rando, 1993; Braun&Berg, 1994), and destined to continue indefinitely (Vikio, 2000), they have created a sense of security in many people's perception. Consumers are searching for trust and stability for something that will give them confidence to make decision and reach greater fulfillment (Mintel, 2000). They maintain their beliefs by scheduling daily life activities and try to construct the world in the way to avoid unexpected intrusion to happen. Although this tends to be incompatible when confronting the experience of death as most people are afraid of uncertain future (Schiappa et al., 2004), they have impacted on some areas of funeral industry.


The funeral planning service seems to be an emerging trend in western countries in the idea that a funeral can be planned, in advance, in a very secular way. This service is claimed as a smart alternative of funeral preparation which helps consumers avoid an unexpectedly emergency purchase under the time constraint and emotional vulnerability (Gentry et al, 1995). A bereaved person's age or education levels are not significant indicators of the person's knowledge of funeral practices, requirements, available services, and costs (Federal Trade Commission: FTC, 1975). Within the circumstance of loss, “consumer decision processes [are made] under extreme stress or in high emotional contexts…” (Kropp, 1999: 533). Time pressure and emotional duress are perceived to be strong influences during at-need decision (Kopp and Kemp, 2007). Grief is assumed to be another factor that may limit consumer's awareness and ability or remain rational and use an approach of the typical high involvement purchases to find information for better decision making (Gentry et al., 1995). It has been found that markups of up to 900 percent are charged for death-related goods and services (Lubove, 1993) and this issue brings an important concern of consumer vulnerability condition (Gabel et al, 1996).


Interestingly, while death and death anxiety seem to be a universal issue, funeral practices and trends in each country are diverse.


2.1 The United Kingdom

According to Mintel research (2007), the UK funeral market is examined to be in the early stage of radical change due to the development of non-traditional funerals. The UK funeral industry market is dominated by the Co-operative, followed by Dignity plc., which hold the market share of 14% and 12% respectively (ibid, 2007). The research findings from two surveys commissioned by AXA Sun Life Direct (ASLD) (2007) show that in year 2006 the cost of a modest funeral in the UK has increased by 10% to £2,390. The average cost of a cremation (which accounts for 72% of funerals) is £2,160 and of a burial is £2,620. Schwartz et al. (1986: 41) highlight that “[d]espite their unpopularity with all or part of the marketplace, such products and services generate sizable revenues and attendant profits”. An increasing percentage of aging population provides a growth opportunity in the market. This is in accordance with Mintel research (2007), the total market value of all UK funerals has grown by around 34% since 2000 to £1.3 billion in 2006. And this industry has been forecasted to reach a value of £1.5 billion over the period 2006-11.


Furthermore, the funeral planning activities have been promoted by the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA) associated with private sector such as the Co-operative funeral care. They promote these planning activities by highlighting that this service would help the bereaved “by reducing some of the emotional and financial burden when the times comes” (Co-operative Funeralcare, 2002). This service provides the complete funeral arrangements which the consumer can pay at the current price for the future occasion. It is estimated that with the reassurance by FPA which protect the money paid by customer and also guarantee the delivery of the service would increase the number of funeral plans sold (Funeral Planning Authority). While funeral planning in UK is growing firmly, this service in the US is still at the beginning stage (Powell, 2004).


2.1.2 The United States of America

The funeral market in the U.S., a country of origin of funeral industry, is dominated by Service Corporation International (SCI) (Smith, 2002). This company owns nearly 1,400 funeral homes and cemeteries in North America and more than 4,500 funeral service locations in 20 countries (www.sci-corp.com). The concept of preneed or prearranging was originated in the 1930s (Kopp and Kemp, 2007). Federal Trade Commission (1978) suggests that these practices avoid consumers conducting a purchase at time of high anxiety and emotional instability (Gabel et al., 1996) as well as avoid charges of consumer abuse such as fraudulent information provided to consumers (Good, 1994; Hildula, 1990) and financial improprieties (Conner, 1994). Consequently, consumers are more likely to purchase death-care services in advance with approximately $25 billions spent on funeral products and services (Hermanson, 2000). However, it is lack of independent potential consultants or any government support guaranteeing the customers' money paid. Therefore, most US consumer advocates encourage pre-planning funerals, rather than pre-purchased funerals, which people are allowed to decide the type of their funeral but pay at the time of death (Fleck 2002; Funeral Consumers Alliance, 2005).


2.1.3 Japan

Rather than two dominant western countries above, Japan is one of Asian countries which has a well-developed funeral industry. In ancient time, Japanese was impacted by Chinese culture which adopted burial mounds as a funeral type. Recently, because of the lack of burial spaces, the efforts of funeral operators to promote cremation, and the sanctioning under Buddhism, it can be said that Japanese cremate the deceased ‘in virtually 100% of all cases' (Japanese Economy Division, 2006).


As an increasing of Japanese aging population, a funeral market competition becomes stronger among roughly 6,500 operators. The market is dominated by regular funeral operators which almost all companies are midsize and smaller (Yano Research Institute, 2002). Each operator competes by adopting low-price strategy in form of package sales and also using strongly community-based relationship as a key. There is no regulation restricting companies from starting business in this industry. Similar to FPA in UK, all funeral operators are regulated under the Installment Sales Law, concerning the advance payment of consumers, and the Law Concerning Cemeteries and Interment. With the medication advancement, doctors can often predict the time of death with reasonably accuracy. This enables people to begin arranging funeral in advance. Yet many Japanese frown upon this idea as a bad luck (Parker, 2004).


2.1.4 India

While many countries provide and promote the pre-planned funeral services, some countries have none. The funeral rites in India, for example, are a ceremony which does not need any services from an undertaker (The New York Times, 1897). Indian funeral customs are arranged by priests and relatives of the deceased. The three customs - Hindu, Parsee, and Mohammedans - are followed the natural ways with no advance technology. Hindu funeral is performed by the son of the deceased. He leads the ceremony from bathing the body until lighting up a funeral pyre. The Parsees believe that the spirit of the dead is purified by feast the ventures with the body. And the Mohammedans use the interment as a method. They believe in resurrection and the body is buried in a grave with the head to the north and the face looking toward Mecca (ibid).


2.1.5 Thailand

A funeral rite is one of the most elaborate ceremonies. Since ancient time, a funeral has been commonly held at people's home or religious establishment such as temples or churches. According to Thai's lifestyle which much relies upon religion, Well (1975: 214) concludes that“[t]o conduct the rites for the dead may be considered the one indispensable service rendered the community by the monk. For this reason the crematory in each large temple has no rival in secular society”. In Thailand, there is no funeral service in term of business. When someone dies, the bereaved family will rely upon monks to conduct funeral rites. There are third-party vendors selling a narrow line of funeral goods such as coffins, wreaths, etc. which sometimes they provide additional services for customers but remain in the areas of their products sold, for instance, a coffin vendor may provide embalming services and deliver the body to the temple. To understand the dynamic of death care industry, it is useful to examine the impact of cultures and religions on funeral planning practices.


2.2 Cultural and Religious impacts on funeral planning


Culture

The way of arranging a funeral is based on one's view of death. Culture can be described as the personality of the society within which an individual lives. It shows itself through the “built environment, art, language, literature, music and the products that society consumes, as well as through its prevalent beliefs, value systems and government” (Brassington and Pettitt, 2003:120). Culture significantly impacts the society's way of life, passed on from generation to generation, deriving from a group of people sharing and transmitting beliefs, values, attitudes and forms of behavior that are common to that society and considered worthy of retention (Chrisnall, 1985). Rice (1993: 242) defines culture as “the values, attitudes, beliefs, ideas, artefacts and other meaningful symbols represented in the pattern of life adopted by people that help them interpret, evaluate and communicate as member of society”. In another word, culture frames a pathway for members of society to walk on. It has been found that one tends to behave in the same direction as others in the community, in order to identify with important in-groups (Dechesne et al., 2000).


My study mainly focuses on Thai culture

Cultural differences show themselves in different ways through the way people live their daily lives as well as social rites such as wedding, graduation and death ritual. Each culture has its own stories and practices which help diversify one culture from others. Every society possesses a set of myths that define its culture (Solomon et al., 2006: 504). Funeral practices of each culture are derived from the attitudes to death of each social (Robben, 2008). It has always been passed on from generation to generation, especially when they are related to religious beliefs. These create so-called ‘primitive' belief systems which some may consider irrational or superstitious continue to influence a supposedly ‘modern', rational society (Ibid, 2006). Funerals are considered very public and social functions (Bowman, 1959), different cultures or ethnicities may differ behaviours (Kalish and Reynold, 1976; Moore and Bryant, 2003). The impact of culture on funeral ritual can be found in Asante's culture, for example. In a country ranked among the world's poorest (World Bank's World Development Report, 2000), Asante displays many wealthy materials during death-ritual performances (Arhin, 1994). Commonly, the poverty leads to frugality and considered consumption choices based on financial resources (Dholakia et al., 1988). Surprisingly, “Asante final rites are draped in symbolism, decipherable within judgments and motives constituted in local culture” (Bonsu and Belk, 2003: 43). In contrast to western cultures, the Asante address little death fear (Aries, 1974), as they believe that dying turns them to powerful ancestors. An elaborate funeral is produced once the relatives die. They prefer not to prolong their lives nor plan a final rite in advance (Baudrillard, 1993), whereas Chinese performs many self-cultivation techniques to do so (Kleeman, 2003).


Rather than culture, religion also has an important role in helping people to handle with the problem of death by providing belief in an afterlife (Jonas and Fischer, 2006). Parrinder (1983) highlights that people's thinking and feelings about death have been colored by their religious beliefs and ritual. It is noted that all major religions involve in a system of death preparation (Jung, 1965). Moreover, funeral practices are also influenced by religious faith. This mystery has many hidden meaning in every process proceeded. Religious beliefs regarding death and funeral are influenced by the ideation of what follows death (Mercedes, 2002). Each religion prescribes methods of the final disposition with its own beliefs (Habenstein and Lamers, 1974). On a global scale, burial is by far the most common type of funeral. This is particularly true in predominantly Islamic, Jewish and Christian countries (Japanese Economy Division, 2006) where cremation is mostly used by Hinduism and Buddhism countries. Conversely, Lutherans view in the opposition. For Roman Catholic, according to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, “[f]or the final disposition of the body, it is ancient Christian custom to bury or entomb the bodies of the dead, cremation is permitted, unless it is evident that cremation was chosen for anti-Christian motives” (Order of Christian Funeral, 1990:6, cited in Mercedes, 2002). With the beliefs that soul would return to the resuscitated body, most Jews bury the deceased instead of cremation (Kastenbaum and Kastenbaum, 1989). They would cremate the body only when the corpses do not remain in good condition i.e. in case of accidents or unnatural death. There are several tribes pursuing the traditional way for the final disposition. The Tibetans, for instance, proceed the commonest method of disposal, Sky Burial, in which the body is devoured by birds (Logan, 1997). They believe it helps purified the soul. This can posit that religious beliefs considerably influence people's practices. A very good example is Chinese cultures and beliefs. They can represent the way cultures and beliefs influence lifestyle and society. Chinese people have hold “…the world's most successful continuous culture for the past four millennia” (Hue et al., 2007: 153). They remain value their culture and traditions wherever they live (Szalay et al., 1994). Ancestor worship (Lee, 2003), Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism are the main philosophies in Chinese culture (Pension, 2004; Piction and Huge, 1998) particularly in relation to death and funeral rites. Feng Shui is significantly. It is perceived important in finding any auspicious sector in a desired location. Good Feng Shui will bless residents and descendant with wealth, health and success (Hue et al., 2009), while poor Feng Shui is believed to explain the causes of illness and death (Lai, 2006; Yeo et al., 2005) This is included a location of ancestors' tombs or memorial tablets. With this belief, Chinese seeks for an auspicious tomb in order to bring all luck to the deceased's life and also the family (ibid).


In a mean while, there are an increasing population declaring that they have no religious affiliation (Mintel, 2007), especially among young generations. They tend to believe in testified issues, like sciences, rather than myths. Herman (1974: 57) highlights that “young people are seeking today for a dynamic, meaningful philosophy of life instead of the tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signify nothing! which they are encountering”. With a rising proportion of this population, funeral businesses, in some countries such as UK, provide services of non-religious funeral arrangement. The British Humanist Association (BHA, www.humanism.org.uk), for example, has represented itself as an organization for “people who seek to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs”. The humanist funeral is simply arranged with no religious procedure or ceremony. It cerebrates the life of the deceased. The tributes are paid to the life they once were and what they have left behind (www.humanism.org.uk). This can demonstrate that each culture and religion offers different funeral approaches.


However, an idea of globalization that the world become more uniform and standardised (Pieterse, 2004) spreads worldwide. Too often it is assumed that globalization is inevitable and almost irreversible (Bisley, 2007). This leads to a question to what extent this idea could impact on and change locally traditional practices. Douglas and Isherwood (1979) argue that consumer consumptions differ among different cultures. This should also be implied that the consumer attitudes to death and funeral planning of one culture tend to be different from another.


2.3 Consumer attitude toward funeral planning

Pre-planning a funeral is one type of services that funeral industry provided. This service is widely accepted in many western countries such as USA, UK and European countries, whereas this idea is more likely a taboo in some collective cultures, such as Chinese and Thai (Hue et al., 2009). In a consumer perspective, planning a funeral does not seem to represent a pleasant activity. Commonly, consumers prefer self-plan rather than obligate someone else to make purchase decisions for them (Fan and Zick, 2004). Yet funeral planning is what they hesitate to purchase for themselves. People, excluded very old and dying people, think that death is by far to concern. Even aging people, sometimes they do not accept the fact which results in anxiety when the last time comes. Public and private sectors promote the benefit of preplanned funerals and also support consumers in many areas such as consulting services, financial trusts (Gabel et al, 1996) in order to protect the bereaved buyer to make a death care  purchase decisions under difficult circumstances.
Consequently, over the last two year, older consumers in UK have become gradually concerned about their future. They tend to consider the consequence of their death and the burdensome that may affect their bereaved family (Mintel, 2007). As well as Japanese people, they are less reluctant, than before, to get involved in funeral arrangement (Japanese Economy Division, 2006). However, a U.S. survey conducted in 2004 by Wirthlin Group (2005) revealed that nearly 75% of consumers perceived that planning a funeral brings benefit to themselves, but less than 36% of those consumers had taken into action. Although a funeral plan can be as easy as “discussing plans and leaving instructions with family” about the funeral arrangement, most avoid thinking about or even taking these steps (Kopp and Kemp, 2007). Consequently, they leave this matter to be a decision of deceased's relatives (Shuang, 1993; Berndt and Johnston, 1942).


Death remains one of the most profoundly uncomfortable subjects to discuss, especially for Thai people, despite the fact that everyone has to face it. The attitudes and circumstances of Thai customers in purchasing such products and services are not well-known because they usually do not prepare for the end of their lives. Owing to Thai culture, people think that preparation for death is a curse. Globally, one reason for planning a funeral is that people do not wish to be a burden to their loved ones after their death and they therefore make some preparations beforehand. It is possible that this same trend will come to Thailand in due course. The purchasing styles of Thais and foreigners will, therefore, converge.


The consumers' attitudes to funeral planning activities, mostly in western contexts, have been widely discussed. However, there are inadequate previous consumer researches to particularly relate to the attitudes to funeral planning services. And there is a lack of information, especially in collective and conservative cultures. Therefore, I embarked on an inquiry into attitude to funeral planning in Thai cultural context to extend consumer research beyond the dominant Western philosophical boundaries of thoughts.

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