Focus Groups as a method for product development. The funeral market in Sweden

Seminar Paper 2016 33 Pages

Business economics - General



1. Introduction
1.1. Background case company
1.2. Results from module 2-design and module 3-engineering

2. Theoretical framework for business methods
Procedure when conducting a focus group
Advantages and disadvantages of focus groups

3. Empirical data collection
3.1. Secondary research
The funeral market
The funeral market in Sweden
Process from death to burial
3.2. Focus groups
Test focus group with students
Focus group with relevant customer
Relevant information gathered from the focus group
3.3. Interview with funeral home

4. Analysis of the methodology
4.1. Critical evaluation of the method focus group
4.2. Critical evaluation of the method interview

5. Conclusion

6. Appendix
6.1. Table of Figures
6.2. Design Brief of The case company, including company description
6.3. Survey results from the test focus group
6.4. Focus group questions
6.5. Survey results from the focus group
6.6. Interview questions with the funeral company and survey results
6.7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

This report is about the business methods. The report is based on the achievements acquired in the last modules. Suitable methods are needed in the business module to help the team move forward in their product development process.

Currently, the team has developed several concepts with different connection types and design styles. However, the team has no idea whether others will like this product. Without such awareness, the team would be blind to see the potential risks and shortages in the project. Thus one method is introduced to make the team aware of how potential clients or companies think about this product. The method described is a focus group. It is introduced in more detail in this paper to discuss the advantages and few disadvantages it contains.

In a focus group different target customers are gathered to discuss their views about the product’s materials, the designs and whether they would purchase this product or not. If they are not interested in buying the product it is of value for the team to know, what influenced their decisions. Since this is a very special product, not only the views of potential customers are of interest, but also the knowledge and experience of experts, such as funeral companies. Therefore an interview was conducted with a funeral company to validate customer opinions.

For detailed information about the discussed company and design brief refer to "“Design Brief including company description 4.1”.

1.1. Background case company

This project is conducted with a papermill. It is a local Swedish company that has a more than 200 year tradition of making stable, high quality paper products such as boxes and cardboard suitcases. Although the company has a glorious history selling their luxury paper products to all over Scandinavia, they are currently struggling to place their products on the market. The company went bankrupt several times throughout their history and managed to successfully restart from scratch. Today the case company is looking for a new innovative business idea to successfully re-enter the market of paper-based products.

1.2. Results from module 2-design and module 3-engineering

Throughout module 2 – design, the proposed idea by the case company to create a line of home office accessories was discussed and challenged. After detecting that the home office market offers little potential and would put the case company at high risk of failure, it was decided to take another approach. Ideas around the material of fiber board were discussed. Finally the concept of luxurious packaging was embraced. However, a specification of what to package was missing. The result was to package events instead of consumer goods. Several events that have a high impact on individuals due to either their life changing or traditional meaning were debated such as Christmas, weddings, birth of a baby and funerals. The project team decided to continue their work with fiber board based coffins. The decision was taken because of its innovative appeal, possibilities to discover a highly sustainable funeral solution and enter a market that offers exploration potential.

In module 3 the concept was developed in detail. A prototype was produced and the material of fiber board explored. Furthermore, the cost of material and manufacturing the coffin was derived.

2. Theoretical framework for business methods

In this chapter the method of focus groups is described as basic framework for this part of the project. The method is then critically evaluated regarding their applicability to the project.

A focus group is a method that involves participants in a discussion around a specific topic. It is often used to validate collected information (Grudens-Schuck, Allen, & Larson, 2004).It makes use of group dynamics while protecting the individual’s opinion (Threlfall, 1999).

Procedure when conducting a focus group

Focus groups can be conducted in small as well as large groups. Threlfall (1999) recommends to have 10-12- participants. This is due the fact that not everyone who signed up for the focus group will come. It is discussed whether a group should be diverse or homogenous among different authors. A homogenous group helps to compare the collected data from the focus group easier. Participants of a homogenous group share the same characteristics and have an easier understanding of each other’s views (Grudens-Schuck, Allen, & Larson, 2004). This can lead to more lively discussions. On the other hand diverse groups will be more confrontational and generate unexpected, diverse opinions (Kitzinger, 1995). However, the quality of data might suffer when the group is too diverse (Grudens-Schuck, Allen, & Larson, 2004).

Further points to consider when conducting a focus group is who to invite. When choosing the target group for the focus group, it is important to have participants that care about the topic and are interested to discuss it (Threlfall, 1999). Ideally they can identify themselves with the topic. It is necessary to consider potential users of the discussed product or service as participants. Kitzinger (1995) claims that it is of advantage to invite a group of friends as they can relate to each other’s believes more quickly. Furthermore they will feel more comfortable to share their ideas since there is no group hierarchy with one dominant person.

To create a participatory atmosphere sessions should be comfortable and relaxed (Kitzinger, 1995). The moderator can create a less formal setting by arranging the chairs and mixing researchers with participants instead of having one dominant person in front. At the beginning of the session the to be discussed topic should be explained by the facilitator (Kitzinger, 1995). The moderator should guide the discussion, but not interfere too much and influence participant’s opinions (Grudens-Schuck, Allen, & Larson, 2004). To increase the discussion flow the moderator should adapt to the participants and balance their contribution. It needs to be clear that participants are equally important and work together, not against each other (Grudens-Schuck, Allen, & Larson, 2004). An interview guide can help the moderator not to lose track of the goal of the focus group and intervene when necessary (Kitzinger, 1995). Depending of the mixture of participants questions in the interview guide will differ. They should be open-ended and stimulate the discussion (Bryman & Bell, 2011).

Participant’s anecdotes and experiences can be a rich source of information to researchers. The participants should not hesitate to give long answers and have a more natural conversation than an interview (Grudens-Schuck, Allen, & Larson, 2004).

Conflicts in focus groups might occur as well as topics that are touchy and taboos (Grudens-Schuck, Allen, & Larson, 2004).When choosing the participants, it´s important to consider that the discussion can bring private topics and they should feel comfortable to share them just as much as being comfortable not to share their private information.

As during the focus group there are so many viewpoints and topics that will be touched it is impossible to memorize all that information. To make use of the data, it should be documented (Bryman & Bell, 2011). Kitzinger (1995)suggest to tape or record the focus group.

Advantages and disadvantages of focus groups

An advantage of focus groups is the diverse insight into a topic and new thought provoking ideas (Stokes & Bergin, 2006). It can create a stimulus for the researcher to move forward. The speed and flexibility a focus group offers is hard to find in other research methods (Threlfall, 1999). Focus groups can be a source where ideas that no one has thought of before are explored (Stokes & Bergin, 2006) and unknown perspectives are discussed (Threlfall, 1999). In a group, conversations get a different flow in comparison to an interview. The discussion gets its own dynamic and interaction (Stokes & Bergin, 2006).

If a moderator is not experienced enough to lead a focus group in a way to get the data from the conversation that is appropriate, it might become more of an interview than discussion. Furthermore if the researcher is unexperienced and does not know how to make the collected data relevant for the project, the focus group becomes useless (Threlfall, 1999).

Focus groups are critiqued for their artificial set-up (Threlfall, 1999). To discuss a topic in a relaxed atmosphere might be different from real life were decisions are taken ion impulse or under stress.

Researchers need to be aware that opinions in a focus group might influence each other (Threlfall, 1999). Moreover they should not be certain that an opinion is an individual points of view or whether it can be generalized. A focus group is too small and specialized to represent society or generalize a majorities’ opinion.

3. Empirical data collection

This chapter documents how data was collected and which information was collected.

3.1. Secondary research

The funeral market

The funeral market is facing new challenges as corpses seem to take more time to decrease due to the human diet that has changed over the last centuries (Leidig, 2003) as well as the demand for looser regulations. This is especially true for the place of burial which is currently highly regulated in most European countries. However there is an interest to open the regulations and allow further places such as private gardens for burial.

Besides these factors there is demand for less expensive but dignifying ways to bury the dead. The most expensive cost of a funeral is the casket, which on average has a mark-up of 289% from wholesale to retail, but sometimes can be much higher (Boring, 2014). This demand asks for new materials for urns and coffins. One step towards the future is that the European commission has registered biofiber composite to the European funeral industry (European comission, 2015).

The funeral market in Sweden

The total European market size is ~4.600.000 coffins/year (European comission, 2015). The funeral market is one with a prosperous future due to shifts in demographics. Currently 20% of the Swedish population is over 65 years old (Central Intelligence Agency, 2015).

80% of the deaths are cremated in Sweden (Pharos International - the offical journal of The Cremation Society of Great Britain, 2014). Cremation can take place either in an urn or a coffin. Swedish citizens are entitled to a gravesite for 25 years once they have paid the burial fee. Gravesites can only places that are publically determined as such places such as cemeteries. The fee includes further services such as transportation, cremation and site opening. (Fonus, begravningsplaneraren, 2009). In 2012 the fee was 0,22% of taxable income (Fonus, fragor om ekonomi, 2012).

Legal matters are regulated in the “Begravningslag (1990:1144)” (Riksdag, 1990) The law regulates e.g. that burned ashes have to be buried within a year after cremation, or that a gravesite needs to be freed for the next corpse after 25 years. There are no regulations concerning the corpse contaminating the soil as the ide is “dust to dust”.

Process from death to burial

The dead body is directly transported to the hospital morgue (Fonus, 2015). Funeral homes do not take care of the corpse. Most funeral homes in Sweden are family owned.

The funeral home provides the services around the funeral ceremony. Unique to Sweden is the “vita arkivet”, which is a platform that allows people prior to their death to plan their burial. Once they decease the information is made available to relatives.

Embalming is very uncommon in Sweden whereas cremation has become much more popular during the last couple of years. (Farley funeral homes and crematory, 2015)

When an earth burial is conducted the coffin will be released into the ground after the ceremony. The coffin is carried by six people (Fonus, begravningsplaneraren, 2009).

3.2. Focus groups

The first step in setting up the focus group was to decide the number of focus groups, participants and actual set up. It was decided to have a test-run focus group with students and a focus group with participants that are more concerned about the topic.

The project team had to find out which information is needed to collect relevant data to go forward in the product development process.

Test focus group with students

The students participating in the test run were assigned to the project team. They were four students studying for a Master degree in Entrepreneurship. The focus group was set up for two hours.

Questions that would concern the end-user were composed for an interview guide and small survey. These questions included different perspectives such as the participant’s judgment on business aspects as well as their opinion as a potential customer. The questions and survey answers can be found in “6.5Survey results from the test focus group”. It also needed to be considered how to introduce the topic as it is a sensitive subject and not many people think about it unless confronted with the situation of death.

The company The case company was introduced as a papermill. The aim was to concentrate on the material first to open up the participants mind. The project team asked for thoughts and ideas around cardboard. The participant’s ideas mirrored the process the project team went through by developing ideas for cardboard products such as furniture, packaging or building material. The project team revealed then that fiber board is one of the boundaries for developing a product for The case company.

Next, the concrete topic to make cardboard coffins was introduced. The participants discussed advantages such as sustainability, price, etc. and disadvantages. They were interested in the customizing possibility of the product. One of the participants shared personal experiences from a funeral and that she remembered how costly it was.

Competitor products and the Solidworks sketch were shown to take the conversation to the next level. Here the different styles of coffins became visible. The students preferred a more traditional look.

In the end the students were handed a survey to answer questions around cardboard coffins and feedback for improvement of the process for the next focus group.

Focus group with relevant customer

Given that broach the subject of coffin is sensitive, the decision to do the focus group with participants that know each other was made. The decision was to ask a family member, which lead to doing the focus group with one of the group member’s grand-mother and her two friends to participate as focus group.

The focus group took place at the relative's apartment around a fika. It was important that the participants were in a familiar place to be comfortable to share their experience and opinion.

A cozy atmosphere was set up to help the three participants to feel at ease to talk about the topic.

From the previous focus group it was understood that students are not relevant regarding the current concept, because it was difficult for them to imagine the coffin they would choose when being confronted with the situation of funerals. Hence, it seemed more appropriate to discuss the topic with experienced consumers. They are closer to the topic of burials and have experience with being confronted to choose a coffin. Elisa, one of the group members, served as moderator when conducting the focus group. She decided to start from a general aspect by talking about the funerals, to finish with the specific product that is being developed.

To begin the session, the company was introduced and their products were shown to the participants. Then the topic of funerals was approached. The discussion started when the participants shared their experience with funerals and how they chose or would choose a coffin. Afterwards, the conversation was oriented around the concept of cardboard coffin. Next, some products of cardboard coffin competitors were compared to analyze what is appreciated or not about the coffins. Especially, aspects for the fiberboard coffin were discussed. The last part of the focus group was to show the fiberboard coffin developed for The case company. The aim was to have their opinion about the product to know how it can be improved.

Relevant information gathered from the focus group.

The first thing they said and agreed on is that they don't want an expensive coffin. They consider it a waste of money. Furthermore, they pointed out that cremation is more appealing to them. If the coffin is not good looking, they would use a beautiful cover during the ceremony. They don’t consider the coffin as the most important piece of the funeral. They are more concerned about the music and the place. One of the participants insisted on the fact that her coffin should be cheap, eco-friendly and simple. They are not interested in decoration for their coffin; however a traditional and neutral look is important for them.

When some of the competitors' products were presented, they disliked the coffins with flowers and a lot of color.

One of the participants shared her experience when she had to choose a coffin for her husband. She bought an expensive coffin, she explained, as she wanted the best for him. For her being generous was a way to show that he was important to her. Nevertheless, they said that the money shouldn't be wasted on the coffin but rather put into the other parts of the ceremony.

Being inhumed or cremated in a fiberboard coffin is completely conceivable for the three participants. This concept is very appreciated by them, as it's a cheap and eco-friendly alternative to wood coffins. When talking about the product developed for The case company, two of the participants appreciated the design. The third participant thought that the handles looked too “trivial”.

As a conclusion, it can be mentioned that they are seeing their funeral as a way to celebrate their life because “death is the only certain thing in life”

The results from the survey can be found in “6.3Survey results from the focus group”.

3.3. Interview with funeral home

The interview took place on the 17th December at E.N. Funeral services offices. A semi-structured list of open questions was prepared in advance. The interviewee has worked at the funeral service for 25 years with a wide knowledge of the market. To start the interview he shared information about the funeral market. It was found that the Swedish market has changed due to a higher live expectancy in the Swedish population and demographic shifts.

The Swedish market offers lower prices on coffins in comparison with U.S. Moreover, coffins were adapted to increasing obesity. Coffins are not the priority when arranging the funeral, indeed the first concern is the place, priest and music. The main criteria for choosing the coffins are price, color and appearance. The bestseller coffin is one of the lower price ranges, with a price of 4700Kr. However, the cheapest coffin costs 3000kr. Coffins that are not traditional are hard to sell. An example is that E. N. tried to sell coffins from Jacob Jensen and it has been a failure in sale due to the lack of traditional appearance and too high price. The interviewee recalled that the cardboard coffins were developed 25 years ago by “Rydens”. Nevertheless, the product has not been launched and will be released spring/summer 2016. Nowadays, customers are more Eco-aware, therefore E. N. offers eco-Friendly coffins. He expressed a positive perspective on this project.

More information was required about the funeral process. 85% of the customers demand cremation. The procedure for cremation is the burning of the corpse at 1000 degree. Nothing is left apart from the metal pieces.

Law regulates that after 25 years the leftovers of the coffins and body should be dug out from the ground.

The questions and survey results with E. N. can be found in “6.4 Interview questions with the funeral company and survey results”.

4. Analysis of the methodology

After having set the methodological framework in chapter two, method of a focus group will be critically evaluated.

4.1. Critical evaluation of the method focus group

In the beginning a test focus group was held to gather experience, refine questions and set-up. The test focus group helped to test whether the questions asked and the set up was applicable to gather valid data. It was found that the questions were precise and to the point. A survey conducted at the end of the session aided to give weight to different opinions on different components of the product. The questionnaire showed clear results. However, during the discussion it became clear that the test focus group did not consist of the proper target group. Therefore it was chosen to approach a more applicable target group in the conduction of the real focus group. The questionnaire and guiding questions for the moderator of the focus group would only be adjusted slightly for the real focus group.



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bwl product development Produktentwicklung focus group method Methode Methodik Fokusgruppen Interview




Title: Focus Groups as a method for product development. The funeral market in Sweden