When Wal-Mart Enters the Funeral Business

The Funeral Business is About to Change

Wal-mart Funeral Business
by Idris Mootee

Will Amazon.com Follow? What’s The Latest Innovation In The Funeral Business?

Some survey stated that the average person’s greatest fear is having to give a speech in public. That’s not it for me, but I am sure it is for many. I remember one guy telling a story about how he when he was put on stage in front of 800 people, the dead silence was like death itself. Giving a speech in public ranked higher in the survey than death (third on the list). So, you’re telling me that at a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand up and give a eulogy?

The first baby boomers are entering their mid-60s, and the death rate in the U.S. is expected to rise from 8.1 people per thousand in 2006 to 9.3 in 2020 (according to the National Center for Health Statistics). Yet the traditional funeral industry is hardly healthy: The Federated Funeral Directors of America, an accounting firm for independently owned funeral homes, found that in the past 20 years, its clients’ profit margins have been cut nearly in half. Some 44% of funeral home directors, up from 28% in 2006, blame the increasing popularity of cremations and alternative burials for sinking profits. Some funeral homes have responded by more innovation such as themed funerals, from backyard barbecues to mini concerts.

The $11 Billion industry is forced to innovate when Wal-mart enters the business. Wal-mart has started selling coffins online at prices that undercut many funeral homes. People can choose from fourteen different models, from the $895 “Dad Remembered” steel model, to the exclusive “Sienna Bronze” model for $2,899. Why did Wal-mart decide to enter the coffin market?

Well, in fact this is a response to Costco’s move to sell coffins online (not in bulk thank God) with delivery within twenty-four hours. I guess people don’t want to wait for this category. I think it is a good idea. The funeral home industry is overcharging and often people don’t know what these things should cost. With Wal-mart you need only to pay $1,000 versus three or four times more through a funeral home.

The funeral homes industry has reason to be concerned. I am sure their argument is these funeral homes can provide full service (like gas station) and ability to provide comfort and empathy, but it comes at a price. If it works for Wal-mart, the next one to join would be Target. They would invite Stella McCartney or Phillipe Starke to design caskets that costs just a little more, but with a lot more style. Amazon.com will follow with online customization that you can pick your favorite patterns or engraved your family crest on it. And for those creative types who are big thing art lovers, forget the traditional wooden box, you want something very special. A company called Crazy Coffins can pretty much order any design you want. There isn’t a lot they can’t make. The bespoke coffins are made by two carpenters and costs between $3,000 and $10,000.

And when you decide to spend more on a coffin, may be you should consider an upgrade to Louis Vuitton or Karl Lagerfeld. And for those die hard rock fans, they used to sell a KISS goodbye with the “Kiss Kasket”. It is decorated with the logo and pictures of the band members; plus: it is waterproof. The Kiss Kasket went on sale in 2001 until 2006 and now it’s no longer available from Kiss’ website. I’d like to see a Beatles one.

Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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