Price transparency: the case is clear

words: Gordon Swan, Golden Charter

The weight of evidence that Independents have maintained low pricing compared to larger chains seems to be growing by the day.

First, in 2016 and 2017, SAIFCharter commissioned two instalments of third-party research into Independents’ prices and compared the findings to publicly available figures for Co-op Funeralcare.

Both studies found Independents to be the lower priced option, by an average of more than 10% – and that gap more than doubled when looking at the price without disbursements. The project echoed historical research commissioned by SAIF, suggesting this has long been the case.

In September 2018, Royal London’s funeral costs report bolstered those findings, saying Independents “charge on average around 10% less than the large corporates”. Now, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has added its research to the pile.

Its interim report towards the end of 2018 (see page 32-33) said: “While some smaller funeral directors have sought to keep their prices low, other providers – the larger chains in particular – have implemented policies of consistently high year-on-year price increases.”

That puts you in the driving seat when it comes to price transparency: when Independents’ prices are fair and offer good value, making that as obvious as possible to families can only be a good thing.

The case for transparency

SAIF already calls for online pricing, having said in response to the CMA’s report: “We have been urging all our members with websites to display their costs digitally.

“The public would benefit from more information about how to arrange a funeral, covering quality and costs. We think the trade associations could play an invaluable role in assisting Government in this area.”

While surveying a sample of SAIFCharter members in October showed two thirds of respondents believed their at-need prices were prominent, independent assessment of the sites found that in fact less than a quarter had prices which were easy to find. So not only must Independents and plan providers alike be sure to display prices online, it is also important to consider whether our views of what is “prominent” are reasonable to the average person.

A sample or headline price might not be enough for today’s consumers: they expect to be able to readily access information they can use to make a detailed comparison.

This kind of transparency can be easier said than done, and it is worth looking beyond your own site for ways to make your offering clear to families. is already looking at the best way to help you display prominent pricing. In-house research into browsing habits on the site shows that over a third end their search and look elsewhere when they can’t find a price. Families’ expectations are becoming clear, and we have to take that into account across everything we do.

Transparency is increasingly a necessity more than a choice. While the CMA had some positive words for Independents, you will be held to a high standard when any regulatory regime takes hold. In a space as varied as yours, maintaining truly transparent pricing will deliver dividends in the long run while safeguarding your reputation locally.

Outside pressures

Online comparison sites have been using cost as a marketing lever, while councils of course have their own interest in funerals. Stirling Council is the latest to reveal plans that would have a big impact on local funeral directors. A recent report suggested the council could create a £1,800 funeral service which would not only see it dealing with the arrangements normally carried out by funeral directors, but also see local funeral directors providing “specific aspects of the service”, in what the Stirling Observer terms a “potential moneyspinner” for the council.

On a broader scale, according to the Cremation Society, local authorities have overseen an average 11% price increase between 2017 and 2018, significantly higher than any private operator’s increase.

As these different parties make their moves, it is important that you as Independents stay at the centre of changes in the funeral market. Your own reaction will mean the difference between the independent sector leading change and being buffeted by the pace of others’ changes.

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