By Jack Cumming

In part 1, we opened the topic of hearing enhancement as an opportunity for senior living to demonstrate the value the providers can deliver to residents. One element that popped out of that article was the discounted purchase of medically approved hearing aids that Costco has developed.

With that price advantage, Costco has now grown to 11% of the hearing aid market. That price advantage, though, comes at the expense of some of the professionalism that doctors of audiology provide as part of their selling of branded hearing devices. In this part 2, we recount one person’s experience with Costco. In part 3, we’ll address specific steps that providers can take to mitigate hearing challenges in a typical senior living community.

Complexities of Hearing Enhancement

Does Costco’s price advantage make it the vendor that senior communities should feature for their residents? Should Costco representatives be invited on campus to present to residents? As it turns out, pricing isn’t everything, as the following personal tale will make clear.

Unfortunately, for now, there is little middle ground between the low price at Costco and high service with audiologists. It’s easier to find a fee-for-service professional financial planner than it is to find a fee-for-service audiologist. That may change, but for now, providers can give their residents a valuable service in helping them to navigate the complexities of hearing enhancement.

The sad result of this complexity is that many who might benefit from hearing improvement don’t get the help they need. If a middle ground is ever found between the extremes of price, then more people may be able to have the benefits that corrected hearing can bring into their lives. We have it for vision. We should have it as well for hearing. For now, though, more people with hearing impairment go untreated than those who get treatment.

A Personal Costco Experience

For a bit over two years, I’ve had rechargeable Rexton hearing aids bought at Costco. They replaced an earlier set of Phonak aids. About a month ago, the hearing aid batteries stopped holding a charge.

Rexton specifies that owners can’t simply replace the rechargeable batteries themselves. That’s likely intended to protect the business interests of the audiologists on whom the manufacturer depends for its sales. It’s at the expense, though, of the users.

I took my hearing aids into Costco hoping for a quick turnaround. No, that would be too simple. Costco requires appointments, and those appointments aren’t easy to come by, but I did get an appointment after a few days. That’s when I learned that Costco can’t just swap out those batteries on the spot. They have to be mailed to Rexton.

Is Hearing Correction Essential?

Although consumers may consider hearing aids essential, the dispensers and the manufacturers seem to think nothing of depriving consumers of better hearing for two or three weeks at a time. Since I’ve grown dependent on my Rexton hearing aids, I asked the Costco “specialist” to reprogram the earlier Phonak hearing aids for the interim. Again, Costco requires another separate appointment for that. The time before there was an open appointment would be more than the estimated two-week turnaround for battery replacement.

Amazon to the rescue. I had heard that Apple AirPod Pros could be programmed with a simple app to fit the hearing prescription that the user needs.

Programming the AirPods is not as elegant as what a “hearing professional” might do, and the battery life is very limited, but it doesn’t take weeks, and it only costs $175. That’s Amazon’s price. They cost more on the Apple website. They arrived the day after I turned those costly Rextons over to Costco. Not too shabby.

Without those interim AirPod “hearing amplifiers,” I would have had a tough few weeks while Rexton and Costco took their sweet time. Moreover, Amazon delivered them right to my door. I didn’t have to drive to Costco and go through the wait-for-service delay that characterizes Costco for people with appointments. Even so, Costco managed to build in added delays beyond these minor aggravations.

Remember When Telephones Were Technology

Costco only operates by phone calls and in person. There’s no online or text notification. You can’t schedule those Costco-centric appointments online. You have to call. Moreover, Costco does not provide a receipt for the devices sent for repair, nor does it confirm the correct phone number to let “members” know when the devices are returned.

The result was that Costco called a nonworking number, and I could only get a pickup appointment after I called to ask, “What’s up?” That, then, took another couple of days. The first appointment for pickup didn’t work. Apparently, it’s cheaper for Rexton to just throw away the old hearing aids and issue new ones. That means that Costco has to program the replacement devices to the prescription. That required another appointment with the loss of more days.

A Helpful Source

Finally, I was given the hearing aids with the new rechargeable batteries, but the reprogramming was apparently less than ideal. I now have to make another appointment to drive over to find out what the problem is. It’s impossible to overstate how much the entire experience made me value Amazon’s rapid turnaround and direct-to-consumer delivery.

Of course, this is just one person’s experience. I see hoards of happy shoppers scooping up large orders every time I visit Costco. Perhaps I’m the only one to have these experiences. That is something you can judge for yourself. Incidentally, a helpful source for relatively objective hearing aid advice is found in the YouTube videos of Dr. Cliff, AuD.

Are You a Costco or an Amazon Person? 

Are you a Costco person or an Amazon person? Amazon values the customer’s time and convenience. Costco values my money. Deciding which is the better choice reveals something about an individual’s self-worth. Do you feel that the shortage in your life is time or money?

Which Is Senior Living — Costco or Amazon or …?

Senior living is vulnerable to a slow pace. It’s tempting to believe that tomorrow will be like today and much the same as yesterday. Failure to stay in the forefront carries with it the danger of being superseded much as digital photography left Kodak behind or as Amazon’s focus on speed and customers left Sears behind.

What is the focus of your company? Is it on excellence, customers (residents), and innovation, or is it on something else? In Part 3, we’ll continue this discussion of hearing and senior living to consider how senior living can better adapt to support those with hearing challenges.