I was going to wait for a major distracting event – a natural disaster, a royal wedding, the execution of Lord Ashcroft – but I figure this afternoon’s as good as any for burying good news, so here goes: the results of the research conducted by Ipos Mori on behalf of Saif into funeral costs (with thanks to all those moles out there who blew their whistles).
Ipsos MORI chose 50 towns across the UK and mystery phoned one of each in all of them: one independent funeral director, a Dignity FD and a branch of Co-operative Funeralcare. Not quite 150 responses, though. One Co-op branch refused to give a quote over the phone, one Co-op and one independent didn’t pick up, and one Co-op number was ‘unobtainable’.
The funeral quoted for in every case, with itemised charges, comprised: cremation; transportation of the person who had died from hospital to ‘chapel of rest’ (a fridge to anyone else); a hearse; a following limousine; time to visit the person who had died; simplest coffin; and professional fee.
The results are un-mind blowing, they tell us nothing we didn’t know already, but it’s quite interesting to see the numbers. This research will only achieve real value if its results are loudly and relentlessly broadcast to funeral consumers.
The average overall cost of the above funeral is £2648 (there are regional variations). The average Dignity quote is £2916, the average Co-op quote is £2675 and the average independent quote is £2353. In 40 of the towns investigated Dignity gave the highest quote; in 9 of them Co-op gave the highest quote and in… Yes, well done, you did the math. Inasmuch as Co-op and Dignity enjoy considerable economies of scale, they have to be making far more money per funeral than almost any independent. Instead of bagging tomorrow’s market today by flogging pay-now-die-later funeral plans, they could exterminate the independents with a brief but savage price war.
As it stands, the funeral industry remains probably the last in which the boutique, bespoke provider can do a cheaper job than the mass producer – where the Morgan is cheaper than the Micra. It makes no economic sense. But do independents do funerals better? It would take altogether more elegant research to establish value. This Guide has done no math on this, but tells anyone who cares to listen that the best independents do the best job by a country mile – and the worst are as bad as it gets. Caveat emptor!
I don’t go with the prevailing price obsession where funerals are concerned. I go instead with value for money measured by personal service, and I do think consumers need to be much more savvy. If Dignity, capitalists red in tooth and claw, can get away with charging that much, good for them; they are operating within the rules of the market. The Co-op, on the other hand, is answerable to its foundational principles and, I believe, falls far short of them. As to the independents, I have met many who are worth far, far more than they charge, and I wish there were a greater recognition of the value they add.
There’s price and there’s value. And the greater of these is value.