Staff Standpoint | September 2017 Hearing Review

Statistics generated by the Hearing Industries Association (HIA), Washington, DC, indicate that US hearing aid sales in 2017 have returned to levels more in line with the industry’s historical norms of 2-4%—a departure from the relatively higher 5-9% growth pace witnessed in the 4 years from 2013-2016. Total US unit sales increased by 3.4% and 2.3% in the first two quarters of 2017. This made for an increase of 2.8% in the first half of 2017 compared to the same period last year—for a total of 1.87 million hearing aids sold.

When looking at the private/commercial (non-VA) market, hearing aid unit sales increased by 3.9% and 2.1% in Q1 and Q2, respectively, for a total of 3.0% for the first half of 2017. VA hearing aid units increased by 1.3% and 2.8% during the first two quarters, for a total increase of 2.1% in H1. The VA constituted 19.8% of US unit sales in the first half.

BTEs made up 82.1% of all US hearing aids dispensed during the first half, with RIC/RITE styles (a subcategory of BTEs) constituting about two-thirds (68.5%) of all sales. When looking at only the private sector, BTEs made up 83.1%, and RIC/RITEs 68.8% of all hearing aids sold. A total of 88.8% of all hearing aids sold in H1 featured wireless functionality, according to the HIA statistics.

So, why the high unit sales’ increases during the past 4 years? Here are three factors to keep in mind:

  • Age wave. The most obvious one is the continued aging of the US population—particularly the Baby Boomers. According to the US Bureau of the Census, during the 8 years from 2012 to 2020, the age 65+ population will increase by 12.83 million people—from 43.14 to 55.97 million—or by 29.7%.
  • Big Box. Costco and other Big Box retailers have continued to make a sizable impact on private/commercial-sector sales. Hearing Review estimates Costco’s current market share at around 12%, with a 2016 growth rate in the high single-digits. WalMart and Sam’s Club hearing aid sales have also grown during the past 4 years and CVS Pharmacy plans to expand to a total of 50 locations by the end of 2017.
  • New HIA reporting members in 2016. Intricon, a substantial manufacturer of hearing aids, started reporting unit sales to HIA in Q1 2016, probably accounting for a 2-3 percentage-point boost in sales last year. Similarly, Hansaton started reporting its hearing aid sales at the same time, further contributing to the 2016 HIA-reported unit increase.

Thus, a return to historical norms in unit growth during the first part of 2017 might be at least somewhat explained by the added percentage points from Intricon and Hansaton last year, a relative slowdown in VA unit growth, and possibly a maturing mass retail segment. Although the economy appears to be strong (the stock market has been in record territory), political turmoil and the tug-of-war over repealing and/or replacing the Affordable Care Act could also conceivably cause older adults to guard their wallets more closely. Although I’d never bet the farm on it, I have noted through the years that the stock market isn’t necessarily predictive of hearing aid sales; however, swoons in hearing aid sales sometimes presage a softening economy. Let’s hope that’s not the case this time.

Citation for this article: Strom KE. Hearing aid sales return to industry norms in H1 2017. Hearing Review. 2017;24(9):6.