Embrace Hearing - Feedback Please!

[FONT=Arial]I have developed[COLOR=Black] Embrace Hearing Aids with a UPenn MBA student, it is an online platform selling hearing aids directly to consumers. I know online hearing aid ventures are not well loved on Hearing Aid Forums, but I have been following the forums for 6 months now as we developed the platform, and would love to get any feedback from the community.

I think the big difference between Embrace Hearing and most online distributors, is that we are focused on the customer and not only on bottom line profit. We are trying to solve the huge problem in the US that only 1 of 7 hearing loss sufferers adopts hearing aids (source) with high price listed as the number one reason. Embrace offers a viable alternative:

  • Devices priced from $299 to $699 – a fraction of retail prices that typically start at $1500, without sacrificing commitment to quality
  • All products custom-programmed to customers’ individual hearing loss profiles
  • Premium manufacturing by a leading German audiology firm
  • Absolutely risk-free trial policy – consumers have 45 days to try their hearing device. If they are not perfect, they can simply be sent back. Embrace Hearing pays all costs, including free shipping both ways

I am not trying to spam HAF, I honestly would love some feedback on potential issues we will encounter, comments on our product line, advice on customer support, and possibly business opportunities or ideas that we could pursue.

Ross

www.embracehearing.com

[/FONT][/COLOR]

My first suggestion would be to get some colors other than cadaver beige.
Also your website is not very informative.

Thanks, I will put in more options for colors. I wanted to keep options low to keep the process simple and straightforward for customers. I will test out the interest in other colors.

What information specifically are you looking for?

It looks like Hearing Aid Direct products. Are you tied in with them?

This topic has been beat to death a lot here lately. But, you are the first eCommerce poster I have seen jump into the subject. This should get real interesting.

I am not a hearing aid professional. Just a hearing aid wearer. I do how ever work for a company that manufacturers and sells our products in both a brick and mortar store and via eCommerce sites. So, I have some direct experience in your business model.

Reading about you on the site, neither of you list any experience in a hearing aid or medical goods field. You mainly list engineering and business back grounds. Not anything wrong with people from those back grounds working in the hearing aid field, but I personally would hesitate to get hearing aids from someone without a background in hearing aids, either an Audiologist, or at a minimum a licensed Hearing Instrument Specialist.

Based on the pictures of your products and the mention of “A Leading German Hearing Aid Manufacturer” on your website, your products are obviously re-branded Siemens. Siemens has verbiage on their own website that they do not support the sales of their products in a non face to face environment. The exact verbiage is.

                                      "At our sole discretion and determination, Siemens reserves the right to refuse and/or cancel orders for our hearing instruments from individuals whose businesses we believe do not or cannot themselves provide professional face-to-face in-person fitting and support to the hearing impaired consumer or take sufficient measures to ensure that the hearing impaired consumer will ultimately receive a professional face-to-face in-person fitting. Siemens will independently and unilaterally determine whether this fitting and support requirement is offered and/or provided."

Here is the link to the location of this information on their website.
http://www.medical.siemens.com/siemens/en_GLOBAL/rg_marcom_FBAs/files/au_shi/GuidelinesForPurchasing.pdf

So, how are you getting around this limitation from Siemens?

Your “Online Hearing Test” is nothing new. Other sites have similar “testing”. The cheap home headphones purchased for $20 at the local office supply store can not be trusted to generate true frequencies or decibel level to give a true test result. The hearing testing equipment used by professionals cost a lot more than $20 and has to undergo frequent diagnostics to confirm that the frequencies and decibel levels output by the headphones are correct. So sorry, I do not trust any “Online Hearing Test” to be anywhere near accurate.

Your site does not list what happens after you sell a hearing aid. How does it get programmed to match the hearing loss of the customer? Are you leaving it up to the customer to find a local Audiologist that can support and program your brand new model of hearing aids? Are you providing software and interface for customers to program their own hearing aids? If so, is it free? Do you offer support in use and programming?

You need to tell your customers that the local Audiologist or HIS is not going to program and maintain your hearing aids for free. So those supposed saving you just gave them, they will start to evaporate real quick each time they have to pay for programing, servicing, supplies like tubes or domes, etc.

Your pricing model is very misleading. And it will end up causing many problems for the professionals that end up having to support your products after you have made your sale.

Granted, I paid a lot more money for my top of the line Beltone/ReSound hearing aids than you are charging for your top of the line hearing aids. But, I get lifetime support and programming from any Beltone Office in the world. Not having to open my wallet each time I walk in their office is a real bonus in my book. Will not have that luxury with your model.

Regarding Audiologist Profits. I am coming up on my 1 year anniversary from when I got my hearing aids last year. Over the last year I have been back to see my HIS about 20 times. (Yes, I am a problematic and demanding customer.) Each visit has been a minimum of 1 hour. And several visits were over 1 hour. But, lets just round it off to 20 hours of face time with my HIS.

Making an assumption that my HIS makes at least a decent living wage for his work. Lets say he makes $60,000 a year. That is roughly $30 bucks an hour. So, my 20 hours of visits he has earned $600. That is just his wage, does not include his receptionist, lease, equipment fees, utilities, etc. That would bring it up to closer to $1000 to support me and my hearing aids for the past year. Like I said above, I get lifetime support for my hearing aids. The way I see it, I will not be loosing money on this deal compared to what I would end up paying if I payed separately for each visit.

As much as it may sound like I am negative against your business model. I truly am not. If I were, I most likely would just have ignored this post and waited for the flaming to start. Hearing Aids are expensive. Some Entrepreneurs need to step in and help fix it and I see that you are trying. But, I do not see this model as doing anything to fix the problems. You are just taking a profit margin on the hardware and kicking the patient down the road for someone else to do the real hard work and that actually deserves the profit. Some of your eCommerce competitors have a much better model than yours already in place. So in my opinion, you have a lot of work ahead of you to distinguish yourself from the pack. It is not a crowded field you are competing in. So if you can come up with a good model, it would not be hard to make it successful.

That is all I can think to post for now. Lets see what others have to say.

No, we are completely independent, save for our partnership with the German manufacturer/supplier.

Thanks, Reidan. Your response was definitely spot on. A lot of the issues you have complained about regarding not giving the customer full disclosure or information on the full process of buying the HAs and having them serviced throughout their lifetime are issues that I am working to solve at the moment. As for the hearing test, I know it is not novel and that the existing tests are very unreliable, but this is what we are good at and we feel it can be done to some degree of success. That being said, we are not rushing to put our half-developed test on the site right now, and we will go through full testing before doing so.

The HAs are not Siemens, although they are a close competitor with many shared electronics and components. They have our full support, so there is no need to worry about broken manufacturers’ warranties or other potential issues.

As for the service, again it is something we are still developing. Your points and estimations are all very valid, yet I don’t think we can lose sight that HAs are a LOT of money right now. For a large portion of Americans, spending $4000 every 3-5 years on a new pair is just not possible. For the person who is fairly tech savvy, familiar with the basic use of HAs, and doesn’t enjoy visiting an Audi office (not that there is anything wrong with this), there needs to be a better option. And even for those who aren’t, it still does not make sense to force them down the audiologist route if that route bars them from using hearing aids due to cost. An option needs to exist, and I believe we achieve that with Embrace Hearing.

Maybe we should be more clear that customers won’t be able to get the same in-person care as they would with an audi, but for the price we are selling these at, I think a lot of customers won’t mind.

Thanks again for taking it easy, your response was very valuable.

By the way, which eCommerce competitors do you like?

Thanks again, we have been going over your comments for a while now, it is extremely helpful to get an informed outsider’s opinion.

I have never actually used any of your eCommerce competitors myself. But before choosing to go with Beltone I did a lot of research. I even have a friend who has worn hearing aids since childhood make a recommendation of HearSource.com. And honestly, they are the ones I have been comparing you too. They supply Self Programing Hardware and Software with their hearing aids. And they offer support in using the items after you have the hearing aids in your possession.

Some other websites (can not recall any specific ones) partner with local providers to support and program their products after the sale. Basically a teaming effort. But that would require building a large network of service providers across the country. Would quickly raise your costs involved just to collect and maintain a fleet of providers. So I do not see you offering that service at these price levels.

I am surprised that you have not received more comments so far. This topic is typically discussed heavily on this forum. Surprised that Kevels55 has not chimed in yet as he is usually leading the charge against hearing care professionals and their prices.

I have played with some of the self test software packages. Did some from a website and even did one as an app on my iPhone. I compared the results to my hearing tests done at my ENT’s office as this was back before I started working with the Beltone office. Did so using high end computer gaming headphones or expensive high quality ear buds. The results never matched.

And another item that just came to mind. You are only offering Behind The Ear hearing aids on your site. But even with that style some wearers need custom ear molds in order to get the best results from their hearing aids. How would you support those customers?

Thanks for the question, Reidan. We are trying to simplify the purchasing process, so we are trying to keep the options at a minimum. BTE represent 70% of the market, and are fairly easy to size any ear with different tubes and domes. It would be nice to offer ear molds for those who need it, but we won’t be able to offer it at this time. Our two high end hearing aids both offer RIC open-fit technology, which improves sound quality for those who need molds.

Once again, we are not right for everyone.

Thanks again for all the help.

Your website encourages people to get a “free” hearing test at one of your competitors (Costco or Walmart) and then buy from you.

Do you consider it unethical to use your competitors in this way?

Interesting point. I do not think it is unethical (although I am probably biased). For one, we are not opening up some strange loophole, we are just giving the consumer information of opportunities that exist in the marketplace.

Secondly, I think you would be hard-pressed to find a Walmart or Costco executive who is against something that draws customers into their stores. The cost of providing a hearing test for a customer who does not end up purchasing from Costco is probably much smaller than the membership fees and purchases that the customer will make.

I think it is great what Costco is doing for the HA customer. They give a simple, hassle-free experience, and a fairly affordable option with the purchasing power that Costco can deliver.

I agree that we have more work to do to provide a more seamless process, and it is definitely one of our key focuses in the coming months.

Perhaps instead of suggesting someone go to a instrument dealer for a hearing evaluation where they could be subject to a pretty hard-sell (since “free” hearing tests are really a way to get patients in the door to sell them a hearing aid) you could encourage them to see an ENT for a full audiological evaluation that will be part of their medical history/record. This way if they also have any other symptoms like tinnitus or dizziness then those can be evaluated appropriately.

If they’ve never been seen for hearing loss, they really should see an audiologist or someone who is trained to identify and diagnose all maladies associated with hearing and it’s associated systems.

I have no problem with anything that is supposed to bring more people into my store, but I do have issue with the assumption that my time is worthless.

Currently it is policy that the members get a copy of their hearing test, but because it is free, there will probably be some review of the policy if this becomes commonplace.

Whether there is an opportunity in the marketplace has nothing to do with whether it is ethical. Many fast-food merchants provide stacks of paper napkins and straws. Would you advise people to stop buying paper products and just load up on “free” paper napkins and straws at the local McDonald’s? Possible doesn’t make it ethical.

I worked with a single nerd type guy many years ago that would go to the local buffet with big zip lock bags in his coat and would leave with enough chicken to run him a week. He bragged that all his condiments were from McD’s and Wendy’s… wonder why you have to ask for crackers at Wendy’s now?

We make it clear that seeing an ENT, or at least a Primary Care Physician is the first step in finding out if HAs are correct for the customer. The Costco thing only comes up as we say there are other means to getting a hearing test. It is not the best for us, because I bet the retention rate for those customers who walk into a Costco is very low.

I could be wrong, but I think you are legally required to give a copy of the results to the customer.

As for the wasting of your time, I’d love to get more info. What percentage of people who come in for a hearing test and find out they need hearing aids, don’t end up buying from you? Can you tell when a customer is trying to buy hearing aids, or when they are just trying to get a free test?