In July 2016, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America joined forces in petitioning the Federal Trade Commission to revise its nearly 32-year-old Funeral Rule and require funeral homes to disclose their pricing online. Updating the rule is vital to protecting the interests of “one of the most vulnerable groups in the marketplace, the bereaved” the petition said.
The FTC Funeral Rule was instituted in 1984, when most consumers shopped in person or on the phone. It assured transparency in funeral pricing at a time when consumer protections were limited, and funeral homes were free to adjust their prices arbitrarily based on a grieving family’s willingness to pay.
The Funeral Rule forced funeral homes to allow consumers to forgo embalming services; to provide a la carte pricing; and to provide a detailed price list on all of their goods and services upon request. But because access to the internet was limited at the time, these protections only applied to inquiries made on the phone or in person: The issue of online pricing was not addressed.
Today, online shopping is the norm for the vast majority of American families, who use the internet to gather information and compare prices on everything from cars to TVs. Yet funeral homes have shown little interest in making their pricing models available online. In fact, only about one in four funeral homes fully disclose their prices on their websites, said Josh Slocum, the executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month.
“Almost all funeral home websites feature stories on how the funeral home has been providing caring, compassionate service since the days of the horse and buggy,” said Slocum. But they provide little, if any information about what a funeral will actually cost.
The petition comes at a time when funeral prices have reached an all-time high. The average cost of a traditional funeral — including a casket and casket liner and burial — is between $6,600 and $10,600, according to a Fox News report. Between now and 2019, when the FTC is set to revisit the Rule, consumers will spend another $50 billion on funeral services, the CFA reports.
Online transparency in funeral pricing will help consumers shop for the best value at one of the most difficult and emotionally changed times in their lives, the petitions explains. What’s more, online price availability generally “intensifies competition, drives down prices, and improves services” said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America.
“We hope that the FTC acts promptly upon our request,” added Slocum. “Grieving families don’t have time to wait.”