At the opposite ends of the buying spectrum are planned purchases and panic buys. Both hardly need definition, but my take on them is as follows.
Planned purchase. You know you need to make the purchase; you research the costs, value for money, quality and availability of the product or service. You get information online or from experts, friends and relatives whose knowledge and expertise you trust. Once planned, (or researched, possibly a better term) you make the purchase.
Panic buy. Something you didn’t plan or anticipate happens and to deal with the issue you have to purchase something at very short notice. You defer to other people’s expertise, don’t question the price, buy immediately…and often regret it afterwards because what you purchased wasn’t fit for purpose or value for money.
Now let’s look at the purchase of funeral services. In theory they should be planned purchases. (If you think you or your loved ones will live forever, stop reading here.) Once we reach a certain age, suffer from terminal or life threatening illnesses or feel for whatever reason the time is right, we have to address our – or our loved ones’ – mortality. And this, of course, includes thinking about the funeral.
And yet the vast majority of funerals are panic buys. Despite the best efforts of the excellent Dying Matters coalition, death and dying is still a taboo, ignored until a loved one has died at which time grieving relatives, in a state of shock, go to the funeral directors they have used before, or are nearest in the local high street, or whose marketing messages have been most successful.
There’s a good chance that the funeral director so chosen is part of the Co-operative Funeralcare group, whose venal, dishonest and disrespectful practices in exploiting panic buyers were exposed by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme on Monday 25 June.
While I’m fairly sure the programme highlighted practices that most Co-operative Funeralcare employees wouldn’t accept, the impersonal treatment of bodies and the desire to make the greatest profit is an inevitable result of a corporate mentality of money before service rather than the other way round.
Understandably, most people have no interest or desire to know much about funerals. Which is why it is so reassuring that trustworthy sources of information, advice and expertise exist.
The Good Funeral Guide is a comprehensive guide. The Natural Death Centre is ideal for those wanting to plan a natural burial. You wouldn’t expect me to ignore the wide range of advice found in My Last Song. (My apologies to those growing number of organisations not mentioned whose sympathetic advice on funeral planning also enables the customer to be better informed.)
As baby boomers – used to good service, questioning old fashioned rituals, less likely to be church going – increasingly address their mortality, a big change in attitudes towards funerals will take place. They will be informed purchasers, they will think about the environmental impact of their funerals, they will want to stamp their individual personalities on their final event.
The funeral industry, in the main rather conservative and distrustful of innovation, will have to deal with informed customers making planned purchases and demanding a very personalised service which will test the professionalism and business skills of many funeral directors.
The two conglomerates, Dignity and Co-operative Funeralcare, should anticipate this now and start providing a more imaginative and customer led approach because otherwise smaller, more creative companies will take growing amounts of business from them. It will be interesting to see how they deal with what will be quite revolutionary changes.