2022 will represent one of those paradigm moments for consumers looking to purchase hearing aids. A year that will ensure that everything after it will be different from everything before it, in choices for purchasing hearing aids at least. The OTC regulations are expected to be finally released, which will mean that there will be an explosion of Over-The-Counter (OTC) and Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) options coming both to retail outlets and internet browsers near you. While I believe there will be many new brands involved in this market, traditional hearing aid manufacturers are going to get involved as well. Two recent events point towards what that strategy may look like. In this article, I will talk about those events, what I think you can expect from traditional hearing aid manufacturers, and why I think that their offering may be one of the best for the discerning consumer.
The Impetus For Change
The underlying impetus for change is the consumer wants, advocates have lobbied hard for years against the high cost of hearing aids and the controlled access to them. The Over-The-Counter regulatory process is a direct result of that lobbying. That movement, changes in technology and the expectations that the OTC regulations will finally be released in 2022 have paved the way for a radical change in the provision of hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing loss.
The two events I spoke about earlier are the introduction of a new changed DTC model by Sonova (HelloGo) in Australia, and the purchase of Lively Hearing, an online hearing aid seller, by GN in the US. I think they are both representative of the beginning of a completely changed provision model for the US market for traditional hearing aid manufacturers. I think that every traditional hearing aid manufacturer is looking at how they can play in that changed provision model as we speak.
While HelloGo and Lively Hearing are superficially different, HelloGo offers a self-fit product, the other, traditional hearing aids. They are both aiming to offer a similar provision model. A model which is being called a blended model approach. They offer the simplicity of e-commerce, a quick online purchase, with the peace of mind of in-depth virtual support and in-person, local support if you need it.
Have a problem with your new hearing aids and do you want to get those babies professionally customised? Well then go to your local retail store. That support will cost extra, but that’s okay because you might not need it. The key thing though, is that the support is there. I think all of the traditional hearing aid manufacturers will end up offering something very similar in the US as the OTC market begins to open up.
For the moment, HelloGo is only Australia, but you can bet that it or something very like it will be introduced by Sonova to the US market as soon as it possibly can. As I said, I think every other hearing aid manufacturer will do the same.
They will all begin to build their brand within the opening market. They will have to for two reasons, the first is that I expect it to be a large market that may even begin to erode or replace the existing market for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. The second will be that if consumers start with Phonak OTCs, or Starkey OTCs, or Signia OTCs, they will be more likely to consider that brand when they wish to upgrade.
Most if not all will move forward with the blended model. It makes sense for them and I think it makes a lot of sense for consumers. They all have captured retail they need to consider and the blended model is a bit of a unique value proposition. It isn't something that the likes of Bose, Lexie Hearing, or even Apple can readily offer. So it is a model that will be unique to traditional hearing aid manufacturers.
Good For The Consumer
The blended model is good for the consumer, it offers hearing aids cheaper at the point of entry, something that the consumer groups have been advocating for. It will offer self-fitting of those hearing aids in a simplified experience. However, it also offers the consumer the paid intervention of a professional if needed. That is a very good thing because it means that when things get a bit difficult for you, or if things aren't quite optimal, you can pay for in-person support and intervention.
On top of those benefits, you can pretty much trust that hearing aids from the traditional manufacturers will be both safe and trustworthy. After all, they have been in the game for a very long time and up to the recent past, they have been responsible for all the big breakthroughs in hearing aid devices. All the other players arriving right now, are completely new to the game.
While that doesn't mean what they have to offer may not be just as good, it does remain to be seen. In the next article, I want to discuss some of the questions about and observations of the upcoming OTC marketplace by readers. I think they are worth addressing and discussing.
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