Please see the update at the bottom of the article.
When I said earlier this year that Sonova would drive DTC in Australia on Linkedin, I didn’t expect it to be so quick. However, Sonova has now moved forward with direct to consumer provision of hearing aids in Australia. The new hearing aids are being delivered online under the Sonova brand on the website, https://hearingshift.com.
The devices are typical modern Sonova style devices, think Hansaton, or Unitron. They obviously use the Sword chip considering their abilities and their accessories and replacement parts.
The devices are priced at a very keen $2,200 Australian, which is a relatively good price for starter hearing aids down under. Considering that equates to about €1,350, $1,495 US or £1,150 UK, you can see that it is a pretty good price for starter hearing aids anywhere with these type of features.
The website, which is actually a pretty decent one, states “SHIFT is manufactured by Sonova Holding AG. Support is provided by Blamey Saunders hears, the award-winning Australian experts in hearing health care.” In a later article, I want to dissect that website because it really is pretty damn good.
Part of an Omnichannel Model
I have said already that Sonova sees DTC as a part of a wider omnichannel strategy moving forward. While we all accept that consumers wants and needs are changing, none of us can be sure how consumers will react to changes or strategies designed to serve them.
Blamey Saunders has been a really strong test bed for a new approach to the provision of hearing aids. An approach that puts consumers in the driving seat. They have been successful with their model, more than that, they have ironed out all of the difficulties with the model.
Sonova will use that experience to drive DTC in the Australian market with their product and the support of the Blamey Saunders Hears organisation. I believe that depending on how the initiative takes off, they will look at a wider blended model.
A Blended Model
I think that this type of blended model makes sense for the hearing aid manufacturers moving forward. And I mean all of the manufacturers. While we will see several manufacturer’s reps over the next few days attempting to capitalise on this latest move. They are talking out of the side of their mouth.
They will all move forward with this channel if Sonova are successful. Ignore their protestations, because they are empty. This channel makes sense within the context of changing consumer needs and the technology available. While we can rail against the future, we can’t do much to stop it.
I firmly believe that 2020 is going to be a fascinating year, between this initiative and OTC in America, we will be witnessing some extraordinary developments in hearing aid provision.
A Bad Day For Audiology?
Is this a bad day for Audiology? I don’t think so. I think it is a sign of the changing times we live in. Will it mean the end of Audiology as we know it? Again, I don’t think it will, I do think it will mean a change to what we do and how we do it.
If you didn’t realise a change was coming, you really haven’t been keeping up. There are many of us who have been screaming about a focus on service. There are many of us who have been screaming about separating the product from what we do.
The reason we were doing so was because we could clearly see the changes ahead. We could already see that the product had become foremost in the mind of consumers. We also knew that this concept was destructive to our profession.
On the pages of Hearing Aid Know we have made no secret of the fact that we support consumer choice. We have also made no secret of the fact that if we felt there was a product that we could happily sell online to people who need hearing aids, we would. Up to now, that product has not been available.
The Right Product
It is clear to me at least, that we are most definitely not far away from that product. In point of fact, we never were, it was a case of one of the brands deciding to make that product available. All of them can do it, it appears that Sonova is the first brand to decide the time is right.
As I said, I want to write an article having a deeper look at that website and discussing why I think it is perfectly pitched for the audience it is going after. I also want to write a deeper article about this channel, the blended strategy and what it might mean for both manufacturers and the wider profession.
However, the night is late where I am, my bed is calling, and I am getting a lot less able to resist the siren song as I get into my dotage.
Update: This site strives to be fair and honest with everyone we deal with and report on. We are committed to that and the right to reply and assert positions. I have had an informal chat with a representative of Sonova and they feel that the Direct To Consumer tag really isn’t fair to them. They explained that for them, this is a simple case of their wholesale department supplying one of their captured retail customers with a product which is being sold by the customer. In much the same way that other facets of their business run. It isn’t a case of their wholesale department selling hearing aids direct to consumer which is probably the true definition of DTC. I see the validity of that position and I because I do, I am adding this update. In fairness to them, this initiative perhaps does not fall within the strict definition of DTC. I have raised the issue, and I will leave you to make up your own mind.