This piece was originally featured on the DISC blog.
By James Brown, Partnerships Lead, DISC
Like most global health initiatives, when COVID-19 mushroomed into a worldwide emergency last year, Delivering Innovations in Self-Care (DISC) had to adapt to a set of new and unique needs. Early estimates suggested that millions of women using a modern contraceptive method would be unable to get refills due to restricted mobility, potentially leading to a precipitous rise in unintended pregnancies. One year into the pandemic, UNFPA estimates that COVID-19 disrupted contraceptive use for about 12 million women, leading to nearly 1.4 million unintended pregnancies in 2020 across 115 low- and middle-income countries.
To help preserve hard-earned gains in sexual and reproductive health (SRH) access, agency, and choice, DISC sought new ways to bring contraceptive commodities and services closer to consumers.
In Nigeria, a country where about 50% of the population uses the Internet, around 90% of the total population have mobile phones and where a majority of internet users shop online, DISC forged a public-private partnership with the country’s leading e-retailer, Konga. The aim was to test how feasible and desirable the e-retail channel might be as a source for accessing contraception safely during COVID-19. While e-retail presents obvious benefits that include convenience and minimal social contact, DISC wanted to build understanding about how women would value the platform when it comes to contraception.
Improving the Shopper Experience and Product Range
Prior to this partnership, the contraception range available on Konga’s website had largely been limited to condoms, and the products had been integrated into a much larger category of ‘Sexual Wellness,’ which included sex toys, lingerie, sex enhancers and more. To improve the online shopper experience and make it easier for users to navigate between different types of contraceptives, DISC worked closely with Konga to create a standalone category for contraception and optimize the products, ensuring the selection was limited to relevant products from quality assured suppliers.
DISC also worked with Konga to engage the Federal Ministry of Health (including the Health Promotion Unit and the Family Health Department) and the Pharmaceutical Council on Nigeria to unlock regulatory barriers (including having a registered pharmacist available) and enable the e-retailer to expand its product offering beyond condoms into oral and emergency contraceptives.
To provide consumers with access to quality ongoing support and information, DISC partnered with Marie Stopes Nigeria’s SRH call center. Women visiting the contraception page on Konga were signposted to the Marie Stopes hotline where they could speak to a trained operator to obtain information and counseling about their reproductive and sexual health, and the various contraceptive options being offered.
Building Awareness and Creating Demand
Having optimized the online shopping experience and product range, DISC worked with Konga to highlight the relevance of contraception during COVID-19 and build awareness of the availability of contraception on the e-retail platform. The messaging used humor to recognize that couples were spending more time together during COVID-19 and that the absence of contraception due to social mobility constraints may mean they weren’t able to fully enjoy that time together. E-retail was presented as a solution to that challenge and the messages reinforced additional benefits of the platform, such as discretion and convenience. Recognizing that e-retail was not an established channel for buying contraception, DISC and Konga offered free delivery during the campaign with an eye to reducing purchasing barriers, helping to establish this new shopping behavior.
The communication campaign was activated in partnership with an international media agency, Population Media Center (PMC), through radio and social media and also directly to the millions of existing online shoppers already visiting Konga’s platform, an audience where conversion rates might be expected to be higher due to established behavior of shopping online (albeit not for contraception).
Over the course of the three-month campaign, the main contraception landing page on Konga’s website received 778,345 views from 145,000 unique users. While these numbers are encouraging, conversion to sale was low relative to the investment in marketing, with only 2,972 units of contraception sold.
Key Learnings and Next Steps
- E-retail is a rapidly growing channel in Nigeria, but there is a need to further invest in behavior change to establish it as a credible and trusted channel for purchasing contraceptives. As we continue to implement the DISC project, we plan to invest more time into building our understanding of consumer behavior and the barriers related to shopping online for contraception. Some findings from our recent design work with consumers (particularly youth) indicate they are currently uncomfortable receiving contraception directly to their home, preferring instead for convenient drop-off points they can collect products from—an insight the project is now prototyping around.
- The product that experienced the most growth was emergency contraception, a finding which resonates with a similar DISC project in Uganda. This indicates that the e-retail channel might be better suited to specific contraception products, where the added benefits of discretion and convenience might be of more value to the emergency contraception shopper than to shoppers of the other contraceptive products (such as condoms and oral contraceptives).
As the project continues to evolve, we look forward to building on these learnings and continuing to find more, and different, ways to reach women to ensure that they have access to the SRH products and services they want and need, at their convenience.
About the DISC project
DISC is a five-year project funded by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, which supports women—particularly urban mothers and young women aged 20-24—to take more control over their sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs, including and beyond contraception. The project aims to demonstrate that self-care—beginning with contraceptive self-injection—is a viable cornerstone of SRH care and that by offering women increased voice, choice and agency over their health, self-care offers health systems a new and critical partner: consumers themselves. The DISC project is actively looking for innovative public and private partnerships to expand access and availability of self-care information, support, products, and services. If you are interested in partnering with us, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.