Package deals that turn out to be less of a value than a consumer expected, prices that are hard to find or verify, centralized ownership that can seem pretty far from a local community and bundled services that don’t allow for much choice.
These are just some of the topics NPR covered earlier this month, when it turned its attention to funeral homes and the funeral industry in a two-part series. The portrait painted wasn’t flattering.
“In a months-long investigation into pricing and marketing in the funeral business, also known as the death care industry, NPR spoke with funeral directors, consumers and regulators,” said Robert Benincasa during “All Things Considered” on February 7. “We found a confusing, unhelpful system that seems designed to be impenetrable by average consumers, who must make costly decisions at a time of grief and financial stress.”
The reporters trained much of their attention on Service Corporation International (SCI), the multibillion-dollar company based in Houston that has about 16 percent of the North American death care market. Among the criticisms: opaque pricing and different customer bills for services, including cremation, that appeared to be essentially the same.
The series did not directly address sympathy flowers, or the relationship of funeral homes to either local florists or out-of-town order-gatherers.
Scott Gilligan, a lawyer for the National Funeral Directors Association, defended some of the practices outlined in the story, arguing that comparing different cremations was “like saying all weddings are the same.”
“Just like if I want a hamburger at a gourmet place, it’s the same hamburger I’m going to get at McDonald’s,” he said. “But it’s going to cost more because of the atmosphere, because of what is being done. It’s choices.”
Read or listen to the series, which includes an effort, detailed in Part Two, to make the cost of funeral home services more transparent to consumers.
Read about how some florists are working to successfully introduce — or reintroduce themselves to local funeral homes — in the April 2015 issue of Floral Management.