Washington DC/Burlington VT — Today the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) and Consumer Federation of America (CFA) released a report showing that the nation’s largest funeral home company – Service Corporation International (SCI) whose principal brand is Dignity Memorial – charges high prices on their “death care” products and refuses to disclose these prices on their websites. For different funeral products, median prices are 47 to 72 percent higher at the SCI funeral homes than at other funeral homes.
“Consumers charged high prices undisclosed online are not treated with dignity by the many funeral homes operated by Dignity Memorial,” said Josh Slocum, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance. “Consumers would be wise to patronize those funeral homes that allow easy price comparisons. And the Federal Trade Commission should facilitate this comparative shopping by extending their required price disclosures to funeral home websites.”
Consumers strongly support this online price disclosure. In a February 2017 survey of 1,004 representative adult Americans conducted for FCA and CFA by ORC International, 78 percent of respondents agreed, and only 18 percent disagreed, that funeral homes should be required to make the price information, which they currently are required to disclose in person and over the phone, available on their websites as well. The survey was by cell phone and landline and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
SCI is the fastest growing provider of funerals and other death care products. Having absorbed several of the largest funeral home companies in the past decade, it now operates more than 1,000 funeral homes and cemeteries in the U.S. with an estimated 16 percent of total industry revenues.
SCI Funeral Homes Charge Higher Prices Than Other Funeral Homes
The FCA-CFA report is based on research of 35 SCI funeral homes and 103 other independent funeral homes in nine major metropolitan regions. The research tabulated the prices of three types of service found at every funeral home – simple cremation, simple burial, and a full-service traditional funeral with a viewing of the body.
The research found that the SCI funeral homes charged far higher median prices than other funeral homes in the nine areas (Atlanta, Denver, D.C., Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Princeton, Seattle, Southern California, and Tucson), as the table below shows.
|Other Funeral Homes
|Full service burial
SCI Funeral Homes Refuse to Disclose Prices on Their Websites.
The FCA-CFA report revealed that no SCI funeral homes disclosed prices on their websites. This was true not only for the 35 SCI funeral homes in the study but also for all others operated by SCI.
Moreover, a comparison of the prices of SCI funeral homes with those of funeral homes that did disclose prices, revealed significant price differences. The median prices of the SCI funeral homes, compared to those with price disclosures, were 30 percent higher for simple cremation, 32 percent higher for simple burial, and 50 percent higher for a full-service funeral.
“SCI funeral homes can maintain high prices in part because they fail to disclose these prices,” said Stephen Brobeck, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of America. “In today’s marketplace, most consumers begin shopping for expensive products by searching online. SCI’s refusal to disclose prices on their websites makes comparison shopping very difficult.”
FTC Can and Should Act to Modernize Its Funeral Rule by Requiring Website Price Disclosures
In 1984, the FTC issued a Funeral Rule that required funeral homes to maintain a price list of services that is handed to prospective customers and to provide this price information by phone. The basis for this rule is that funeral services are expensive products, purchased infrequently at times of emotional stress, which did not allow comparison shopping.
These disclosure requirements, while still essential, are of diminishing practical use to consumers because they conduct most product searches online. The Pew Research Center found, in a 2016 survey, that 82 percent of Americans examine online review and ratings when buying a product or service for the first time. A growing number of funeral homes — and a very large majority now have websites — disclose their prices online. But SCI, which makes available a website template to all their Dignity Memorial Funeral homes, refuses to disclose any prices on the websites of these funeral homes.
The FTC is required in 2018 to review the Funeral Rule. “It would be a dereliction of duty for the FTC to fail to extend their price disclosures to funeral homes websites,” said FCA’s Slocum. FCA and CFA will be communicating the results of its survey to FTC commissioners and staff as well as to members of Congress, such as Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), who are concerned about this issue.
Contact: Josh Slocum, FCA, 802-865-8300; Jack Gillis, CFA, 202-737-0766
FCA is nonprofit organization founded in 1963 to protect the consumer’s right to choose a meaningful and affordable funeral. More than 70 local educational groups are included in FCA’s national federation.
The Consumer Federation of America is a nonprofit association of more than 250 consumer groups that was founded in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.