Federal Trade Commission apparently set to revise “Funeral Rule”

I’ve worked almost my entire career under the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) “Funeral Rule”.  The rule, for all practical purposes, required me to introduce “price” into the conversation whenever someone either called the funeral home or walked into the funeral home and asked about funeral, cremation, or memorial services.  It also required me to hand out itemized “price lists” in a format as prescribed by the FTC.

Originally, the FTC came to the “Funeral Rule” because it perceived, possibly correctly, that funeral providers were not always being transparent on the cost of services and merchandise with consumers or potential consumers.  That was back in the early 1980’s.

In mid-October the FTC held a hearing about “updating” the Funeral Rule that included many funeral profession spokespeople.  After the hearing concluded the FTC voted 4-0 to signal an intention to “Modernize” the Funeral Rule.  That may lead to “amendments to the rule”.  One of those amendments may require price transparency by stating funeral home prices online.

FTC Chair Lina M. Khan wrote the following in a statement about her impression, “Stories persist about consumers spending hours trying to answer the most basic questions about how much it will cost to bury their loved ones. . . .  In the internet era, it’s hard to see why anyone should have to physically visit or call multiple funeral homes just to compare prices.”

The Federal Trade Commission also commented that they had found that under 25% of funeral home websites provided a full list of prices and that over 60% of funeral home websites provided no pricing at all.

Service Corporation International’s (SCI) general counsel took a different viewpoint than the FTC. In his statement he made this comment, “Customers obtain the unique services they want, at fair prices, and with clarity about what they are getting for their money.  We (SCI) serve over 300,000 families each year and have seen no evidence that the rule is resulting in any unfair or deceptive conduct that warrants any changes.”

Here is a National Public Radio (NPR) article on the Federal Trade Commission hearing.

Funeral Director Daily take:  It’s not hard to see both sides of this issue.  The FTC perceives that consumers want the opportunity to shop different providers from the comfort of their own homes.  Consumers do that all the time — whether ordering books, clothing, or pizza we generally know the final pricing, including shipping before we make the “Purchase click”.  It is something that consumers are accustomed to.

Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

Funeral homes, on the other hand, look at the services that we each have to offer as unique to the funeral home.  We understand that the services one funeral home offers for its “Service” is not necessarily the service another funeral home offers for its “Service”.  Funeral homes see their businesses as “custom” businesses and not one that is easily compared to a colleague and their “custom” services.  Therefore, many funeral homes believe that they need to impart the uniqueness of their operation to a potential client family with more clarity than a price list can.

That seems to be the rub.

However, transparent information is becoming more and more a requirement if a potential client family is going to use your services.  Even something as mundane as an online pizza delivery order gives as much information as possible — including an estimated time of arrival for the delivery.  And, I can look at four different pizza companies in about five minutes online to decide what price and delivery time is acceptable to me.

I’m not saying that funeral pricing and marketing is as easy as it may be for ordering a pizza.  However, if a pizza delivery company won’t list its estimated time of arrival, especially if time is of the essence, I might just eliminate them as a potential order because the unknowns are just too much for me in that circumstance.

The same can go for your funeral home.  If a family looks at five potential funeral home companies and three of them have some semblance of price on their website that family may move forward to looking into those three and just eliminate the other two funeral homes without further investigation.  It’s a price, no pun intended, one might pay for not being transparent with online pricing.

From my perspective, I’m pretty sure that online funeral prices should be a business decision and not a government mandate.  However, if funeral homes don’t offer transparency in this way and the consumer public is wanting it, then the FTC will probably order it. . . .especially if they continue to have stories of families who perceive they paid too much.

I think from a public relations perspective that “transparency” is one of the watch words of business as we move forward in this online society.  And, it doesn’t really matter what business. . . .those who fight it are bound to lose business in the long run.

RelatedHow much will that funeral cost?  Federal rule could make prices easier to get.  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)

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  1. Kent Dorsey on November 9, 2022 at 11:20 am

    I know of a funeral director who had his prices online for 5 years, in the interest of disclosure to the consumer. However, he found that he could not find a single case where it assisted him, it only worked against him. You see he priced his services at a point that he could charge fairly for what it takes to run a 24 hour a day, 365 day a year business. His merchandise was not marked up by standards some around him used.
    A family, shopping online, did not know or realize to compare a funeral home with a $4000 service charge for a full service funeral and a starting casket price range of $750(and we gotta add in cash advances, sales tax, etc that no family will know how to compute) and he was consistently being beaten by other firms who had a service charge of $2995 but a starting casket price range of $1895… they did see the merchandise price or take that into consideration, so the $2995 price wins over the $4000 service charge because the average family does not know how to fully compute a funeral bill.
    In the world of funeral service, the consumer is best served in most instances by visiting the funeral home and eyeballing the exact merchandise and given clear disclosure of all prices to prevent misunderstandings.
    I once went to buy a television at dealer who advertised some really nice deal on a small compact television. When I arrived, the dealer said, “Well, that tv is not much, let me show you what else we have…” .
    Too much of that in our business, that is why when I speak to someone on the phone I encourage the family to pay a visit and see exactly what they are getting in merchandise, facility and staff to properly compare.

  2. Mark Thomas on November 8, 2022 at 2:52 pm

    Ohhh what a can of worms – 2 sides to every pancake – and I agree with Mr Forsberg’s comment above- IF the Funeral Homes are ” forced ” and its a Gov. mandate then so it should be for so many other professions.

    In business I have seen where an ” Internet Shopping Consumer ” – lets say is looking for a Boat – and is expecting to find the ” same-same” price when comparing a run-about 20 footer with a 50 foot Princess Cruiser – they are BOTH BOATS ! – and so it is with a Funeral Service …

    Unless the consumer has a 100% written and defined ” shopping list ” for the Funeral Home to work with so there is NO grey area- its 1:1 – Black and White – or its going to be a mess if you ask me. I mean even an ” Urn ” can vary $200-$500 – Spat out Resin Vs- Ceramic Hand made for instance – to a consumer its a Brown Urn – and then the consumer wants a cheap service- ” Just Cremate Him” they say – and yet another can of worms – would you like a Casket with that ?.. Cardboard dressed up or Solid Timber ?.. Seagrass or printed look alike = Carboard or Printed Carboard? ..

    … Ohh you just want a Body Shroud ?… O.K. .. – would that be a 100% pure Cotton Muslin Weave or Calico ?… WHAT – you will be supplying your own old blanket will you ?!!! – what ?.. the other Companies ONLINE PRICE offers a Gold threaded Shroud !… Ohh – is it Pure Cotton of Poly Synthetic Madam ? … blah blah blah… Gheeesh!

    Talk about a ” Crazy fishing trip” – a massive can of worms here for the consumer to fish/look/search for a nice Reef Fish – and hook a ” Puffer “.

    There has to be a middle ground somewhere – as it truly is a CUSTOM FIT for the majority and rightfully deserves detailed DISCUSSION with the pending client & funeral home/s… I.M.H.O – and as for other Professions Doctors- Dentists et. al. – bring it on Mr Forsberg- Im with you Sir.

  3. Bill Forsberg on November 8, 2022 at 12:28 pm

    Here we go again….

    Let’s publicly punish the funeral homes for not ensuring that consumers have a total OTD (out the door) price for the services and merchandise they are seeking.
    Nothing wrong with that but let’s have the medical profession join in at the same time

    Ever tried to obtain an OTD price from a doctor, medical clinic or hospital for an elective medical procedure ?

    Not possible.

    It’s the only profession where they have a name and code for it -“Surprise Billing”
    and they get away with it.

    It’s on the same plane as getting them to sign a death certificate within 24 hours.

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