Does Costco Really Sell Coffins? An In-Depth Look

As an experienced retail analyst and consumer advocate, I‘ve seen the ways that major retailers have expanded their offerings over the years. But even I was surprised to learn that Costco, known for its bulk groceries and vacation packages, has quietly become a major player in the casket industry. In this article, we‘ll take an in-depth look at Costco‘s foray into the funeral business and what it means for consumers.

The High Cost of Caskets

The death of a loved one is undoubtedly one of the most difficult experiences we face in life. In addition to the emotional toll, there are a myriad of decisions and expenses that come with planning a funeral. One of the most significant costs is often the casket.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial was $7,640 in 2019. A large portion of that goes to the casket alone. The average cost of a metal casket sold by a funeral home is around $2,400, while a wood casket averages $3,000. High-end and premium caskets can reach $10,000 or more.

Casket Material Average Funeral Home Price
Metal $2,400
Wood $3,000
High-End $10,000+

These prices can feel overwhelming, especially in light of the other funeral costs like flowers, obituaries, and cemetery fees. Fortunately, Costco and a few other retailers are helping to bring some much-needed price competition to the casket market.

Costco‘s Casket Offerings

Costco launched its casket offerings in 2004 as part of its larger expansion into the funeral industry. While they started with just two models, Costco now sells a variety of caskets on its website, which has a dedicated "Funeral" section.

Universal Casket Models

Costco‘s primary casket offerings are part of its lower-priced "Universal" line. These include:

  • The Mother Casket – $949.99
  • The Father Casket – $949.99
  • The President Casket – $1,299.99
  • The Frankfort Silver Casket – $1,299.99
  • The Lord‘s Prayer Casket – $1,299.99

All of these models are 18-gauge steel caskets, which is a mid-range quality level. The Mother and Father caskets feature a brushed two-tone natural and ebony finish, while the others have a more traditional polished finish in silver, blue, or white. The interiors are crepe with a matching pillow and throw.

Wood & Eco-Friendly Options

In addition to the metal caskets, Costco offers one solid wood option:

  • The Hampton Casket – $1,799.99

This casket is made from solid poplar and has a polished walnut finish with a white velvet interior. It is considered a more premium option.

Costco has also started offering a few eco-friendly caskets made from alternative materials:

  • Seagrass Casket – $1,299.99
  • Bamboo Casket – $1,299.99
  • Willow Casket – $1,299.99

These caskets are hand-woven from natural, biodegradable materials. They are suitable for green burials and may be preferred by those looking to minimize the environmental impact of their funeral.

Significant Savings

As you can see, Costco‘s prices on their casket offerings are significantly lower than the funeral home averages:

Casket Material Average Funeral Home Price Costco Price Savings
Metal $2,400 $949 – $1,299 $1,101 – $1,451
Wood $3,000 $1,799 $1,201
Eco-Friendly $1,500 – $2,500 $1,299 $201 – $1,201

Purchasing a casket from Costco instead of a funeral home represents a 45-60% savings on average. For a lower-end metal casket, the savings can be well over $1,000. Even for the higher-end Hampton model, Costco is 40% less expensive than the funeral home average for a comparable wood casket.

The Psychology of Casket Purchasing

So why are funeral homes able to mark caskets up so significantly? A lot of it has to do with the unique circumstances and emotional vulnerability surrounding the purchase.

When a loved one dies, most people are in a state of grief and focused on the many pressing tasks at hand. There is pressure to make decisions quickly to stay on schedule for the funeral. Families often feel that the casket is a reflection of how much they loved the deceased and may be hesitant to comparison shop or look for discounts.

Funeral homes are well aware of this dynamic. They know that most customers will make an emotional rather than practical financial decision. There is little incentive for them to lower casket prices when they have such a captive market. After all, few people give much thought to casket costs until they are suddenly forced to confront them head-on.

Costco‘s model is a game-changer because it allows consumers to browse casket options and prices from the comfort of home. You can take your time to consider the choices outside of the high-pressure funeral home environment. Even just knowing that lower-priced options exist can give you more confidence to resist upselling from funeral directors.

Shopping Costco vs. Funeral Home

Let‘s look at an example to illustrate the potential savings of buying a casket from Costco. We‘ll compare prices on a mid-range stainless steel casket.

Say your local funeral home offers a standard Batesville 18-gauge steel casket for around $2,500 (this is a realistic everyday price based on my research). The closest comparables from Costco are the President and Frankfort Silver caskets, both priced at $1,299.99. That‘s an immediate savings of over $1,200 for a very similar product.

But what about the less tangible benefits of buying from the funeral home? Well, for starters, the Costco casket comes with free shipping and should arrive within 1-3 business days in most areas. You would need to pay an additional delivery fee if purchasing from the funeral home.

As for warranty and return policy, Costco famously allows returns on virtually everything – even caskets. If you are unsatisfied with the product for any reason, Costco will pick it up and issue a full refund. Most funeral homes only accept returns in very limited circumstances, if at all.

Finally, it‘s worth noting that funeral homes are legally required to accept caskets purchased from third parties. The Federal Trade Commission‘s "Funeral Rule" prohibits them from charging extra fees or refusing to handle a Costco casket. So you can feel confident that choosing Costco will not adversely affect your overall funeral arrangements.

Other Casket Retailers

Costco is not the only major retailer to get into the casket business in recent years. Both Walmart and Amazon now sell a variety of caskets on their websites, also at significant discounts compared to funeral homes.

However, Costco has some distinct advantages over these other retailers. Costco has physical locations where you can speak with a representative in person, even if the caskets themselves are only available online. Costco also has a more established reputation for quality and customer service compared to Walmart and Amazon‘s relatively new forays into the funeral industry.

That said, it‘s still worth checking the prices and selections at multiple retailers. You may find a casket that better fits your specific preferences and budget. Just be sure to factor in things like shipping costs and return policies.

The Rise of Cremation

Even with the lower prices from Costco and others, caskets are still a significant expense. That‘s one reason why cremation has becoming increasingly popular in recent years. The cremation rate in the US has grown from just 3.5% in 1960 to over 50% today.

Cremation is generally much less expensive than burial. With a direct cremation, you can skip the casket purchase entirely and opt for a simple container for the ashes. Costco sells beautiful urns starting at under $100, a tiny fraction of the cost of a casket.

Still, many families value the tradition of a viewing and funeral service before cremation. In these cases, you would still need to purchase or rent a casket for the service. Costco does not appear to offer a rental option, so that is one area where funeral homes have an advantage.

Costco‘s Funeral Strategy

Caskets may seem like an odd offering for Costco, but they are part of the retailer‘s larger strategy to be a one-stop-shop for all of life‘s needs. In addition to caskets, Costco has expanded into other end-of-life products and services in recent years.

For example, Costco sells urns, keepsake jewelry, and memorial tree seedlings. They offers photo printing services that can be used for memory books, memorial programs, and more. Costco even has a partnership with a company called Smart Cremation to offer discount direct cremation packages.

When you step back and look at the bigger picture, it makes sense that Costco would want a piece of the $20 billion US funeral industry. They‘ve built their business on offering value and convenience to cost-conscious shoppers. Why should funerals be any different?

As one industry expert put it, "Costco is known for its low-priced, high-value products. The funeral industry with its reputation for exploiting grieving families was a natural target for disruption. Costco is meeting a real need in this space."

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, Costco‘s expansion into the casket business is a major win for consumers. By offering a selection of affordable, high-quality caskets, Costco is providing much-needed price competition in an industry known for markups and upselling.

While buying a casket from a retailer may not be for everyone, it‘s important to know that you have options. Blindly accepting the funeral home‘s prices is no longer the only or even the best choice for many families. In fact, the law protects your right to shop around.

Whether you opt for Costco, another retailer, or a more traditional funeral home purchase, the key is to do your research. Take the time to understand what you‘re buying and how the prices compare. Don‘t be afraid to ask questions and advocate for your consumer rights.

Remember, a casket is just a vessel – it does not define your love for the deceased. Focus your energy on celebrating their memory in a way that is meaningful to you and your family. And if shopping at Costco helps relieve some financial pressure and frees up resources for other priorities, that‘s a decision you can feel good about.