How COVID-19 has changed the online pharmacy market in India

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Updated: Aug 21, 2020 3:06 PM

Indian online pharmacy, which has not seen any significant activity for long owing to lack of proper regulations, has recently witnessed two big mergers in the last one week; Reliance Retail has picked up a majority stake in Chennai-based e-pharmacy Netmeds, while PharmEasy is merging with Medlife.

The sector was anyway expected to grow sevenfold by 2023 to $2.7 billion.

Indian online pharmacy, which has not seen any significant activity for long owing to lack of proper regulations, has recently witnessed two big mergers in the last one week; Reliance Retail has picked up a majority stake in Chennai-based e-pharmacy Netmeds, while PharmEasy is merging with Medlife. E-commerce giant Amazon too announced drug delivery services on its platform. So the question is: has the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic impacted the online pharmacy space within the country? A report by The Indian Express highlighted that if not completely, but COVID-19 along with a subsequent behavioural shift in regard to e-commerce have enabled or catalysed growth for online pharmacies. However, it asserted that the sector was anyway expected to grow sevenfold by 2023 to $2.7 billion.

According to the report, this is mainly because of the challenges that are being faced by physical pharmacies, further giving impetus to their online counterparts. Citing experts, the report highlighted that e-pharmacies are likely to solve the problems which traditional pharmacies may not be able to and for this, a large-scale of online pharma space is required which in turn needs huge investments or consolidation.

In India, the pharmaceutical market is fragmented with over 8 lakh pharmacies and online set-ups. They all work on three main business models including marketplace, franchise-led hybrid (offline/online) along with inventory-led hybrid (offline/online), the report said.

However, until now, many investments in the online space have been kept at bay due to no defined regulations decided by the government. It is to note that since e-pharmacies have not been regulated so far, their operations get competition from brick and mortar chemists. The draft rules for e-pharmacies have been in the works and are expected to define the sales from online medium, the meaning of e-prescription and licences for online firms, among others. It is also expected to propose how e-pharmacies would distribute, sell, and stock medicines as well.

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