Cheap hearing devices online? How cheap is cheap? Pick a number…..any number.

Those devices are sometimes referred to as PSAPs — pronounced PEE-sap, and stands for Personal Sound Amplifying Device, a shorthand designation used by the FCC to refer to products that don’t meet their standards for “hearing aids.”  It’s a long, and divisive story, still being played out by manufacturers who really, really want to call their PSAPs “hearing aids,” because they can’t think of an alternative that will create the same revenues. Latest candidate: “hearables.”

Here’s how it looks from a consumer’s perspective:
One day, cruising around the internet, I discovered a hearing device called the LifeEar Hearing Amplifier, on Amazon. The prices were as follows: Price: $109.99 for two, with a savings of $2190.00!! (Based on the List Price of $2199.99). Where do I sign up? Oh, right, I just have to hit “Add to cart.”

But, wait….that’s a pretty big price difference. I wanted to know what they were comparing. So, I posted a question, “You compare the cost of these aids ($109.99 a pair) with savings of $2190.00. What is the basis for comparison?” (posted on September 17, 2015).

Seemed simple enough. A couple of days later, the Seller replied:
“The LifeEar uses many of the same high-end components found in more expensive aids, but instead of needing the device programmed by an audiologist or another professional, paying for their time and office space, the LifeEar comes with four separate amplification programs that we developed to assist a majority (sic) people straight out of the box. Since the device may not be suitable for everyone, we include a 30-day, satisfaction-guaranteed return policy with every LifeEar.”
Doing the Math

So, the basis of the savings is the audiologist’s time and office space (not to mention coffee and the phone bill). That’s a pretty fuzzy basis for comparison. How can they know audiologists’ expenses to a level of detail that lets them calculate the savings so exactly ($2199.99)? I would at least expect a little rounding, but, then, maybe they started with $2199.98887).
Follow up by Amazon

Not to be outdone in the arena of customer follow-up, Amazon emailed me about six months later, to see if my question had been answered adequately. What a coincidence! I had just read an article on the front page of the New York Times, called: It’s Discounted, but is it a Deal? How List Prices Lost Their Meaning. In the article, Amazon was mentioned several times, including: “Recently, Amazon said it would knock $60 off the $260 list price to sell a Le Creuset skillet for $200. On Le Creuset’s own site, the pan was selling for $200.”

Thus armed, I replied to Amazon:

From: (me)

Date: March 6, 2016 at 5:14:28 PM EST

To: amazon-answers-feedback@amazon.com

“Hi, Amazon;

The question I posed (“You compare the cost of these aids ($109.99 a pair) with savings of $2190.00. What is the basis for comparison?”) had to do with a vendor’s comparison between their price and the “list” price for amplification devices. There is not, and was never, a list price of anywhere near, let alone over, $2300 for that device. In fact, the vendor’s reply to my question was, “The LifeEar uses many of the same high-end components found in more expensive aids”. That’s not a list-price comparison. That’s a false comparison.

You might want to read what the FTC is doing about these misleading “list price” comparisons. Oh…wait a minute…Amazon is mentioned several times in the article about it on the front page of today’s New York Times. So I guess you’re all read up on the subject, being that you’re in the cross-hairs. Good luck with that.”

Look over there!

Today, the only LifeEar Hearing Amplifiers I can find on Amazon are on sale for $379.99 apiece. Two for $759.98. And the savings? For a pair, $540.00. A nice, round number this time. Hard to know if these are the exact same amplifiers….the original ones aren’t on Amazon any more. If I use the link that was in my original question, last September, it takes me to the new version, which is more expensive and saves you less.

I guess this is what they call a volatile market, or the effect of disruptive players. All I know is that caveat emptor was never better advice. This is still a hot issue, with the FDA re-opening a public comment period on the question of whether manufacturers will be allowed to call PSAPs hearing aids, or something similar. And there’s a Beacon piece with a slightly different perspective on this mess, here, if you’d like to read more.

Hearing-device manufacturers, and new entrants (like Apple) are finally doing the math…this is a big, potentially-profitable, market. If you can just get those annoying rules changed.

Originally published on Be Here Now at BeaconReader.com.

 

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