Editor’s Note: This week, Dr. Ben Thompson offers his take on the surprise announcement that Bose would stop selling its direct-to-consumer hearing aids that it launched nationwide in August 2021
For many, the Bose brand is synonymous with high fidelity sound. But recently, Bose announced that they would be ending sales of their direct-to-consumer (DTC) hearing aids and shuttering their entire hearing aid division, catching many in the industry off guard.
While the internal discussions behind this decision will never be completely known, one thing is true: Bose treated their hearing aids similar to any of their other consumer electronics, and for this reason they failed.
Understanding the current retail landscape for hearing aids requires some brief backstory. While the sale of hearing aids has long been in the hands of audiologists in brick-and-mortar clinics, in 2018 the FDA approved the marketing and sale of self-fitting hearing aids in a de novo category, carved out specifically for Bose. Putting aside the details of how that deal came together, it served as a preview for the upcoming hearing aid over-the-counter (OTC) market.
As this new era of deregulation continues, more and more OTC and DTC retailers will enter the hearing aid market.
So why did Bose’s venture into hearing aids fail?
- Bose sold self-fitting hearing aids without an audiology consultation. Bose thought they could approach the sale of hearing aids as they do with their other consumer electronics. But what they overlooked was that customers prefer professional support in order to maximize and unlock the potential of their hearing aids. Bose priced their hearing aids at a very competitive $850, significantly less than other devices on the market. Insiders report that their sales projections were sky high, no doubt thinking that the low price and brand status of Bose would move units. But it did not.
- Bose only employed technicians. Despite the fact that hearing aids are an extension of a robust clinical field—audiology—Bose operated without audiologists providing counseling or support to their customers. This siloed approach of treating hearing aids like other technology set Bose up for failure, contributing to the aforementioned low customer satisfaction and scaring off potential customers who wanted their hearing aids to be vetted and supported by audiologists.
Even though Bose failed, DTC hearing aid companies should not be afraid to enter the ever-expanding fray. Instead, what is needed is an intentional approach—one that recognizes the three pillars of patient, product, and, most critically, audiology.
The success of DTC companies entering the market will hinge on whether or not they have a healthcare support division of audiologists and other professionals who are ready and able to assist consumers on their hearing aid journey.
Assembling an in-house audiology support team is a tall task for any burgeoning DTC company. At Treble Health our in-house team includes audiologists with years of experience at some of the top clinics across the United States and is equipped to support and interface with the clientele for any DTC company, ultimately helping them avoid some of the pitfalls that plagued Bose.
Ben Thompson, AuD, is an audiologist and tinnitus expert. He completed his residency at University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and is a past board member of the California Academy of Audiology (CAA). Dr. Thompson is the founder of Treble Health. He has a popular YouTube channel and has created over 100 educational videos about tinnitus management and hearing aids.