Shortage of O.B. Tampons Causes Rush, Boosts Prices Online

O.B. brand tampons missing from shelves, company says they'll be back soon.

January 19, 2011, 12:31 PM

Jan. 19, 2010 — -- The shortage of a popular brand of tampons has alarmed women who are so loyal to this most intimate of necessities that they have been willing to pay exorbitant amounts when they can find them online.

The disappearance of the o.b. brand tampons from store shelves has boosted prices on eBay to as much as $100 for a set of three boxes of 40 tampons. Boxes of the o.b. tampons typically cost around $8.

"I just figured that my store was out and hadn't been restocking them, but when I went to three or four more stores and realized those shelves were empty too, I was panicking," said Debbie Ronca.

Luckily, Ronca didn't have to pay the eBay price to replenish her supply and instead received boxes of her favorite tampons from her sister for Christmas, who shipped them to Ronca's Tennessee home from Florida.

Ronca, like many other women, became loyal consumers of o.b. brand tampons because of their compact size and comfort. The tampons, unlike many of its competitors, come without an applicator and therefore produce less waste than their counterparts.

"Your choice of tampon is a very personal thing," explained Ronca, 42, who says she has been using the o.b. brand for more than 20 years. "When you've been using the same product for that long and it has never changed, it's a little terrifying to think about what you're going to do without that product."

Other women say they use o.b. branded tampons because of they come they offer a higher absorbancy than others.

"It's like getting a fix, when you have something you rely on for years and then it's missing," said Dodai Stewart, the New York-based deputy editor of the popular women's blog Jezebel, who has been covering the tampon shortage for months.

Yukela Williams, a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson, the company that manufactures o.b. tampons, said in an e-mail to ABC News that customers can expect the product back on shelves soon.

Delicate Issue: Tampon Shortage

"O.b. tampons experienced a temporary supply interruption that has resulted in some stores being out of stock. We have now begun shipping o.b. products, which are now available in some stores, and will be arriving at others over the next few days and weeks. We apologize to o.b. consumers who may have been inconvenienced," said Williams. A similar statement was also posted on the company's website.

Williams did not say what caused the supply interruption.

But Stewart is out of luck when it comes to the 'Ultra" absorbancy o.b. tampons, which have apparently been discontinued.

"The Ultra line was discontinued in September," said Williams. "There have been no unusual reports of adverse events related to Ultra and the decision to discontinue was a business decision."

A spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration confirmed to ABC News that there have been no concerns over the safety of the o.b. tampons that may have lead to their discontinuation.

Stewart, who said she had a "little freak out" when the product became scarce, said she wasn't surprised at the outcry over the shortage.

"I think there are two forces at work, the first is the general brand loyalty," said Stewart. "When you find something that works and works great and you're used to it and it's an intimate product -- we're not just talking about shampoo here -- you get used to it."

"The other force at work here which is what really inspires people to be crazy about o.b. products is that it is a very well-made product, and it's different," she said. "It fits differently and has no applicator and I think people like that. They feel like it's effective."

Stewart said she even had one reader whom she has never met send her a box of the tampons after reading her blog.

Others have been commenting on the similarity between this shortage and the famous "Seinfeld" episode where Elaine has to cope with the discontinuation of the contraceptive sponge she used, leading her to hoard her supply and determine whether the man she is sleeping with is "sponge worthy."

While Stewart eventually got her answers about the product by soliciting Johnson & Johnson for information, consumers like Ronca say they were left uninformed about a product they've been loyal to.

"I was annoyed because there was no information about what was going on," said Ronca. "It would be nice to know why they were discontinued and if there is something wrong with them. Is there a danger?"

Ronca said she spent hours researching the product and found herself "nervous" about the entire situation.

Shortage of O.B. Tampons About to End

"It would be nice of [o.b] to offer us a coupon or something," said Ronca.

Williams did not respond to a question regarding any potential incentives for customers who were inconvenienced by the shortage.

Consultant and loyalty expert Diane Durkin said that it is in Johnson & Johnson's best interest to offer a public apology to its customers.

"What happens is that people get really committed to a particular comfort level and in this case it's not only with the brand but with the product itself," said Durkin. "This is also a very personal item, and because its so personal people want the comfort. This is not something you fool around with."

"The thing [o.b.] has to remember is that these women are going to influence other women, it's the best advertising in the world," she said. "They're going to talk to their daughters, friends and moms -- everyone is going to know about this."

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