While daily internet usage is almost ubiquitous in contemporary Britain, it seems that its extension to funerary matters is not. But in an increasingly digital age, will this change in the future?
This short blog compares information about internet usage in the UK with recent funerary trends to help us begin to establish the relationship between contemporary internet usage and funerary matters.
Internet Use in the UK
The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that in 2020, some 89% of British adults reported to use the internet daily or almost every day. When this statistic is broken down by age, 100% of 16- to 34-year-olds reportedly use the internet daily. Hence, regular use of the internet in the UK is extremely common, with only 5% of British adults reporting not to have used the internet within the last three months of asking.
The top six uses of the internet by Britons in 2020 were:
- Sending/receiving emails (85%)
- Finding information about goods or services (81%)
- Internet banking (76%)
- Using instant messaging services (71%)
- Social networking (70%)
- Reading online news, newspapers or magazines (70%)
With 81% of Britons regularly using the internet to find information about goods or services, we are led to question whether this use includes finding information about funerary services. To begin to develop some initial answers to this question, we take a closer look at some recent funerary trends in the British context.
British Funerary Trends: Live-Streaming and Social Media Use
SunLife – a UK-based financial services company best known for its Over-50s Life Insurance Plans – compiles a ‘Cost of Dying’ Report every year which calculates the total ‘cost of dying’ and identifies recent funerary trends in the UK. In relation to digital trends, two key trends are noted in the 2023 Report: (i) the uptake of the live-streaming of funeral services; and (ii) the use of social media for the publication of death notices and funeral invitations.
Currently, the use of the internet to plan funerals in the UK appears to be minimal but its use to facilitate attendance at funeral services is a growing trend. This is illustrated by the widespread availability of live-streaming services throughout the UK. Research conducted by Davies and Robinson (forthcoming) found that of the UK crematoria surveyed, 97% had live-streaming technology installed. The increasing popularity and uptake of the live-streaming of funeral services in the UK was spurred by the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, SunLife notes that ‘streaming the funeral service is still the top trend’ in the UK, with 37% of funerals streamed in 2022, down from 69% in 2021.
The use of social media for the publication of death notices and funeral invitations is also a growing trend. SunLife’s Report notes that 28% of respondents used social media to invite people to a funeral – a trend that is predicted to become more widespread in the future. Co-operative Funeralcare’s 2019 ‘Burying Traditions: The Changing Face of UK Funerals’ Report also stresses the increased use of social media for funerary matters.
Of particular interest for this blogpost is the section of the Co-op’s Report entitled ‘From tradition to technology: Death in a digital age’ which considers the use of memorial pages, video content during a funeral service, live-streaming, and selfies at funerals. Co-op funeral directors have particularly seen an increase in the number of clients who use social media to share news of a death and details about the funeral service. In line with this trend, 30% of UK adults surveyed said that ‘they expect social media to play a bigger role in the funeral service in the future’.
Using the Internet for Funeral Planning
The SunLife and Co-op’s reports illustrate that the use of technology surrounding funerary services is steadily increasing but, with the exception of live-streaming, its use is not yet a widespread trend. The same appears to be true when it comes to funeral planning, but this is likely to change in the future as SunLife’s Report suggests that ‘shopping’ for a funeral online is more likely to be done by the ‘younger generation’.
Additionally, with an increase in the number of direct cremation providers offering their services online in the UK, we may well see a concurrent increase in the number of funeral arrangements that are made solely online. However, it seems that this is not yet the case in the UK. Some insight regarding the use of the internet for funeral planning in the UK is gained from the findings of the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) 2019 Funerals Market Study.
The CMA’s findings stand in quite stark contrast with those concerning daily internet usage in the UK. While the ONS found that 81% of the British population use the internet to ‘find information about goods and services’, the CMA found that only 4% of respondents spontaneously said that they had used the internet to ‘find information about the funeral director they used’. This figure increased to 19% when respondents were prompted specifically to comment on their use of the internet.
Hence, the discrepancy between popular use of the internet in the UK and its use for funeral planning is quite extreme: four-fifths of Britons use the internet to find information about goods and services but less than one-fifth used the internet to find information about the funeral director they used. But why is this the case? And will this change in the future?
Our work in the DiDe consortium explores the role of technology in the planning and facilitation of funerary services in more depth, so keep an eye on the DiDe blog and our research outputs page to discover our developing research into these important questions!
*** The content of this blog has been adapted from the final chapter of Georgina Robinson’s PhD thesis, available online: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/15085/.
Co-op. 2019. Burying Traditions: The Changing Face of UK Funerals.
Davies, D. & Robinson, G. (forthcoming).
Office for National Statistics. 2020a. Internet Access - Households and Individuals, Great Britain: 2020.
SunLife. 2023. Cost of Dying Report 2023: A comprehensive view of funeral costs and attitudes to funerals over time. Birmingham: SunLife.
The Competition and Markets Authority. 2019. Funerals market study: Final report and decision on a market investigation reference. London: CMA.