I don’t think your hearing aid sales are coming back
I have found myself in the unusual position of dancing around a subject lately. Typically, my friends, associates and enemies will happily tell you, I have no issue broaching a topic or making a statement that does not concur with the broader view. In recent articles of the new normal, I have danced around an issue mainly because of the sensitivities around it. I understand that people are facing a challenging time, and that hope is essential. However, we need to balance hope with intelligent observation to plan a strategy to continue in business.
I hate being the bearer of ill tidings, and that is how I have felt often over the last month. I tend to be generally a logical person, except for when someone drinks my Captain Morgans. That there is a fighting offence, no logic involved. Many people see the current situation as a passing one. Once the lockdown is over, we will all be back to normal within defined parameters of course. I, unfortunately, do not see that as a realistic belief. I don’t think your hearing aid sales are coming back.
I don’t think that we will open up in a couple of weeks and continue to see our projected units sold. I do believe that we will continue to sell some hearing aids, but unless we look at strategies completely beyond that which we accept as the norm, it may not even be a third of what we sold last year globally. I want to explain why I believe that to be the case. I also want to explain why it is essential that we accept it and plan for it.
People are basing the concept of a return to regular business in hearing healthcare on the fact that governments will lift restrictions of movement and our prospective customers will come flooding back. I think this idea is half right; I do believe we will see a considerable amount of ear wax removal when we re-open. I also think we will see plenty of our existing customers returning or looking for some level of service. However, I don’t believe we will see the same level of new hearing aid customers we would typically expect to see for some time.
Let’s talk about why I am right (that’s Irish humour by the way, not that there is any reason for comedy). I see two reasons why new prospective hearing aid users will not be coming to see us; the first reason is impetus or motivation, and the second reason is fear. Let’s take a look at that in more detail.
The impetus or motivation to begin the journey to better hearing is usually driven by performance or lack of it in social situations. People get into their usual social situations and find they are left out of the conversation. Eventually, the motivation to do something builds and they, or their loved ones, make an appointment to see us. There are other situations where they have some problems, but the main issues are always noisy situations.
No Social Events
There will be no social events typical of our cultures for some time to come. Sunday lunch in the pub, meeting your friends for a drink on a Friday night. Brunch with the girls on a Thursday morning. Going down the club with the lads to have a natter. Attending a sporting event on a Saturday or Sunday with 40,000 others. None of these things will happen for quite a long time.
Social Distancing is Here to Stay
Social distancing, the act of keeping as far away from someone else as possible will continue for quite a while. Even if respective governments order the use of masks, they will still push social distancing as a requirement. That will occur for some time to come. What then will be the impetus, the motivation to get hearing aids? The answer to the prospect is that I only have problems in these areas, and I am not experiencing them at the minute. I generally get on well enough.
Afraid To Socialise?
The longer these things go on, the more ingrained the habit becomes. I think the restrictions that we live under and the underlying fear of this virus will change the outlook of many people. This crisis is having a direct psychological effect on all of us. It may be the case that people will begin to fear crowded spaces and continue to do so until there is a cure or a vaccine. This pandemic could have a dramatic effect on social interaction and outlook moving forward and for years.
It could certainly have that effect on older people who know they are at heightened mortality risk. If I am correct, the underlying fear, whether conscious or not, will further work to keep the motivation low. If there isn’t a huge problem, why risk another trip out?
A Survey For That
In a recent survey of 1,066 Britons between the age of 18 to 75 undertaken by Ipsos Mori (1), showed that more than 60% would be uncomfortable returning to bars and restaurants, using public transport or going to a large gathering such as a sporting event. Over 40% would still be reluctant to go to the shops or send their children to school, and over 30% would be worried about going to work or meeting friends.
The survey also found that the vast majority of Britons were complying with the lockdown. They were doing so not because they had been ordered to by the government, but because they were afraid. Afraid that they may catch or spread the virus.
Updated 02/05: With thanks to Abram Bailey who pointed me in the direction of a
Research is Scant
I have been trying to undertake some research on the broader social and economic impacts of the Spanish flu. I am afraid that studies are scant; however, I did find an excellent article called Pandemics and social capital: From the Spanish flu of 1918-19 to COVID-19 (2). The report is worth your time for interest alone. It is well-sourced and has some interesting conclusions.
Concerning the Spanish flu epidemic, it had this to say:
“Measures of public health, general encouragement from the authorities and the media to avoid inter-personal contacts, and rumours about enemy spies spreading the infection beyond the lines as a kind of biological weapon created a climate of suspicion and mistrust (Alfani and Melegaro 2010, Cohn 2018).”
Furthermore, they went onto say:
“Overall, our analyses suggest that experiencing the Spanish flu and the associated condition of social disruption and generalised mistrust had permanent consequences on individual behaviour in terms of lower social trust. This loss in social confidence constrained economic growth for many decades to follow. These findings have important implications for our understanding of the economic consequences of different approaches to managing the COVID-19 crisis.”
While we are not worried about enemy spies spreading the virus, there is a growing divide within society between those who hold public health higher than the economy, and those that don’t. I think we already see a climate of suspicion and mistrust, certainly in the US which appears to be a fertile ground for it. What effect will that have on social confidence moving forward, especially framed within the impetus/motivation/fear balance I have discussed?
We are in fact seeing that right now in Wuhan, the pain and fear left by their experience have dramatically changed their social activities. If I am right, and I would honestly never be happier to have one of you tell me I was a Gobshite and slap me with a wet fish in six months, we will have to consider what we are to do to make up for falling revenue from hearing aid sales. That I will explore later, the one thing I will say is that I do believe if we could change the impetus/motivation/fear ratio, I think we will do better.
While ensuring that they understand the active measures we are undertaking in our clinics to ensure that they are safe will help, I am not sure if they will be enough for any but the most urgent or exceptional cases. For the rest, we will have to look at strategies that make it easier for them to access hearing care from home. For some of us, that may be unpalatable, I know it goes against the grain for many of us.
However, we have to be realistic; we have to ask the question, do we accept that we need to look at non-traditional methods to survive, or would we be happier going out of business? I honestly think the choice ma
- Ipsos MORI, Majority of Britons uncomfortable returning to large sport or music events, public transport and bars or restaurants post lockdown: https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/majority-britons-uncomfortable-sport-music-bars-coronavirus
- Vox, CEPR Policy Portal, Pandemics and social capital: From the Spanish flu of 1918-19 to COVID-19: https://voxeu.org/article/pandemics-and-social-capital
- Pew Research Centre: https://www.people-press.org/2020/04/16/most-americans-say-trump-was-too-slow-in-initial-response-to-coronavirus-threat/