A Business to Die-For

Discussion
May 04, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Costco thinks there’s money to be made in dying. Go to the warehouse club’s Web site and scroll down the product categories for sale listings until you come to the link for urns & caskets. (Click here.)


The company has been offering caskets for sale at prices well below what consumers are charged by funeral homes. It is now following suit by selling funeral urns between $64.99 and $89.99 compared to the $250 to $600 often charged by funeral homes.


Costco, said Renaissance Urn Company, in selling funeral urns, is demonstrating its commitment to its customers by focusing on their real life (or afterlife as it may be). “Today many families are choosing to scatter their loved ones and often they need to travel via airplane to different parts of the country or world to do so.”


Moderator’s Comment: What do you think of Costco’s expansion into online sales of funeral urns? How will the company’s push into this business impact
the funeral store industry? Will other mainstream retailers follow Costco’s lead?


We think it was Mark Twain who said, “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”


Dying is an expensive proposition. Although it does weird us out some, we have to congratulate Costco for addressing the real need to make burying or cremating
a loved one more affordable.


We personally know of at least one woman who donated her body to a medical school, in part because of what it would save her family in funeral home and
related expenses.

George Anderson – Moderator

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10 Comments on "A Business to Die-For"


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MARK DECKARD
Guest
MARK DECKARD
15 years 10 months ago

Since each day Costco is host to thousands of customers just DYING TO GET IN, it might make sense to serve that customer base with an ETERNALLY expanding set of choices for every phase of life, such as diapers and formula for infants through Depends and Ensure for the other end of the spectrum.

So naturally, why not an honorary last purchase for those loyal Costco diehards, departed to that big warehouse club in the sky (pre-registered members only).

Make mine Kirkland brand, but no product sampling please.

Time will tell if this experiment will be heaven or hell, but something tells me it won’t be dead on arrival.

How about a prepaid funeral with that 96 pack of toilet paper?

Anyone?…Anyone?…

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 10 months ago
The funeral business is highly competitive. The average funeral costs between $5500 and $6000. The fixed and variable costs eat into this heavily and they might only make $2,000 profit per funeral. For a small 3 partner funeral home, they must crank out 150 funerals a year just so they can gross $100k each. Considering all the work that goes into pulling off each event, it really is not too financially rewarding. Buying an urn at Costco is fine with me. You can buy an urn almost anywhere. However, buying a casket that is not approved by a funeral home — I highly discourage. Each funeral is a living advertisement for the funeral home. If the funeral home must display a body in a cheap, poorly made coffin, it reflects poorly on the funeral director. My advice is to negotiate with the funeral director. Just like buying a car, you will be better off bargaining at the car dealership than trying to buy one through Costco. I doubt caskets at Costco will catch on. All… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

This is such a taboo subject, one that so many people prefer not to plan for or think about until it happens to them. But trying to make arrangements at the time when you are at your most vulnerable isn’t ideal either. I completely agree that seeing the caskets and urns in the store when you’re doing other shopping can be difficult and appear insensitive, but making them available via the website for those who want them seems sensible to me.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 10 months ago

Urns & caskets, a category with 100% market penetration. Average transaction exceeds $100. No returned purchases or returning purchasers. Sounds like a good business proposition.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 10 months ago

This makes perfect sense, and the article says the urns are available for order from the web site, so the store atmosphere is not necessarily growing more morbid. Attitudes about death vary, and certainly the cost is astronomical considering what you’re actually doing. Spending an appropriate amount of money on a temporary container will be very appealing to many people.

My only real question is whether you have to buy these things in large shrink-wrapped “value packs” of six! 😉

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
15 years 10 months ago

It causes me to shiver and squirm

To tread by chance upon a worm.

So to RetailWire readers I yearn,

Let Costco put us in a cheaper urn.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
15 years 10 months ago

Appears to be very inconsistent with its current business strategy. Of course, if Costco has done research to validate, or there is a merger possibility, then this move may be good. Hmmmmm

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
15 years 10 months ago

The urns and caskets, while disturbing to some, are simply another commodity that Costco can offer to members at a discounted price. Why not do it if the numbers justify it–especially if you’re only doing it online and not in the stores?

I’d hate to see them selling the items next to the topsoil. Doesn’t exactly fit with their strategy. But Costco, for all the moaning and complaining of Wall Street’s eminent analyst community, is successful because it constantly evolves. This is another step in that evolution.

David Lotterer
Guest
David Lotterer
15 years 10 months ago

Maybe I’m too sentimental, but I don’t think of running down to Costco when a loved one has died. To me it sounds like a scene out of the next “Weekend at Bernie’s.” What an odd sight to see someone checking out with one of those big carts piled high with cases of soft drinks, jumbo cereal boxes, four tires and a casket.

I see it as adding an odd mood to the store environment, which could have an effect on other spending. There are a lot of items that I would think would be a better fit.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
15 years 10 months ago

I am totally turned off by this. What’s next? Discount funerals? While I agree that funeral homes may be making too high a margin on these things, its hard for me to embrace buying caskets or urns at a club store. Will the funeral home charge more for their services if you bring your own casket? If they do and make up the loss of margin on the casket, what’s the point? Do you rent a truck to haul your own casket to the funeral home and, if so, doesn’t that have to come out of the savings? Or will they fit in the average SUV or van? Do you buy ahead on them when they are on sale? Maybe you pick out your own and store it until you need it? Tarnishes my otherwise high opinion of Costco.

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