The US giant Costco to market hearing aids in France in 2017

Mass distribution

Costco in France The Costco site in Villebon-sur-Yvette, south of Paris (architect rendition on the Costco France website) -
Copyright: Costco France.

Hearing aids coming soon to Costco France? After five years of preparation, the American giant in the mass wholesale sector, Costco Wholesale Corporation, will open its first store in France this May, with a delay of two and half years on the initial schedule.

The US group, number two worldwide in mass wholesale, started the groundwork for its future wholesale store in October 2016 in the town of Villebon-sur-Yvette around 15 miles south of central Paris. This first site, which will house the company headquarters for Costco France, will cover some 13,550 m2 and will employ nearly 300 people.

In the aisles of this mega store similar to Ikea: giant pizzas, cheese by the pound, drinks, fruits and vegetables, furniture, sporting goods, televisions, health and body care products, car accessories, DIY, and so on, all presented on pallets.

What about hearing aid specialists? Today, Costco Wholesale Corporation is looking for a hearing aid specialist to manage the hearing aids department. Costco is a warehouse membership club to join for private individuals and for professionals – it will cost € 36 in France. Like its other stores outside France, Costco is likely to offer medical devices dedicated to hearing rehabilitation (only the high-end range in France), much like it does in the area of eyeglasses.

In the United States, Costco has specialized in the distribution of hearing aids for a long time through a network of 492 centers within its stores – on its world network of 718 stores, 623 have hearing centers. The group markets among others, the brands Bernafon, GN ReSound, Kirkland (its distributor brand which represents 14 to 15% of products in all areas and whose audiology devices are developed by Sivantos), Rexton, and products from the Swiss company Phonak. On the distributor’s website for France, it is announced that: “Costco sells hearing aids and devices with the highest quality criteria in the market, at unbeatable prices.”

The aim for Costco is clear: “bringing major brands to customers at the lowest possible prices.” But the company also promises its club members a unique experience. “We are neither a hypermarket nor a hard discount store! We offer our members a real ‘treasure hunt’, enabling them to discover unique products!” says Gary Swindells, head of company development for France in a Costco presentation video (see below).

In this price-driven consumer context, this new arrival is cause for concern not only for France’s own mass retail outlets. The Costco model is built on the selection of products with far fewer references than in a classic hypermarket. The store thus offers a very high number of product types, but within limited ranges. And the company keeps very strict control of its expenditure items.

Costco was founded in 1983 in Seattle, Washington State. The group is now present in 10 countries on several continents, including Asia and Europe (UK, with 28 stores; and Spain) and currently has sales of about 120 billion US dollars worldwide, with more than 700 stores employing more than 205,000 staff.

Read the complete story in French on EDP audio.

G.B.