Hearing Tracker has broken the news that Sivantos (formerly Siemens Hearing Instruments) and Audibene have launched Hear.com, a new online hearing-aid sales and support site for consumers in the U.S. The site builds on Audibene’s success in Europe operating its own online hearing site and presents head-to-head competition with Sonova’s HearingPlanet web site. Click here to read Hearing Tracker’s exclusive report.
Both Hear.com and HearingPlanet.com offer multiple manufacturers’ hearing aids along with initial telephone consults and referrals to local audiologists. The sites are a response to the Big Six hearing-aid manufacturers’ concern over how to attract first-time buyers of hearing aids, many of whom turn first to the web for information about products and services for people with hearing loss.
The new competition in the online market is an indication of how things are heating up in the increasingly complex world of hearing-aid distribution. Independent audiologists, who for years sold the largest percentage of top-brand hearing aids from Big-Six manufacturers, have seen their business erode from lower-priced competitors. Often these competitors are selling the same premium products from the Big Six that audiologists sell but are able to charge lower prices by combining volume wholesale purchase agreements with less expensive (and often less complete) service.
Costco is now selling premium Phonak and ReSound products at steep discounts from the prices charged by independent audiologists for the same products. And a number of new hearing aid manufacturers have started selling their products exclusively online at discounts to what audiologists usually charge.
Hearing Planet and Hear.com avoid the worst kinds of channel conflict by referring customers to local audiologists for service and paying a commission on sales, but the commissions audiologists receive are often less than the profits they make when selling the products themselves.
Like the other Bix Six manufacturers, both Sivantos and Phonak parent Sonova are covering as many of the distribution bases as they can: in addition to their online businesses and wholesale distribution through independent audiologists, Sivantos owns the HearUSA chain of retail hearing aid stores, and Phonak owns the Connect Hearing retail chain. Time will tell if the aggressive moves the Big Six are making to control their distribution channels will enable them to maintain their control over an estimated 80-percent-plus of global hearing aid sales.