In our culture, like every other culture around the world, we have a specific cultural, psychological and emotional response to grief. But it is these responses that are being used as leverage against the bereaved consumer.
We have a psychological need for a private reconciliation with our loss in the act of going to ‘view’ the deceased, we have a cultural need to honour our dead with a public display of mourning in terms of a funeral and the ‘quality’ of funeral reflects our love and respect for the person who has died.
Price packages vary from what they do or don’t include and costings for each element is entirely set by the company. There are also common practices that are used which may manipulate customers to choose more expensive options based on what is known about our psychological responses to bereavement and grief; these are the use of semantic fields on price brochures, restrictions and limitations and unfavourable terms and conditions for lower priced packages.
Prices packages play to these needs and uses basic language and structure techniques creating positive and negative tones.
It starts with the name given to the packages -the cheaper (and lets face it they still aren’t cheap) packages on a price list are called things like basic, simple, limited, they immediately communicate everything that we do not want for our loved ones. While the more expensive packages are given names with positive connotations of quality and full service such as traditional or full – more comforting and in keeping with what people want for their loved one.
Lower priced packages such as basic funerals often also have restrictions and limitations, they vary from business to business but they can include:
- Not being able to choose the date and time of the funeral
- The choice of time and day for the funeral restricted
- Not being able to choose the coffin
- No placing of obituary notices on behalf of the family
- Not being able to order flowers though the funeral director
- Not dealing with any donations on behalf of the family
- Additional charges being applied for the deceased being transported from the place of death to the funeral home outside office hours
- Not being able to have the person who has died dressed in their own clothes in the coffin – only a funeral directors ‘gown’ can be used
- The Deceased being placed in the coffin ‘in their natural state’ which means with no washing or preparation at all
- Not being able to visit the person how has died or given restricted times to visit
- Not being able to have the choice of purchasing additional items
- Not being able to follow the hearse to the funeral, meaning that there will be no funeral cortege
- No limousines offered and no options of purchasing the use of them at additional costs
- The cortege (funeral vehicles) not being able to leave from the home address
- Not being able to have a funeral service in a different place to the committal or burial. For example, there can’t be a service in a church and followed by burial at a different cemetery or a cremation at the Crematorium
- Payment terms and terms of service can be different. Such as, having to pay the full amount of the funeral before the funeral takes place, while more expensive packages will provide the client with an invoice after the funeral and ask for the payment within 28 days.
These restrictions are pressing on the needs of the bereaved and are the very things we need to enable us to grieve healthily. Some of these restrictions are inhumane like not allowing people to visit their loved ones to say goodbye, are indecent and unhygienic such as not preparing (washing & dressing) the deceased before being placed into a coffin and unfair such as paying the funeral bill upfront before the funeral has taken place for lower priced packages.
These unfavourable restrictions and limitations will almost force the bereaved to select the more expensive packages, while the bereaved often do have the experience to weigh up the practical elements of service, all they know is that the want the best quality, to have a choice and for their loved ones to be cared for respectfully. The lower priced packages often do not sound like they will provide any of those things but the higher priced packages certainly do.
How the price list description explains the same service(s) on different price packages will differ. Where describing the conveying of the deceased to the funeral home on the lower priced package can read ‘bringing the deceased into our care (from within a 10 mile radius of our chapel of rest)‘ and the exact same service carried out by the same people using the same vehicle and equipment in the exact same way is then described on the most expensive package as ‘you loved one will be respectfully conveyed in private ambulance with trained staff to our chapel of rest.’ This would naturally lead the inexperienced person – the bereaved – to think that there is a difference in treatment and level service, when in fact apart from additional charges that may be applied for restriction to distance, the transportation of a deceased from place of death to the funeral home is carried out the same way.
Explanations of pricing of funerals can be misleading too. For instance, two examples of funerals are used to demonstrate why their price differs – but they are incomparable as they are entirely different in terms of one has a coroner involved and one doesn’t, one is having a church service and one isn’t and one is using their local crematoria and one isn’t – with part of the explanation being given as the Doctors Charging for Cremation Forms, which is out of the two funerals is cheapest charge of the whole funeral. This makes funeral planning very confusing.
Funeral pricing practices have so many issues relating to transparency, emotional manipulation and no standardised base point; coupled with the inexperience that society has when it comes to making funeral arrangements and buying funeral products makes it imperative that pricing practices are specifically regulated and standardisation made compulsory in order to offer consumer protection.