Funeral Markets Study – research findings

Fran Hall 3 Comments
Fran Hall


Last week, the Competition and Markets Authority published the findings of the consumer research undertaken as part of their Funeral Markets Study.

It makes interesting reading.

The research was commissioned from Research Works and Ipsos MORI as part of the attempt to understand the behaviour, experiences and decision-making of people who had recently engaged the services of a funeral director.

We read through all the findings and felt that there were some important points that should be highlighted. We quote directly from the research:

‘Levels of knowledge of the funerals marketplace were generally very low in this sample. Consumer knowledge about how to arrange a funeral was broad and relatively vague, but finding out more did not appeal, other than finding a funeral director to take on the task of making the arrangements when required.’

‘When they first started thinking about the funeral arrangements, most respondents thought that funerals were expensive.’

‘Broadly, the expense of funerals was accepted and not scrutinised at the point of need, as long as it fit with respondents’ ‘ballpark’ estimates. However, reflecting back on the funerals they organised, a small group of respondents questioned why funerals were so expensive and to what extent this cost was justified.’

‘Most respondents did not compare two or more funeral directors to help them decide which funeral director to use.’

‘… a large group of respondents felt under time pressure to organise the funeral as quickly as possible, minimising the time or will they had for comparing funeral directors. A large group also reported emotional distress as one of the factors for not shopping around, as they felt that would have added more burden at an already difficult time. The research also found that cultural sensitivities around funerals may make some uncomfortable to shop around based on price, as this may be perceived in negative terms (e.g. as putting a ‘price tag’ on the deceased or not caring enough for them).’

There’s lots more to read if you want a more detailed understanding of the findings of the research, but on the whole, it appears that:

Most people don’t want to think about arranging a funeral until they must.

Most people expect funerals to be expensive (well done life insurance companies and funeral plan providers, the media regurgitation of the astronomical figures attributed to the cost of dying and all those relentless adverts on day time TV seem to be working well…).

Most people don’t challenge the funeral cost that they are presented with.

Most people don’t compare two or more funeral directors before engaging one.

Most people are unaware that there can be considerable variations in the prices charged by different funeral directors.

Most people are unaware of ways in which funeral costs can be managed or reduced.

Many people feel pressurised to organise a funeral quickly.

All respondents wanted a local funeral director.

Most people would not change the funeral director once they had chosen them, even if problems arose in the service they received.

Pretty much what we at the GFG have been saying for years.

There’s little appetite among the public to think about funerals in detail, funerals are expected to be costly and the idea of shopping around between funeral directors is viewed as something rather not nice.

Bereaved people on the whole are uninformed, unwilling or unable to become informed for a multitude of reasons – and, even for those who want to be, unable to easily find the information that would enable them to be better informed.

We expect that when the CMA publishes its final report later this year, these findings will form part of the conclusions, and will add weight to the growing momentum towards some form of regulation of the funeral industry.

The conclusions of the CMA research are re-printed below:

“The research suggests that the funerals market does not seem to work as well as it might when: 

Consumers lack experience of arranging funerals. Those with experience of arranging funerals are much more likely to scrutinise how many services they ask the funeral director to provide, and the cost of individual elements, as well as overall cost levels.

The funeral is being paid for from the deceased’s estate and they have specified their wishes. The person arranging the funeral may not perceive themselves as ‘owning’ the purchase, so their main concern is with ensuring the deceased’s wishes are followed and they are not as motivated to scrutinise the cost. 

Consumers feel under pressure to move the deceased person’s body from the place where they have died (e.g. their home, care home) and subsequently make a decision about a funeral director very quickly, typically based on very little information about funeral directors available in an area. 

Consumers attempt to find cost information online. There is a perceived lack of cost information available on funeral director websites and consumers appear unlikely to use other sources of information (such as price comparison websites). 

Consumers are located in a rural environment, where the choice of local funeral director is assumed and prices are not discussed until after the event.”

Both funeral industry trade associations also published their responses to the research last week – the National Association of Funeral Directors welcomed the results of the research in a press release here. (It’s an impressive exercise in skimming over issues raised by the research, focusing approvingly instead on the points that people ‘overwhelmingly want to follow the wishes of the person who died’, and that funeral directors were chosen on ‘locality and previous experience’.)

A more considered and comprehensive response from the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors acknowledged some of the concerns raised by the findings and highlighted two issues in particular: the CMA’s claim that trade associations do not offer consumer protection and concerns over transparency of ownership.


  1. Fran Hall

    In recent press and blogs like this and the last one there is so much talk about prices and the perception of funerals being overly expensive and almost nothing about the quality of service provided, the time taken by good funeral directors to listen to and support their clients, the equipment and buildings we need to provide the right service. It really is ‘funeral director bashing’ time. How many of those writing the reports and articles deal with such potentially difficult and emotional things every day, are on call 24/7 and would go out at any time of the day or night including Christmas Day, have a huge range of skills and knowledge to be with people, know all the possibilities, own around £100,000 worth of building alterations, equipment, cars etc., and have enough staff to cover the very busy periods. Many independent funeral directors do not make big profits, but are more focussed on the quality of the service they provide. The big companies know it is a numbers game and they are doing everything in their power now to drive prices (and quality of service) downwards so that they can grab more market share and destroy the independents, this after spending many many years not passing on any economies of scale to their clients. The game is changing a lot, and it doesn’t look good if people only focus on price.
    You can’t get a pint out of a half pint pot. A funeral price war will not provide a high quality service to bereaved people.

  2. Fran Hall

    Yes I totally agree with you, most people don’t have experience or enough knowledge about arranging funeral services, I believe that people always try to find information first and then try to shop around to find the best deal for funeral services, I have been in contact with Far and Beyond funeral Directors in Stalybridge, who have a fixed price for funeral packages.

  3. Fran Hall

    I can identify with all those things the public don’t know and more besides.

    The biggest change for me would be if local authorities were obliged to place on their websites clear information about what to do (including the many options) when someone dies starting from the point of finding someone dead at home or them dying in hospital. It’s at this point that a lot of people appoint an undertaker to take the deceased to a local funeral home (or mass storage area somewhere in the larger area) without understanding all the possible options at that stage.

    Also, I’m wondering if the number of crematoria which are now owned by large companies that also do undertaking messes things up significantly for some of the so-called independent undertakers.

    Associations like the ICCM could provide more public-facing information too as they do indirectly get funding from the public purse as local authories pay for membership.

    Natural Death Centre does some great public information and helpline but I don’t know how many members of the public would be likely to find it in their hour of need, and if they did, it would be overswamped I suspect.

    ICCM has a list of crematoria by date of opening which one can find online – a lot of older crematoria have gone into private hands e.g. Birmingham at Perry Bar. Why is this? Examine whether it is right for more local authority crematoria to be bought by the big undertaking chains. Examine whether it is right for new private crematoria to be given permission to be built all over the place rather than running existing ones at max.

    I don’t think the aim should be the unrealistic one of battering down undertaker prices to a marginally profitable level. This will send independents to the wall – particularly ones who are having to pay high cremation fees at privately owned crematoria.

    Of course small companies that offer the full works in terms of expensive vehicles, readily available staff etc, have very high overheads to be apportioned across a small number of weekly funerals.

    Place a duty on local authorities to provide clear information including how to arrange a funeral ceremony with the deceased present in a coffin but without ever employing an undertaker and how to find the most reasonable burial or cremation costs.

    Place a duty on whoever it is that has to attend a death to provide signposting to this information too or a summary version of it so that the first thing that happens is not the bereaved phoning the undertaker.

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