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Resurrection of Competition in the Funeral Industry: Potential Online Price List Requirement

Funerals can be both emotionally and financially draining on a deceased’s loved ones. When planning a funeral, there are numerous expenses involved – including embalming, caskets, flowers, use of the funeral home, burial plots, headstones, etc. It is very common that loved ones do not shop around when purchasing these items, but rather buy from the first funeral home they are in contact with. Even if consumers attempted to compare prices of funeral homes, they likely will not be able to locate the prices of these items on a funeral home’s website.

This is because funeral homes are only required to produce prices over the phone pursuant the “The Funeral Rule,” a rule enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) promulgated in 1984. This rule has not been updated since the advent of the Internet, and therefore, does not require funeral homes to furnish their prices online. In fact, most funeral homes do not provide their price lists online. According to a study conducted by the Funeral Consumers Alliance (“FCA”) and Consumer Federation of America (“CFA”), only approximately 25% of funeral homes produced a price list on their website. The likely reason for this lack of publication is that the funeral industry is well-aware that consumers are unlikely to compare prices and therefore, it is most advantageous to the industry to not make price lists readily available. Multiple major news sources, such as the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, have picked up on this seemingly unethical practice and published suggested practices for funeral consumers. Some suggestions include: set a budge, spend wisely, and don’t be afraid to negotiate with funeral homes, if possible.

However, change is on the horizon. In this past July, the FCA and CFA produced a proposal to the FTC that would require funeral homes nationwide to publish their price lists online. This would create at least some competition within the funeral industry, explained CFA executive director, Stephen Brobeck. He noted that posting prices online typically “intensifies competition, drives down prices, and improves services.” The FTC has yet to act on this proposal, but in order to protect consumers, one can only hope that competition in the funeral industry is brought back from the dead.

Kelsey Mellan


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