Online shopping is redefining how small-town Indian women deal with their periods

Looking beyond sanitary pads.
Looking beyond sanitary pads.
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E-commerce is democratising the market for female hygiene products in India.

Thanks to the anonymity of online shopping, more women are experimenting with alternative products like tampons and menstrual cups, and going beyond sanitary napkins, according to Flipkart.

Even though sanitary napkin sales command an 80% share of the segment for the Walmart-owned retailer, the significant rest includes intimate care products such as hygiene oils and gel, urination devices, and menstrual cups.

“Online selling platforms provide customers a wide range of products, offers, and discretion in delivery, encouraging women to experiment with purchase choices,” Nishit Garg, Flipkart head of books, general merchandise, and home, told Quartz over email.

Buying behaviour

Going by the sales data, Flipkart identified that tier 1 towns and metros are leading the demand for tampons and menstrual cups.

However, the popularity of these products is now trickling down to smaller towns as well.

Flipkart claims its feminine hygiene product sales witnessed a five-fold growth in the April-June period, mostly led by demand from tier 2 and tier 3 cities.

“Nearly 100 million of India’s 300-400 million-strong middle class currently live in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. Many women in these places lack access to brick-and-mortar stores where they can purchase hygiene products. So, now they are turning to online channels,” suggested Garg of Flipkart.

Increasing awareness around women’s health and hygiene, courtesy government initiatives and Bollywood movies like the Akshay Kumar-starrer PadMan, has given a boost to sales in smaller towns.

For instance, the Delhi-based tampon maker Visionaari, claims that about 50% of its orders now come from tier 2 and tier 3 regions. “Because of the easy access at the click of a button and the convenience of getting products delivered home, there is traction in places like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh,” said Gauri Singhal, founder of Visionaari, which markets the FLOH brand of tampons.

Thanks to the demand from smaller towns, the prospects look bright for the segment.

Growing market

The share of feminine hygiene products in India’s overall online retail is still in low single-digits, according to various industry estimates. But it is growing.

In 2017, sales stood at $340 million (Rs2,200 crore) and was estimated to grow to $522 million by 2020, according to the market research firm Euromonitor.

North and east Indian states lead the demand.

Product innovation

The popularity of the devices has also spawned a number of startups like Carmesi, Nua, Heyday, and Azah, besides Visionaari. They’re keen to tap millennial girls and working women who are looking for differentiated products and are open to experimenting.

Deep Bajaj, founder of PeeBuddy, the Gurugram-based manufacturer of Sirona, modern menstrual and intimate hygiene products and PeeBuddy, a disposable, portable urination device for women acknowledges the work done by established sanitary napkin brands like Whisper and Stayfree in spreading awareness around period hygiene.

However, now, “the market is moving towards products that offer convenience and are personalised. If a women has polycystic ovarian disease, then menstrual cups are the best option for her, not sanitary napkins,” explained Bajaj.

Flipkart also claimed it has seen an increase in the demand for eco-friendly products in female hygiene. “Apart from cost effectiveness, minimal waste generation is one of the major driving factors behind the increasing adoption of products like menstrual cups and reusable cloth pads,” said Garg.