Interesting Purchase, But What Could it Mean For Consumers?
In a really interesting turn of events, I found out that Sonova purchased the Australian hearing aid business Blamey And Saunders. Blamey And Saunders are a business that we have discussed here a few times. They sell their own brand hearing aids online in Australia and they are one of the few online hearing aid sellers that we would be happy to support. They have designed and manufactured both their own hearing aids and the underlying logistics to support a direct online sale. There have been persistent rumours that they were finding it difficult to reach profitability, mainly because of the economy of scales and the fact that their manufacturing was undertaken in Australia. So why is the purchase important to Consumers and what might it mean moving forward?
A Blended Model
Blamey And Saunders quickly realised that not everyone is confident enough to buy a hearing aid online. It quickly became obvious that to maximise sales and take care of customers they needed to look at a blended model of online sales and physical locations for offline sales and service. They launched their blended model a couple of years ago but haven’t expanded past three physical locations in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. They do however offer a limited travelling clinic service across some areas in Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.
Economies of Scale
The Sonova purchase will mean that there should be an instant change to the economy of scale issue. It should mean that the business should more easily reach profitability. The might of Sonova should also mean that the business may see more penetration into the Australian market, maybe widening it’s physical footprint and possibly even looking further afield for new markets.
Why Might it Matter to You?
Yes, I can hear it from here, hey fat lad, why would I care? Well, that’s an interesting one, to be honest with you. The purchase of Blamey And Saunders is more than just the purchase of that company, it is the purchase of a whole new delivery channel and the experience that is inherent within the business. It gives them an in-depth insight into how a DTC (Direct To Consumer) model works in an online manner. It also gives them a clear experience of how a blended (both online and offline) model works.
Buying Hearing Aids is Going to Change
How you buy hearing aids is without a doubt going to change within the next five years. How it will change is not set though. Over The Counter, (OTC) hearing aids can be expected within the next year or so. If the big hearing aid brands become involved with that, we will probably see some sort of blended model offer. You can buy your OTC device online or at a shop knowing that there may be further services such as in-depth hearing testing, upgrades of devices and ongoing care available at hearing aid outlets.
That model may well lead to a situation where we may see all hearing aids being sold directly to the consumer with the option of physical locations to offer service and care. The purchase of Blamey And Saunders allows Sonova to understand the possibilities of this model implicitly. For many consumers, online delivery with blended options is attractive.
How attractive is the question though? New users or prospects tend to think very differently to existing users. New users have no terms of reference or experience, that forms their view of price, product and service. Experienced users, on the other hand, have experience and that changes the equation for them.
Price Versus Service
While price is always an issue, it is easier to understand when value for money enters the equation. The problem within the audiology profession has always been their lack of focus on the value for money that they provide. A blended model where device purchase is separated from ongoing service means that the value of the service is clear to the consumer.
The key with these business model changes is that they give you, the consumer, choice. I think that for many years, that has been a real bugbear for consumers. They feel the current model is rigid and doesn’t necessarily provide choice. I think the real question for me is how many of you would like to be able to buy a hearing aid online, knowing that you can engage with a physical service location if need be for an added fee?