(Why) is Costco perceived as second rate? Cultural context?

Is Costco second rate?

I apologise in advance for what might seem like a stream of consciousness post but after reading this and other forums regarding hearing aids I am somewhat befuddled .

My confusion revolves around Costco and their provision of hearing services. I’ll start by saying I do NOT have a HA yet - but expect to be told I need one later this week! Secondly I am a Costco member but rarely go there.

Context:
Some context might help - Costco has only been readily available in Australia since 2009 - in my area I think from about 2011. Here, it seems to be accepted/recognised as a warehouse supermarket which particularly sells bulk products and hence can be a cheaper option. Its competition has affected the local markets and has lead to a significant reduction locally in prices for many things like alcohol, TVs etc. We do joke that you only buy toilet paper at Costco if you are willing to buy 50 rolls at once - one of the reasons I don’t visit often.

Confusion
Reading around the hearing aid community - including here, but more marked on Facebook (even the Hearing aid tracker Facebook group) - I get the sense that Costco is considered a second rate option. One that you choose only

  • if cost is a consideration”;
  • if you can’t afford to go to a private Audi
  • for the budget conscious”.

It’s as if Costco is the ‘poor peoples’ choice’ and is portrayed in a relatively negative light. I regularly see comments about its HAs being “knock off” “second rate” and “de-featured” and inevitably “locked” and even that they don’t last as long as HA from private clinics! That it has Hearing aid specialists (HAS) and not Audis. Yet I also see seemingly informed comments (particularly here) that a good HAS can be as good as an Audi where fitting and programming of HAs are concerned; that Costco uses best practice; that their HAs (both KS and brand name) are top line, the majority not locked nor de-featured (tinnitus settings may be the exception although I am now reading that at least some Costco ARE activating the tinnitus features) and they offer multiple brands and they offer exceptional service - and plenty of Costco’s do have Audis.

One recent example from the Facebook group :

“… Costco=defeatured product for a fraction of the price. Costco to manufacturer: what’s the best price you can give us on xyz hundreds of thousands of pairs of devices? Manufacturer: leave out tinnitus masking, key algorithms in noise reduction, older styles, circuits, and components, and designed to last a fraction of the time …”

Regarding service, I do realise that there are multiple Costco employees and some are better than others, and sometimes the experience can be horrible. I also read posts about people going to private Audis that offer/push only a single - seemingly extremely expensive - brand or who do not follow best practice or who have offered a horrible client experience… so I am not sure the Costco range of experiences is necessarily any different?

Questions…
Is this seeming antipathy to Costco by so many some sort of cultural cringe/snobbery or a hangover from the past when things may have been different, or is it justified? I understand that if insurance affects your options you would need/choose to go to a specific provider, but if you have free choice is Costco really considered a discounted sub-par organisation which people only choose to go to - (for anything)- because they have no option and can’t afford to go elsewhere?

To be honest, I could afford to select and pay for any HA on the market today. However, as a consumer, I feel no urge to pay three times as much for a HA ( or a tv or a car or… you get it) if I do not NEED to. If Costco can provide me with appropriate HAs and SERVICE (I do value service) at a fraction of the cost of a “private Audi” I can see no logical reason to go elsewhere. In fact, from all the information I have been able to glean here and elsewhere, I can not see how Costco differs from going to a private Audi unless the person I see is “only” a HAS. I am also only really concerned about Costco as a provider of hearing assessment and fitting of hearing aids (HAs). I appreciate that private Audiologists (Audis) sometimes/can do more than that. I also understand that private audiologists may not be happy with being undercut by Costco but that is another argument .

How do Costco hearing services really differ from a so called “private audiologist”? Is there something intrinsic to the Costco model that makes it inferior to the private model?

Over to you:

Many people here reportedly either use/recommend Costco, have moved to Costco or moved away from Costco - I would love to hear what you think wrt the above questions. I am inviting a discussion around people’s attitudes to Costco, their hearing services and the above questions. Anecdotes of “Costco sucks so I moved” or “my private Audi sucked so I moved” probably aren’t going to advance the discussion too far. :wink:

I’m not trying to promote Costco or change peoples minds. I’m trying to get my head around what I perceive is a general negative attitude to it- one that I don’t see locally. I will go there for a test and perhaps HAs - if they are suitable and the service is to my liking I will probably stay - if not I will seek out alternatives - No different to my attitude if going to a private Audi. What am I missing?

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I think Costco gets a lot of negatives from private audiologists because there is no way they can compete with them on price. Costco provides a very good product and their service on average is at least good. Unfamiliar with warranty in Australia, but in US, it’s 3 years and can be extended for another 2 years if you use Costco credit card to purchase. If you can get strong recommendations for a particular audiologist and money is no object, you can probably do better than Costco. However, if you’re just picking somebody at random, I think Costco is a much better value and likely to offer better service. I’m basing my comments on my experience in US with several Costco hearing aid specialists and at least 4 private audis. My advice would be to try Costco. If you don’t like the aids or service, you can get a full refund and go find somebody else. If you’re satisfied, you’ll save a lot of money.

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Thanks @MDB Appreciate you thoughts as always, but perhaps - unintentionally - you are emphasising my point…

My question is why/how? In what way would I do better? If I had a strong recommendation for an Audiologist at Costco (I actually do) - is that not just as valid? Are you perhaps just acknowledging that some Audis are better than others - whether or not they practice at Costco?

Please understand I am talking in the general not personal sense - This is not an attempt at validating my personal decision to give Costco a try :smiley:

By the way - Costco Australia apparently offers a 5 year warranty… As far as I know they don’t have Costco credit cards here…

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Yes, if you get a strong recommendation for a Costco audiologist, that is just as valid. If you get somebody really good, they’ll likely do a better job optimizing your hearing aids for you. Keep in mind that Costco aids are similar to, but not exactly the same as name brands sold in other places. Not necessarily inferior, but they are not exactly the same.

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Your post comes as a surprise to me. I understand that private audiologists can’t compete with Costco. Other than that, I would not say they are the poor man’s choice. I think they offer a much needed option in the marketplace. And I can’t imagine anyone having access to Costco for hearing aids and NOT going there to see what is on offer. The time involved to find as many options by visiting private audis would be considerable. Since most work solo, even finding what you want, you may not “click” with the person and still need to be shopping around, though in a narrower field, looking for those who carry the brand you finally figured out works for you. That said, Costco hearing aids are not for everyone. Not due to cost, but due to not getting access to features which may be important to you.

Buying hearing aids is - imo - very similar to buying a car. You go to an audiologist, who has contracted with (usually) 2 companies. So they offer those 2 brands. It is unlikely they offer every model offered by that manufacturer. One of those contracts is going to pay a higher commission than the other; so very often, that is the aid they push. If the person doesn’t like it, well, they have another one as backup, to offer. You go to a Toyota dealer and they talk to you about Toyota; they don’t have Chevy, Ford, Honda, etc.

Trial periods vary greatly. With some places it is as short as 2 weeks. With Costco, which seems to have the longest, it is 3 months. With some places you have to pay a small ‘restocking fee,’ so you do not get all your money back. The amount varies. With other places, you get all your money back - that is how Costco works. With a small few places, if you do not like the pair you trialed, you can switch to the other brand they carry, and get full credit; but you don’t get money back if you walk away.

Many audiologists offer REM fitting; a small few offer it for a fee. Costco offers it standard. Folks on this forum highly recommend you get REM fitting.

As I explained above, most audiologists work on commission. At Costco, they pay the fitters a salary. This is why their prices are much lower than anyplace else. At Costco you can buy a pair of good brand hearing aids for $1400 to $2500. That is for the PAIR. Costco typically carries 5 different brands, all well known. Their own label, Kirkland Signature (abbreviated KS on this forum) is usually a brand name, with a few features turned off.

As with buying a car, there are many features available, but not all brands all models offer all features. Investigating what features are out there and sorting out which ones you will use takes some time but helps you get the pair you will be happy with.

If it seems like I am pushing you to Costco, well. yes. The best deal, the best pricing, the better service. Costco (in USA) does not accept insurance. SOME insurance plans will allow you to purchase at Costco, then submit your receipt for reimbursement. Check on that. So if you have insurance, you need to factor that in as you decide where to go.

Ongoing, with hearing aids you will need domes, and batteries. Depending on the brand, make and model, you may have to replace wax guards every 3 to 4 weeks. Costco offers domes and wax guards free, and the pricing on their batteries can’t be beat.

So you get your hearing aids and head home. Now they are going to need adjusting. It takes some time for new users to get used to hearing again. Plus the aids need adjusting to fine tune them in to your specific hearing loss and lifestyle. Some places include a fixed number of adjustment visits. Costco has no limit. You may need programs set up - press a button and get the settings on the program for when you are (example) at the book club meeting at the local library. This can take a follow up visit or 2.

If Costco is not near you, then you need to shop around. So you make a list and start checking with the places near you. What are the terms of their trial period? How long is it? How much is your fee if you have to return the aids? How many adjustment visits are included in the purchase price? What do they charge for adjustment visits after that? How much do they charge for domes? If the brand includes wax guards, how much do they charge for those? Note you can find domes and wax guards online, and save money that way. And batteries you can pick up in many, many places.

Dr. Cliff has a series of videos on youtube which can be very helpful. Here is the one for first time hearing aid users, check his channel and watch a few of his vids: Hearing Aids For The First Time | Things You MUST Know! - YouTube

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@mdb, When you say this: “Costco aids are similar to, but not exactly the same as name brands sold in other places. Not necessarily inferior, but they are not exactly the same.” Are you talking of the Costco BRAND, the Kirkland, or is this true for ALL the hearing aids sold at Costco? Because they do sell brands other than their own.

I thought it was only the Kirklands that had features turned off. Are the brand names they carry made specifically for sale at Costco, as well? I wasn’t aware of this.

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I know that Costco’s Phonak Brio (versions 3 and 4 currently I think) are only sold at Costco. Resound Preza is only sold at Costco. I’m not sure about their Phillips and Rexton versions, but it would be my guess that they are Costco only versions. A quick check. The Phillips version, Hearlink 9030 seems to have the same name as the “regular” aids sold by Phillips so presumably are the same, but can’t verify. @Abarsanti has verified that they are not locked. Perhaps he can comment if there are any Costco specific differences. Looking at Rexton, it looks like they also use the same names. (They didn’t used to. The Rexton Trax 42 model from quite a few years ago for instance was a Costco specific model) So it seems like Phillips and Rexton models are the same as one could buy elsewhere. However, do note that these are not the “Flagship models” sold by the manufacturing company. Phillips is not the same as Oticon and Rexton is not the same as Signia.

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Thank you~! I did not know this.

Based on my research, Costco is the only US retailer selling the Philips HearLink, however, I believe they are sold elsewhere outside the US. The software does not appear to be specific to Costco and all features are available to adjust via the HearSuite software.

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As was mentioned in other forum it different. It offer hearing aids at a really good price. You have to understand how they work. What do you get and give up to get the Hearing Aids? As discussed in one forum the locking of hearing aids. I didn’t know about that and bought a set of hearing aids that where. That should be disclosed to the person upfront. As it turned out I moved and there where no Costco in my area. Now I have a set that cannot be programmed. Waste of money and time. Don’t get me wrong the care I got there was good. There are trade offs and you need to do your homework to make sure they fit you. The same with private Audiologist.

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With a 180 days full refund in the states… how could you go wrong?

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Two questions about what happens when Costco is no longer available for you in person. First, does Costco offer remote adjustments on their HAs? It has become a selling point for newer aids coming to market. Second, if you have a problem, and it’s still under warranty, won’t Costco allow you to mail the aids in for a repair? It seems odd they would offer a warranty but only honor it if you appear in person.

Those are issues, especially the second, that would really influence whether I would use use Costco in the future.

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Both are good points. But that assumes I have reliable internet. I live in a remote area where internet is limited. But my main point is that they should have said they do that (lock hearing aids). It doesn’t matter anymore as I have new ones that are unlocked. Thank you for your suggestions. As a personal note if I buy hearing aids and don’t owe any money to your company I feel you have no right to lock my hearing aids. I restricts my freedom to get good hearing care and adapt to cases where the store or clinic goes out of business.

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This raised a different question I have. To my knowledge most audiologists work with one or a few brands. When you move to an area that has a very limited choice in Audis to take over your care, what happens if it’s not one of the brands they usually work with? Even unlocked, does that enter the picture, or are Audis able and willing to adjust to fitting a HA line they do not sell?

That is a good reason for buying and Pay as you go for service, “Unbundled”
If you pay 6-7K including service and a practice goes out of business you are SOL unless another practice buys your account.
Major/National chains will allow you to visit another location generally, assuming there is another near to you.

I live in Houston, Tx and have the Costco Kirland Signature 6. I would NOT consider any of the hearing aids they carry as “second - rate”. Let me ask you something, what car do you drive? Do you drive a Bently or a Mercedes S-Class? Why not? Let’s say you drive a Genisis G80. Do you consider it a “second rate” car? Costco offers quality hearing aids at a very competitive price point. The hearing aids they sell does everything modern, quality hearing aids are suppose to. Who says you should purchase the most expensive hearing aid when buying hearing aids? Another thing about Costco is that most hearing centers are open 7 days a week. You can walk right in and get them cleaned and adjusted when YOU want to. With most audiologist it is Monday to Friday 8-5 only and make an appointment in advance.

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I own Costco hearing aids and have had them serviced at three different locations. Two in same state and once out of state. I can walk into any Costco in the US and get service. If I am on vacation in another state I can go to any Costco and get service. If you get hearing aids from a clinic and you are in another city or state and you need service what do you do?

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Well, mine came from my local audiologist, so I’d be SOL. I sort of knew that going in, but I was limiting myself to who my insurance carrier covered. As I still paid a considerable amount anyway, I could have looked at Costco. But the US is awfully big, and there are large areas without a convenient Costco warehouse (btw, not every Costco has a hearing department, do they?).

There is no one size fits all solution. They all have pros and cons. From my perspective, if I end up with a pair of well fitted HAs that take care of my particular heating deficit, it’s a win, no matter how I got there. Maybe in 4 or 5 years I’ll look at the market and see what I need. Maybe by then OTC HA solutions may have developed that it’s a moot point. Probably not, but I’ll be open to all avenues that fit my hearing deficit and my wallet.

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Absolutely, I think most people would agree with this.

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From what I’ve read, this is extremely variable. Many audiologists won’t touch a hearing aid they didn’t sell, and many who do will charge what I consider unreasonably high prices. On the other hand, I’ve seen some that would try to help anybody for a very reasonable price.

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