Casket Merchandising and The Hawthorne Effect

Casket DisplaynumberThe Hawthorne effect occurs when individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.  The concept is more simple than it sounds. People change their behavior when they are being observed. Where this applies to casket merchandising is subtle but important.

The profession has come to rely on a system of passive selling. Rather than assuming the role of professional expert and consultant we prefer to create physical systems to “sell” our customers. Our faith in these systems (called showrooms) is so strong that we have become ultra sensitive to any changes.  So, if we make changes the results actually occur in us and not in the customer.

Whether the result is positive or negative depends on our belief in the system. So, if you spend $50,000 to build a retail style room with special lighting AND YOU ARE EXCITED ABOUT IT your customers will respond in kind to your enthusiasm. and when you eventually get bored with it they follow your lead.

One funeral director prefers a Batesville style show room, another likes the Aurora electronic showroom. The results are the same because they are dependent on the attitude and belief system of the funeral director.

But none of that is my point

Physical merchandise is a distraction. None of us have ever heard of a family choosing a funeral home because of its caskets. Moreover, funeral directors frequently tell me that families often have no recollection of the casket they purchased months later.

Our preoccupation with caskets blinds us to the real value people are seeking.

At the time of a death humans naturally enter a state of “disequilibrium”. We call this state grief.  When people are in a state of disequilibrium their natural response is to want to resolve it. A large part of our role and the role of their social circle is to give them a safe and reassuring place to begin that process. Our ability to create that place is entirely dependent on our own skills…not the merchandise.

We have come to believe the merchandise is the primary value we offer. And, so, we downplay our service charges, link our fortunes to an item that is purchased by only 1 out of 2 people in North America and see no hope of ever recovering the lost revenue.

What is the solution? Realize that resolving the disequilibrium, providing a safe place and guiding people to a positive future is our highest calling and deserves the same effort and investment that merchandising has consumed over our history.

My friend Tom Parmalee once said:

Money is only an issue when value is in doubt

Our value lies in the people of this profession and their ability to help people restore their equilibrium.


By |2018-01-25T20:04:14-04:00September 22nd, 2015|Blog, Money: Getting it and Keeping it, The Creedy Commentary|10 Comments


  1. Mac Pugh September 22, 2015 at 11:56 am - Reply

    Alan, very true and a great article!

  2. Howard Beckham September 22, 2015 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Believing in your product and your presentation can be infectious to your client.
    I have seen it happen. Even a small “innocent” comment can influence a families decisions
    I believe that the presentation (showroom, Litho book, Computer) is not nearly as important as how it is presented.
    Another reason why training our staff(s) is an important and prudent investment to help us best serve our families.

    • James edwards October 9, 2015 at 1:58 pm - Reply

      Very important statement. But very true 100%.

  3. BrandMemorials September 29, 2015 at 11:32 am - Reply

    Excellent article, although we’d offer a slightly different perspective: in an age of casket conformity where families don’t necessarily remember which casket style they purchased only a month or two later, they regularly express to us their appreciation for one of our official Major League Baseball or Vatican caskets. Families have even told us how they moved their service to another funeral home because their original funeral director would not take the time to order one of our licensed products. We are grateful that this is usually an exception and nearly all funeral professionals will and do order our products for families when requested.

  4. Lisa Shannon October 2, 2015 at 12:32 pm - Reply

    Our merchandise experience is with handcrafted custom wood urns, selling mostly online. We learned that adding many ways to communicate, like a Chat window, an email submission form, and an 800# was a must. Families need someone to confirm that the merchandise choice they are making is a good one. Most are going through this for the first time and need that approval from us.

  5. Tyler Fraser October 4, 2015 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed reading this article, I think digital showrooms are great for many reasons.

  6. Silas Knight March 23, 2016 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    A few years ago my mother passed away. When we held a funeral for her, we bought a nice casket. However, I think you are right, the merchandise was important, but the way the funeral house workers treated us was even more important.

  7. Thomas Norrris November 5, 2016 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    I believe, from my own experience, that a balanced selection, however you choose to present it, is necessary. In caskets, for example, this requires a few high-priced caskets in mahogany, walnut, bronze and copper as well as some respectable choices in 20-gauge and a select hardwood or two. Create a fair “middle”. In doing so and, by emphasizing that merchandise which is in the middle, funeral directors should find that is where most people will select. In that mix, some will also choose above that middle and some just below. Once in while, one will pick the best you offer, so make sure it’s something worthy of what they’re already prepared to buy.
    Directing families to lower-priced merchandise because of our own price sensitivity is just as egregious as trying to influence them to choose more expensive products than they otherwise might.
    When it”s all said and done, the perceived value will be judged on the overall experience, regardless of the merchandise selected. Price issues should not come up after the service when the family’s perceived value is high. It is incumbent on every funeral director to strive for excellence each and every time.

    • Alan Creedy
      Alan Creedy November 8, 2016 at 8:08 am - Reply

      Tom, you might want to re read the article. The basic principle is that if YOU think it will work…it will work.

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