Buying Hearing Aids Online [Pros & Cons, Expert Tips]
The average price for a single hearing aid in the United States is $2,300.
This leads many consumers, even those with the means to spend $4,600 on a pair of hearing aids, to search for less expensive alternatives.
Naturally, one of the first places to look is the internet.
The advertisements from most online hearing aid companies have a similar message-
“Cut out the middleman, buy hearing aids online, shipped direct to you, and save thousands.”
It’s a compelling message- why involve more people and pay more than you have to?
However, if you ask any local hearing are provider about the wisdom of buying hearing aids online, you’re likely to be met with a response like-
“It would be a total waste of money to buy hearing aids online and they won’t work for you.”
So, who should you believe, and which argument is correct?
As you might expect, there’s a little bit of truth to both of the above ideas.
In this post, we’ll provide a detailed review of the pros and cons of buying hearing aids online, as well as some helpful tips for buying hearing aids online.
Prefer video? Watch: Buying Hearing Aids Online [Pros & Cons, Tips]
The Advantages of Buying Hearing Aids Online
The two advantages of buying hearing aids online are price and convenience.
Advantage #1: Price
The average price for a pair of hearing aids in the United States is $4,600.
If you buy actual hearing aids (not amplifiers), from an online retailer, the usual price will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,700 for a pair.
In other words, as compared to the average price paid for hearing aids nationwide, it is 65% cheaper to buy hearing aids through a direct-to-consumer online retailer.
Direct-to-consumer online companies are able to offer such reduced pricing by removing the local hearing care provider from the process (as shown in the image below).
It is cheaper, faster, and easier, for an online hearing aid company to remotely service customers, then it would be for that company to have a physical storefront and hearing care professional providing in-person and long term services.
As a result, online sellers are able to benefit from a sort of “flywheel”- in which lower markups allow for higher sales volume and lower unit costs from manufacturers.
From a business perspective, this why online hearing aid retailers are successful.
Advantage #2: Convenience
Now more than ever (2020), the idea of a completely remote hearing aid service is appealing.
Basic hearing tests can be conducted over the internet, and most online retailers offer some form of remote hearing aid programming.
Having a hearing test, hearing aid consultation, and hearing aid programming in the comfort of your home is hard to beat from a convenience standpoint.
Telehealth is certainly the trend, remote programming has proven popular with consumers, and this kind of remote service just feels right- it’s 2020 after all!
But, remote programming and service is not for everyone, and there are definitely some drawbacks to it (below).
The Disadvantages of Buying Hearing Aids Online
If buying hearing aids was a “one and done” type purchase like other consumer electronic devices, buying hearing aids online and getting them remotely serviced would be a no-brainer.
But, when you look at the entire picture of what owning properly fitted and performing hearing aids entails, it’s easy to see how the online delivery method can fall short.
Actually buying the hearing aids and getting the initial programming is only the beginning.
What comes next- ensuring the proper physical fit, programming, performance, and providing ongoing care, is not something that can be done reliably and conveniently remotely.
For those buyers thinking more long term about their purchase, this is where the disadvantages lie.
Disadvantage #1: Online hearing tests provided by online sellers are not as reliable as in-person tests
An accurate hearing test is the foundation of a good hearing aid fitting.
When your hearing aids are programmed, they are programmed based on the results of the hearing test.
If the results aren’t perfectly accurate, the hearing aids won’t be programmed as well as they can be.
And we know that online hearing tests aren’t as accurate (or as comprehensive) as they could be, for a number of reasons:
- Online hearing tests are not performed with calibrated headphones or in a sound-attenuated environment.
- Online hearing tests do not allow for visual otoscopy (inspection of the ear canal and ear drum). Your hearing loss could just be due to wax! Or, it could be a symptom of another medical condition. Either way, visual otoscopy is a crucial step in the hearing evaluation process.
- Other important tests like bone conduction testing and word recognition testing cannot be performed online. These (and other) tests are used to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing hearing loss, and to determine if hearing aids will even be beneficial.
For these reasons, we do not recommend using the hearing test provided by any online retailer.
Instead, it’s a better idea to get a hearing test performed locally.
Then, give those results to the online company, and poof, this disadvantage disappears!
Disadvantage #2: The hearing aids may not fit properly
Hearing aids have various parts that should be sized to the wearer’s ear, and many times custom-built for that wearer’s ear.
Even the most basic off-the-shelf style RIC hearing aids have a few components that should be sized to the wearers ear.
At a minimum, the receiver wire and silicone dome (shown below), should be carefully chosen.
Selecting the appropriate length and strength receiver wire is important to ensure the hearing aids fit properly, and are strong enough to accommodate the hearing loss.
The “dome” is a little silicone piece that attaches to the end of the receiver.
Style and size of dome has a significant impact on the fit, feel, and acoustic performance of the hearing aid.
When hearing aids are bought online and serviced remotely, there is no customization, molding, or precise sizing of components.
This can result in an improper physical fit of the hearing aids, which in turn can lead to poor performance and discomfort.
Disadvantage # 3: Remotely-fit hearing aids will not perform as well as hearing aids that are fit in-person
Hearing aids can be remotely programmed, but there are certain parts of programming and maintenance that cannot be done remotely.
For example, fitting verification like real ear measurement, which measures the sound that’s going into the ears from the hearing devices, cannot be done remotely.
There are also various tests that are performed to ensure the hearing aids are helping in challenging environments like restaurants, which can’t be done remotely.
From a maintenance perspective, there are things that cannot be done remotely, like checking for mechanical defects such as microphone distortion and battery drain.
When looked at individually, all of these issues may seem trivial.
However, when compounded with a (potentially) imperfect physical fit, the result can be hearing aids that don’t perform as well as they could.
Disadvantage #4: Long wait times for routine service and repairs
Over time, hearing aids need care- sometimes quite a bit of care.
They need routine service, cleaning, replacement parts, physical modifications, and repairs.
Most of the time, this service is easily handled within a few minutes by a local hearing provider.
But- if the hearing aids were bought online, without a local service plan included (which is usually the case with online retailers), this routine service is pretty inconvenient.
With most online retailers, the only way to receive this kind of service is to mail the hearing aids back to them.
As a result, what could’ve been a two minute fix, could end up being a two week ordeal.
It is pretty inconvenient to have to ship your hearing aids off and be without them for weeks, as compared to popping into your local hearing aid office for a quick diagnostic and fix.
Disadvantage #5: Price
Surprised to see this here?
Remember, the average price for a pair of hearing aids is $4,600.
So on the surface, $1,700 for a pair of online hearing aids doesn’t seem too bad.
But when you take into account the fact that you miss out on local service, and that there are much more affordable options available in almost every community from a licensed hearing care provider, $1,700 is steep.
In many communities it’s not hard to find a pair of hearing aids for $2,000, especially if you have a Costco hearing center nearby.
With a little due diligence, you can find hearing aids at the same price, or slightly more expensive than online sellers, with local care included.
And that means you get online pricing, without all the disadvantages mentioned above.
So if you’ve been quoted near $4,600 for a set of hearing aids locally, don’t assume that your only two options are $4,600 hearing aids or $1,700 online hearing aids.
Shop around locally for better prices, which include local care.
Tips for Buying Hearing Aids Online
If you decide that buying hearing aids online is the right choice for you, be sure to follow these tips.
Get evaluated by a local hearing care provider first
Your hearing problem could just be wax!
A local hearing care provider can look inside your ears and ensure they’re free of wax.
We also recommend getting a hearing test, to ensure you’re a candidate for hearing aids, and that the hearing aids you are interested in buying online will work for your hearing loss.
Getting an in-person hearing test will yield more reliable results than an online test provided by an online retailer, as a hearing care provider’s testing equipment is required to be calibrated regularly.
There are also certain types of tests that simply cannot be performed online, and these tests help you to get a better understanding of the type of hearing loss you have.
Finally, the biggest reason to see a local hearing care provider before buying, is to ensure there are no underlying medical conditions contributing to your hearing loss.
Have a plan for getting support locally when you need it
The biggest disadvantage of buying hearing aids online is getting all the service done remotely.
What if your hearing aids need some kind of customization, either at time of purchase, or years later? For example, you may need custom ear molds for your hearing aids to perform their best.
What if your hearing aids break and you need a quick fix, and don’t want to wait weeks for it to be handled via the mail?
What if your hearing aids aren’t meeting your expectations and you want fitting verification like real ear measurement performed?
Before buying your hearing aids, contact local hearing care providers and let them know the model you intend to buy, and understand what your service fees will be when you need local service.
Simply buy your hearing aids from an online seller that includes local care as part of your purchase.
And the most important tip of all…
If you’re considering buying one of the major hearing aid brands online, such as Oticon, Starkey, Widex, Phonak, Signia, or ReSound…
Proceed with caution.
Most of these major manufacturers do not allow their hearing aids to be sold online direct-to-consumer.
Which means, if you see these brands advertised online, and the online seller is offering to mail them directly to you, there is a high likelihood you are dealing with an unauthorized retailer, which is risky.
Ultimately, unauthorized retailers are shut down for a variety of reasons, like this one was.
When an unauthorized retailer gets shut down (as is evidenced by the reviews at the link above), it leaves the unsuspecting customers in very difficult positions, without service, warranties, and sometimes without their hearing aids altogether.
If you’re considering buying a major name brand hearing aid online, we strongly recommend watching the video below first.
Top 4 Red Flags When Buying Hearing Aids Online
The Bottom Line
Advances in remote hearing testing and hearing aid programming have made it possible to buy hearing aids online and have reasonably good results.
Substantial savings can be realized by buying hearing aids online, but you have to understand the tradeoffs you’re making.
The most notable tradeoff is lack of local service, which can result in hearing aids that are poorly physically fit and underperforming. In addition, routine service and repairs can be inconvenient, as it requires mailing the hearing aids back to the online seller.
If you’re intent on buying hearing aids online, our recommendation is (before buying), ensure you have a local hearing care provider to support your hearing aids after the purchase.
Furthermore, we recommend understanding any fees that the local hearing provider may charge to provide their service, so you can make an accurate long term cost analysis of buying hearing aids online vs. through a local hearing care provider.
It is our opinion that the majority of consumers will be best-served by working with a local hearing care provider for the testing, fitting, and follow up care that’s associated with hearing aids.