Costco Phonak Brio

Phonak confirms that it will distribute hearing aids through Costco

 

AUTHOR’S UPDATE:  For more on this story, see my HearingHealthMatters.org colleague Holly Hosford-Dunn’s two posts on the topic at Hearing Economics and read the various posts that published on the Hearing Views blog. 

Curious about hearing aids sold at Costco? In November 2017, an overview of Costco’s current hearing aid models were discussed at HHTM’s Hearing Technology section.

 

By David H. Kirkwood

WARRENVILLE, IL—Jeff Newnham, president of Phonak LLC, confirmed to Hearing News Watch this week that, as had been widely reported on the Internet, his company and Costco Wholesale Corporation have reached an agreement under which the nation’s second largest retailer will start offering its customers a model of Phonak hearing aids, the Phonak Brio, at its approximately 500 hearing aid centers in North America.

phonak brio hearing aidWhen that occurs, sometime this spring, Phonak, part of the Swiss-based Sonova Group, will become the fourth of the “Big Six” hearing aid manufacturers to distribute its products through Costco.  Currently, Rexton, which is owned by Siemens; Bernafon, a member of the William Demant group, which includes Oticon; and ReSound sell hearing aid to Costco. Thus far, Starkey Hearing Technologies and Widex are not Costco suppliers.

Costco, which is based in the Seattle area, prices its hearing aids in the range of $500 to $1000, which is far below—50% or more–the average retail price nationwide for comparable products.

 

Costco-Phonak Hearing Aid Deal: Customers React Strongly

 

In online comments, some independent audiologists who carry Phonak hearing aids, have expressed alarm about how they may be affected if a nearby Costco store offers Phonak hearing aids for much less than they charge. Even though other manufacturers sell hearing aids through the Costco channel, Phonak’s decision to do so was particularly upsetting to some independent practitioners, who expressed outrage and a sense of betrayal.

In explaining the strong reaction, one audiologist in private practice (who does not routinely dispense Phonak hearing aids) said, “Phonak has always been seen as one of the premium manufacturers and is widely used by audiologists and dispensers in private practice. I think many audiologists in private practice fear that consumers won’t understand why a Phonak hearing aid at Costco may cost much less than one being offered at their practice, even though there could be many differences in features and models available, as well as the accompanying services that may be included in the overall cost of a hearing treatment plan.”

 

Reassurance from Phonak

 

Phonak was well aware that the decision to join some of its competitors in doing business with Costco would be upsetting to existing customers. Interviewed by this blog on March 10, Jeff Newnham and Kimberly Rawn, senior manager of communications and public relations for Phonak, said that the company is reaching out to audiologists and hearing aid dispensers to reassure them.

Newnham pointed out that the Costco centers offer a very different delivery model which appeals to a price-driven clientele different from the patients who go to a professional office that follows a medical model. He said that Phonak’s message to its independent customers is, “If you’ve been successful for years when there has been a Costco hearing aid center nearby, you have not been competing with them on price. You are selling the value of your service, your expertise, and the customized care you provide.” Therefore, said the Phonak president, the professionals who have been successful until now should continue to be.

Rawn said that Phonak’s decision to work with Costco was consistent with its fundamental goal of providing more people with the hearing help they need. She said, “We want to help all hearing-impaired people, including consumers motivated by price.” However, she said, “The independent audiologist will continue to be our primary focus.”

 

About Phonak Brio Hearing Aid

 

Newnham and Rawn both noted that the Phonak Brio, which will be available only from Costco, will be distinct from any other Phonak model. While it will use the latest Phonak platform, they said Brio will have fewer features than the higher-end models that independent practitioners can offer patients. Thus, it will be impossible to make a valid head-to-head price comparison between the devices sold by Costco and those offered elsewhere.

costco hearing aid center phonakCostco would not comment directly on an online report that it would charge $1395 for a Brio. Instead, Tammy Clark, director of training for Costco Hearing Aid Centers, said, “Phonak pricing will be consistent with the premium level pricing noted for all suppliers.” She added, “You can review our pricing on Costco.com.”

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Jordon Trent

Does anyone know when the Kirkland Signature 5.0 hearing aid will be refreshed? I am interested in a pair that interfaces with Apple products without any added accessories.

Tazz

Jordan, the rumor is – Kirkland Signature 5.0 will be out in a few months. And will have the Resound LiNX…ahem….Made for iPhone technology that you are looking for.

Warren

When you hear that Phonak’s “Costco” model will not have all the same features it concerns me that it might not include a T-Coil for Hearing Loop connectivity.

David

Hearing loops and Tele-coils are pretty much standard across the board today. I don’t think Costco would offer an aid without this feature. Now Blue Tooth and all their accessories is another story.

GT

I am heading to Costco..I am a small businessman and all my life I have had to be sharp and aggressive as well as wise to stay in business. Therefore I am always trying to find the best deal and save a buck. The hearing aid biz seems to be a huge rip off controlled by just a few companies who control this industry..It is appalling that aid’s cost thousands of dollars which many people can not afford. Their mark up is ridiculous and anyone that can bring down the insane cost of this worldwide rip off has my support. Go Costco

Fred

After all is said and done, why should i spend $8,000 for a set of Audibel HA’s with a blue tooth interface add-on when i can get a a set of Phonak with its BT interface at Costco for $2,900? why is Audibel charging almost $600 for a BT interface similar to the Phonak for which is sold at Costco for $220? I am all for supporting the “little guy,” but come on the price difference is humungous. How does one justify spending $5,000 more for essentially the same item? What is offered in the Audibel system that makes it worth over double the price of the Phonak? I hate spending even $3,000, but if its worth it, I will pay the additional $5k. So far nobody has been able to help me justify spending more.

Chris

I notice that there is some debate on this board about hearing aid dispensers (“fitters”) versus audiologists. Having worn hearing aids for over 45 years, I have purchased aids from both audiologists and hearing aid dispensers. I have worn hearing aids since the sixth grade in school. While some of the audiologists were good, I have been served by audiologists who gave me the impression that their education made their services superior to that of dispensers. Sadly, their service did not always match their education. One time I had them to send off one of my hearing aids for repair. Since I cannot function in the public very well without a hearing aid, I anxiously waited for the call to come pick it up. When they received it, they were so professional, that his staff called and set up a five minute appointment for me several days later. I needed… Read more »

Teri

I’ve worn hearing aids for about 3.5 years. My first HA is a Phonak, and although I’ve been happy with it, I’m not completely satisfied with the service and experience from my HMO’s ENT. Being ready for my next set of HA, I decided to give Costco a shot. The overall experience was so much better than with the ENT! More interactive, more specific explanations, found the right dome, etc. As someone stated below, my first set of hearing aids cost $4000 and came with no instructions other than how to put them on. I was not sure how or how often they required cleaning, etc. The overall Costco experience was awesome! The tech even found a better dome than the one I have been using! I ordered the Phonak Brio and am very excited I went to Costco. Plus, they have a much better warrantee.

Jeremy

You can’t just walk in and be served at Costco. You have to make an appointment. This can be done in person or on the phone. Their testing area also serves as an office, so it is, in fact, private. They do not, however, offer loaners if your aid has to go in for repair. My audiologist does. Yes, you are do doubt giving up a modicum of personal attention, but the the cost difference isn’t minor. It is, in most cases, at least half the price of a hearing aid purchased at an audiologists. That is a lot of money. I may be giving up features but the important ones are still there, as far as I can tell. Just a note, the lack of real technical information provided by the manufacturers or the audiologists for that matter has always been of concern to me. Perhaps, because they see… Read more »

mark Fisher

Where do you buy your contact lenses? The hearing aid business has always trailed eyeware and other business models. Now you can buy your lenses direct to your door. How cool is that. You are witnessing the evolution in your industry embrace it. The dust will settle and the good will survive and prosper. I see the client getting the programming software with simple first fit and and moderate tweaking buttons. How often now does the first fit target pretty close. quit acting like you all wnt to save the world it is business pure and simple business. So when you walk past the hearing aid booth at a box store smile and be proud you are part of the business.

28 years selling these 200.00 dollar items

Harry

I could not agree more! The amount of true, worthwhile information given on the hearing aid is truly lacking.
What is this whistling business? Why not just say feedback?
The literature that Costco hands out is next to worthless and the internet sites of the manufacturers are not much better.
Yes, I am not a youngster but I feel my technical expertise is in no way hindered because of my age, and as stated, I know more about my iPhone, MacBook Pro and iPad than I do about my Phonak hearing aids which six years ago, cost around $6,000.

David

Suppliers and manufactures use the same tactics as car dealerships and auto manufactures. make the product difficult to service, extremely technical, or advertised as such, and you drive the buyer to a tech person. Remember how out one time anyone could work on a car.

Remag

Getting info about cellphones is easy, but hear aids is no different than buying a mattress. The only info is superficial at best. I bought mine at Costco for under $2000, I was quoted $6000 for the same at the smaller sellers. As to service…….that’s what the farmer does when he brings the cow to the bull. I will be buying new HA’s at Costco for the same reasons as before.

Anonymous

So what you are saying is ALL Audiologists fit perfect? Do perfect audiograms? Fit perfect every time? C’mon…people were born, just not yesterday. There are many good Specialists out there. Yes, many bad ones also. But please don’t characterize ALL being good or bad. That’s why there are choices in this world. It’s called democratic. Maybe you would prefer a Socialist society?

Harbinger

I think it is unfortunate that the industry resists change and competition. The industry is changing because change is necessary to ensure growth and stability and the financial team at phonak realized that it could basically take a giant leap in its distribution by fitting at COSTCO. So, while the independents fret about it the cold hard reality is that PHONAK realized it could no longer rely on independents if it wanted to grow its business. Maybe that need for change says something about the independent model that we as an industry should look at very seriously, because it has left a huge whole in the market that Sam’s and COSTCO are filling. If, in the end, as we claim we just want to help everyone hear better, how can we complain about the arrival of big box hearing aids doing just that?

No one in particular

And here we come to the heart of the great debate of our industry. Should big box stores try to change a business model that has shown very little growth outside jumps in technology in the last twenty years? In the five years I have in the industry I have worked for 3 different companies and fit 3 different products. I have to say that when I first came in to the industry I felt like a used car salesman, whatever it took to get the sale, deal with the fallout later. Then my state passed a law requiring a mandatory return policy. That single piece of legislation took a state that generally is a late adopter anyway, and flipped the industry on its head. So many people in the industry decided to quit rather than change and focus on what our industry should be about anyway, service and helping… Read more »

Anonymous

Very adept business analysis. Thanks.

AJ

Why am I not allowed to program my own hearing aid? I have be using computer since they came out. I know how to use a graphic equalizer since I was 12 years old. ReSound will sell millions of iPhone hearing aids just because it allow the USER to increase bass and treble without going back to the dispenser, who never can get it right. Bass and Treble, just 2 channels. Just think when we have a full spectrum equalizer on our iPhones to adjust all 16 channels. I cannot wait. If COSTCO can do this then to COSTCO I go.

Joshua

Unfortunately while you know how to use a graphic equalizer the state you live in has strict requirements on training necessary to program hearing aids. I say unfortunate because most professionals do not retain this knowledge since the main focus of the hearing aid industry is solely on sales. Also, there are no digital hearing aids out there that are only 2 channel instruments. Most are between 4-12 and some are 64 channel…

Anonymous

Hopeful & others: A business owners choice of margin and profit is theirs and theirs alone. Some would say it’s what the market will bear. Me, if you choose to make a nickel or a quarter, a deal is only a deal with two willing parties. And as you put it, if they “help a lot of people” money should not have anything to do with it. Right? Training is training. Just because someone went to college for 7 years or 4 years, or just passed their licensing exam, its more about what’s inside them and their willingness and patience to help someone with a disability. Now I’m not dumb enough to think that somebody with more education and knowledge has an advantage, but if they choose to shortcut, and just wanna profit with less caring, well than who really has the advantage then? I’ve been in this industry a… Read more »

Anonymous

I am sure my patients I referred out for 8th nerve rumors, cholestomas, Ménière’s disease, and the like are sure glad they didn’t go to you, your apprentice trained colleagues or Costco when they went for help with their hearing. I didn’t get a doctorate degree to sell hearing aids like a used car salesman. Placing health care in the hands of people with no professional training has been dragging down sales of hearing aids for years as many people expect that old song and dance, bait and switch and lack of regard for their health. If you want to truly help people then go to college where professional training is available. Otherwise sell cars, insurance, Avon or Girl Scout cookies.

Anonymous

I refer many patients to a local trusted ENT. If there is any issue at all, that what my training tells me. I also fit mostly mild-moderate, because I simply don’t have the training to help those with larger losses. They are better off with someone who has the knowledge. Not earning commission I feel that helps my patients.

Maybe I’m different than most, because I DON’T fit HA like your analogy to selling used cars. Yes you are correct many specialists do.

Oh BTW I prefer FIT over SELL.

Maybe your “doctorate degree” has given you a “god” like syndrome. IMO, you should get off your high horse, because there is room in this vast wide world for all of us.

Joshua

I would ask that you continue to treat clinical issues I as a hearing aid dispenser cannot. But my training is focused solely on how to fit a hearing aid, it is my specialty and I would put that experience up against any doctorate of audiology any day of the week. I went to college and obtained training and a degree in communication disorders before deciding on a hearing instrument specialist license rather than an Au.D. I did this because the whole purpose of the Au.D program was to protect against the flow of new audiologists into the job market to protect those who are already licensed. So, as for putting the needs of the patient first, I do that, but the audiologist industry as a whole failed the patient when they decided to protect themselves and their own job security. They continue to spend more time and money trying… Read more »

Mark

Looks like someone’s a bit bitter that they did the equivalent of earning a doctorate degree to sell insurance. Smart move haha- especially in an industry this fluid. Get over yourself anon, you’re not a Medical Doctor.

8 YEARS

I fit over 500 aids per year provided free by our government. I was using mostly Phonaks. I make salary and no comission. I shouldn’t care about this issue but agree that my beloved Phonak went to the dark side. Looking at Widex and Starkey when I get back to work. Boo ya Phonak, ya just lost 500 per month from one provider.

Ears2ya

If you are a VA Audiologist then you also have GN Resound to issue Vets. GN has been at Costco for a long time but like Phonak Costco aids, they are not the same model that you have, i.e., less features.

smith

So the patients come 2nd to you since Costco is trying to help people that may not be able to afford elsewhere. You are a big help!!!!!

Anonymous

You have a very honest and laudable opinion.

desperate to hear

Good for you, is refreshing to read of an audilogist that have a heart for helping people, don’t ever loose that. My question to you is what is your mark up on your products? I’m sorry but the biggest heart and the most caring audilogist is not going to help a person who need hearing aids and can’t pay the outreageous cost of hearing aids. Please follow up with some suggestions how you can, both make a living and help people with high quality service with low cost hearing aids. Unless audiologist find a way to deal with the big six manipulation of the market and find a way to cut cost, people will purchase from where they can afford it. People are not interested in fancy offices, if teh place is clean and they are treated well and the dispenser has the right knowledge and the price is right,… Read more »

Tyler

Gary is such a homer for costco, I think he is doing their damage control.

Maureen

My biggest concern is that research shows that those who have hearing loss, only 20% are actually using hearing aids. To me, it means that audiologists are not doing a sufficient job in providing reasonably priced service, nor reasonably priced hearing aids. The Costco/Phonak partnership is a reaction to that.

Anonymous

Oh really you think they partnered with costco to help people with price? Don’t be naive sweetie, this is 2014. Corporations are all about money. They are now counting on the quantity model of the big box stores to make even more money than they ever made from audiologists or hearing aid “fitters”. They won’t do any better than anyone else at making the hearing impaired to be compliant in using their hearing aids. I suspect that lack of time available after the sale will result in less compliance. And remember human nature makes many of us not compliant with our medical provider’s advice. Diet, exercise, flossing, ……are we all compliant?

cat

Yes, you are probably right about corporations being all about the money, but what about us who SPEND the money. I had surgery twice in one ear years ago, I was advised to wear bilateral hearing aids but couldn’t afford them until 3 years ago – my life is completely different now and I am sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to make it better from the beginning – no matter how you slice, the spending starts with us.

Ronald Beck

I went through the audiologist saga several years ago until discovering Costco. I had the same testing, a much more caring and knowledgeable person who fitted me with a hearing aid for my needs, not the pockets of the audiologists. My Rexton cost $1,800 for a pair that have served me well for four years with fabulous reexaminations whenever i called for an appointment. Cleaning and testing of my hearing would be done whenever i desired. This week i went back for another evaluation and was told that there were no changes, but i really want to hear on the phone better. I was shown the new Phonak that does all functions on auto, operates on a wire rather than a tube, and moves sounds on the phone to both ears, probably eliminating a need for bluetooth. I have a 90 day trial to see if they make a difference… Read more »

linda

i think it means that many people who need hearing aids don’t get them because they can’t afford them.

Margaret

Downward pressure on pricing is FANTASTIC! We consumers of hearing aids need to advocate for ourselves – for both price and service. Just like any other business. Go Costco!!!

Todd

I am not the least bit concerned because as an audiologist in private practice, I focus on patient care experience. Costco has numbers and locations but what it lacks is the office professional experience. Word of mouth and physician referrals is the key for any business and right now Costco is just focused on price.

Gary

Are you sure about that? How do you know? Have you been to Costco?

Larry A Boles

Todd,
You are wrong! Costco above all else is focused on MEMBER SERVICE, has always been that way and will stay that way.
Larry

Tazz

Phonak has made it clear- money talks. It’s time for dispensers and audiologists (collectively) to learn to speak that language. If you haven’t done so yet, STOP supporting HearingPlanet, and stop supporting all Sonova subsidiaries.

Anonymous

I saw this posted elsewhere:
Simple math—- 500 Costco’s (including a few international locations) averaging 20 Brio’s per month is 10,000 units per month. This is a guess, but says $675 per unit (special Costco price) x 10,000 is $ 6,750,000.00 per month x 12 = $ 81,000,000.00 Also, Costco is growing faster than anyone 20+% per year. How could anyone (Sonova) resist this reality. Do these numbers look accurate?

Andrew

Those numbers are not even close to accurate. Many (most) Costcos don’t have hearing aid centers. Many dispensers are selling ReSound or Rexton instead of Phonak. Phonak’s making a lot with the partnership but not even close to 81 m.

JLL

I agree with most of the comments, but let’s face it, the industry is changing. Phonak, Siemens and GN Resound have all sold out. Time will tell if the other manufacturers follow suit. I for one refuse to sell another Phonak device. Even after 15 years of doing so. I’m just so damn angry at their price decision. It’s a complete slap in my face.The only other good choice that I can see is Starkey. If Starkey can make good on their “promised” made for iPhone product, then all the more reason to go that route. Frankly, it’s the only solid option for me as I don’t see Widex as the right choice for my patients. As I said, time will tell, but overall it’s not looking great for the little guys.

Scott Sumpter

Why not widex?

howell

Looks like Resound is the go to and not Starkey. See the article or google search iphone hearing aid. There is a good article on cnn.
http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/04/tech/innovation/apple-resound-hearing-aids/

Thomas Powers

To set the record straight – Amplifon (Miracle Ear) is an independent company listed on the Italian stock exchange – it is NOT owned by Siemens.

Mike

Has anybody else ever thought that HIPAA may like to take a look at a Coscto or Sam’s locations. If I tried to fit a hearing aid in that environment , they shut me down.

Gary

HIPPA is a law that must be adhered to in all locations. Costco has it posted on its booths.