Truth About Big Box Stores
Big Box Stores: High on Volume, But What About the Rest?
Hearing aids are not designed to be purchased “off the rack” like car tires or tennis shoes. They must be customized to fit every individual’s hearing loss and lifestyle.
Big box stores have been around forever. Most of what we see today have a high focus on volume and sales quotas. As with any industry who’s focus is sales, the result could leave patients not getting the aftercare attention they need and deserve. Large chain stores sometimes market hearing aids as high-end products with sales terms such as “64 channels” and “100% digital”, however the units may be basic and may not suit the true needs of the patient with features like background noise management or feedback cancellation. Since it’s nearly impossible to compare hearing aids apples to apples, these techniques can prove to be very effective.
In addition, big box stores are not designed for hearing aids or patient care. Sometimes a store’s “hearing center” is merely a booth set up in a corner, designed to increase the store’s bottom line and maximize dollars per square foot. More times than not, they are right out in the open with no privacy, or sometimes they may be located near where the store offers oil changes for your car. While this type of distribution works for some people, those who care about attention, privacy and the value of a more professional setting leave with a poor experience and, unfortunately, a bad taste when it comes to hearing aids.
Who Is Really Serving You?
Big box stores have also had a history of “promoting from within,” meaning the person fitting you for hearing aids today, may have been bagging your groceries just a few months ago. While this is not the case for every big box clinician, it is very common. Due to the high volume, the demand for seasoned professionals is high, but the supply is low. Because big box focuses on selling more, they need positions to be filled, despite experience. Better hearing is not their passion, their expertise or their focus; it is a new opportunity of making more money. Making money is NOT the reason to enter the hearing profession.
A lot of in-store providers are new to the industry, and the only training and experience they have had is within the organization. While every professional must pass a state-licensing test, they do not need an advanced degree to operate. Programming a hearing aid is a skill that develops over time. Two people may have the same type of hearing loss, but the way each person hears is subjective. Recognizing and remedying these cases takes time. It’s especially hard for someone who literally may have been educated just a few months ago to know how to fix these issues.
In a big box environment hearing aid dispensers are trained to approach shoppers in an attempt to get them to participate in a brief hearing exam. Because this is a numbers game, the more people they convince to take a test, the more likely they are to hit their quotes for bonuses. This model hurts the hearing aid industry because it’s not an accurate portrayal of how professional hearing providers evaluate, fit patients for hearing aids, and provide regular follow up and aftercare.
The Bottom Line
Though big box stores do offer an alternative to a professional clinician, hearing aids were an afterthought to the stores core business. Hearing aids are not the passion of the organization, nor the only thing keeping them engaged. It’s not the fault of big box for this, they are offering a service and at the end of the day, trying to keep a big business profitable. In this case however, a person must be willing to make concessions when choosing this option. Patients should ask about the clinician’s experience, return policies, level of technology, features and manufacturer. And they must absolutely be willing to give up privacy.
Hearing aids are not a commodity. They are complicated medical devices that require a focused and driven professional to customize to an individual’s needs. Beginning your journey toward better hearing with a reputable hearing provider means you will have a friend and guide to help you every step of the way.