What the Funeral Home Industry Doesn't Want You to Know About Caskets
In the collective imagination, the funeral industry seems above the predatory techniques employed other sales-oriented businesses. We assume funeral directors have a mourning family’s best interests at heart.
In reality, funeral homes are businesses just like any other, and funeral home directors are skilled salespeople who are looking to turn a profit. Caskets are a central element to the funeral service, and are therefore a prime opportunity for funeral homes to overcharge and up sell.
Here’s a closer look at what the modern funeral industry doesn’t want you to know about buying a casket, and how you can avoid paying a huge markup.
- The funeral industry is big business. Death care is a $15 billion industry, most of it dominated by a handful of huge companies. Perhaps the largest of these is Service Corporation International, which owns thousands of funeral homes across the country. Its large market share enables it to jack up the price of its services. As of 2013, 73 of the 100 most expensive funeral homes in America were owned by SCI. Their goal is to make a profit, and only secondarily to guide families towards the most appropriate goods and services.
- Caskets are usually sold at a huge mark up. The average funeral costs between $8,000 and $10,000, and caskets are the single most expensive item, often making up half or more of that total cost. At funeral homes, they can be sold for up to 700% over the wholesale price. Gaskets are often used to jack up the price as well, marketed as a way to preserve the remains of a loved one forever. This claim is false. Although gaskets may be necessary to transport remains across state lines, they cannot forever halt the natural process of decay.
- Funeral homes use sales tactics like any other business. The funeral industry has a major advantages over other sales-based businesses. While many consumers familiarize themselves with cars or furniture before making a major purchase, the purchase of a casket is often unexpected. Funerals directors may attempt to take advantage of a family’s grief, equating the price of a casket to their love of the deceased. A funeral home employee may tell you the amount “the average person” pays for a casket -- this is of course to force you to buy above that price. No one wants to feel like they’re giving their loved one a less than average burial, so this technique is often effective.
- You can comparison shop. Industry research has shown that most people will choose one of the first three caskets shown to them, so funeral home directors show the highest priced options to the family first. Less expensive caskets may be displayed only in a back storeroom, and/or painted purposefully strange colors so families are forced to buy a more expensive model. The good news is that under the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule, funeral homes are required to provide customers with a full price list of the caskets offered. Many also save money by getting quotes from multiple funeral homes and comparing the prices.
- You only have to pay for what you want. Another provision of the Funeral Rule is that families are allowed to only pay for the goods and services they want -- they cannot be forced into purchasing a larger and more expensive funeral “package”. The Funeral Rule also prohibits funeral homes from making claims that gaskets will preserve remains indefinitely.
- You can buy a casket online. Since the rise of the internet and the 2008 recession, many smaller companies have begun to offer more transparent and less expensive alternatives to the traditional funeral home business. One important provision of the Funeral Rule is that funeral homes must accept caskets purchased elsewhere, and are not allowed to charge any additional fees on them. This means that families can find beautiful, well-made, and sustainable caskets on the internet for a fraction of what they would pay at a funeral home.
There is hope for families seeking less expensive alternatives, and it starts with knowing their rights. Familiarize yourself with the Funeral Rule, and compare the prices of several different funeral homes and vendors before making a final decision.
Choosing a casket can be as easy as logging online and comparing options with full transparency. Families should never have to choose been quality and affordability for their loved ones, and with these tips and guidelines, they don’t have to.