Boots gets the boot

26 July 2017 | Pic PR

Rose, of intern fame, takes a look at Boots' shambolic PR approach to its morning after pill pricing strategy...

Boots has faced what can only be described as a PR disaster after offending a significant proportion of its customers this week.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has recently criticised Boots for failing to match the price of its competitors when it comes to the morning-after pill. While Tesco charges £13.50 for the leading emergency contraceptive, the same product retails for a staggering £28.25 at Boots. Marc Donovan, chief pharmacist of Boots UK, attempted to defend the £30 price tag with the following response:

“In our experience the subject of emergency hormonal contraception polarises public opinion and we receive frequent contact from individuals who voice their disapproval of the fact that the company chooses to provide this service.

We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product.”

Despite Boots’ disastrous attempt to avoid taking a stance on an admittedly sensitive issue, Donovan’s statement still came across as a lecture on morality. Most women are aware that emergency contraceptives are not designed for regular use. However, the implication that women would exercise “inappropriate use” of the pill left, right and centre if the price was lowered has caused widespread offence. Many have argued that Boots are attempting to police women’s sexual autonomy by limiting access to this product. As a result, various female MPs for Labour have encouraged consumers to boycott Boots. Jess Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley argued that:

“It’s totally unacceptable and also totally commercial, they’re willing to take a moral stance if its pays them. They’re still willing to sell it.

It’s clearly a commercial interest on their part. Their position infantilises women’s choices.”

In its evident fear of conservative and/or religious opposition to lowered prices, Boots seems to have forgotten that most of its customers are women who can put their money where their mouth is. Boots’ hasty apology for causing “offence and misunderstanding” clearly demonstrates this – and, to some extent, detracts attention from the matter at hand. When the furore dies down, will Boots make the morning-after pill more affordable? This is a perilous situation for women who don’t have time to waste in an NHS waiting room or the money to afford Boots’ expensive service.

In an increasingly divided society, the stance that brands take on contested issues is becoming more and more important to consumers. Boots’ dubious stance on this issue may well stick in consumers’ minds long enough to affect their sales.