Report on Shemaroo

How Covid spurred a turnaround for India's e-pharma industry

Online pharmacy companies saw a massive jump in users during the pandemic

Mumbai: According to a 2019 EY report, the Indian e-pharma sector was poised to touch $2.7 billion by 2023 from $360 million. The report cited an increase in internet penetration and smartphone ownership, along with the ease of ordering medications through an e-commerce platform and an increase in chronic diseases as some of the key growth drivers for the online pharma industry.

And this was before the Covid-19 put a gigantic spoke in the wheel of our outdoor activities. And, before it became hara-kiri to step out of one’s house for as mundane a task as purchasing some prescription pills.

The Covid Tsunami Effect

One year plus of the tidal onslaught of the Covid tsunami has brought about irrevocable changes into the world. The exponential and fast-tracked tilt towards everything digital was one of them and it was obvious that online pharmacies and healthcare would not be far behind.

“With limited reach and usage till a year ago, the pandemic has changed the landscape drastically. Lockdowns, restricted movement, and policy initiatives have enabled higher adoption, penetration, and substantial growth,” says digital marketing agency Natter COO Avinash Joshi as he opines on the growth in India’s e-pharma space.

High caseloads, especially in urban areas coupled with regional lockdowns have compelled consumers to take the online route rather than visit the friendly neighbourhood pharmacies. It’s no longer simply a matter of convenience but about undertaking any added risk by venturing out unnecessarily.

Driven by the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, India’s e-pharmacy sector is once again witnessing a surge in orders. There has also been a spike in sales of Covid-related products - such as pulse oximeters, personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, oxygen cans, masks, sanitizers, health supplements across major online pharma players, in addition to regular drugs. 

Overall Growth in the e-Sector

According to dentsu Impact president Amit Wadhwa, the e-pharma sector in India is still in its nascent stage and while it has been growing rapidly in the last 4-5 years in India, a big surge in that growth happened only over the last one year. “This is not just visible in the industry growth numbers and how we are seeing consumers using/ talking about the platform, but also with the number of new players that we are constantly seeing entering this segment, with even traditional chemists such as Apollo Pharmacy along with big names such as Amazon diving right in,” says Wadhwa.

As per estimates, 35 per cent of the domestic pharmaceutical market relates to chronic medications and the remainder to acute medicines. E-pharmacies have been targeting the chronic market majorly so far and are expected to scale up the acute medicine market through an improvement in last-mile logistics and collaboration with local pharmacies.

“In the years to come, people will look at 2020 as ‘the year that changed everything- especially the way we reach out to our end consumers’,” says Hybrid healthcare start up Healthnovo co-founder Rima Sunit. “We see an increasing trend of teleconsultation, online ordering of medicines, etc. Even doctors are now adapting to new methods of providing prescriptions by using digital tools and consulting their patients over a video call. Currently, the Indian market is flooded by online players offering the best services at discounted prices.”

According to industry trackers, the sector’s growth is on top of an already robust revenue increase of around 35 per cent last year. The second wave and the consequent uptick in orders are setting the industry up for yet another year of strong growth in the range of 30-50 per cent. An almost 3X expansion in the number of users ordering medicines online means the sector is bound to see strong revenue growth this year as well.

Major players & their marketing game

Some of the leading players in this race to tap into the burgeoning e-pharma sector are 1mg, Netmeds, Pharmeasy, and Medlife with many new entrants emerging on the scene. In the last few months, brands like PharmEasy have been wooing the customer with a deluge of commercials, amplifying their message of ‘Aapki Health Aapke Haath Mein hai’ (your health is in your hands), with a dash of humour and relatability to the common man.

Netmeds roped in celebrity brand ambassador, Kareena Kapoor to convey the reliability and safety of their service, coupled with the ease and convenience of access for the customer.

According to Wadhwa, the brands are focusing their messaging on discounts and ease of delivery as ‘this is a phase where the category is creating awareness and the intent is to gain from the physical chemists’. He adds, “As the category gains more acceptance, we will see a more defined and differentiated messaging/ tonality across at least the key brands where possibly more planks such as trust, presence, etc. might be explored.”

Reaping the benefits of increased demand, online pharmacies and digital health companies have been passing on some of the paybacks to consumers by offering generous discounts on online purchases. This helped drive up the sales initially, while brands were trying to make a dent in the hitherto traditional Indian pharma market. In the long run, however, discounts may have to come down to reasonable levels to achieve breakeven and any meaningful profitability.

“With several local & global players in the fray, a lot of money is being spent to own and retain that exclusive audience. These brands are spending big on ATL and driving performance on digital with retargeting, scaling up downloads, offering discounts & referrals. These digital-first brands make use of chat-bots for queries & resolutions, AI & ML for recommendations, and tracking tools & digital payments for fulfilment. They are also spending big on content creation to engage with the user on the right platform,” says Natter COO Avinash Joshi.

Despite challenges like trust deficit, customer support issues, and remote area access, if the spurt in the e- pharma industry continues, it can aid in the regulation of the Indian pharma space. As e-pharma companies insist on verifying the prescription online before dispensing medicine they are likely to be more structured than their traditional counterparts.

Latest Reads
Spotify names Taj Alavi as global head of marketing

New Delhi: Spotify on Friday appointed Taj Alavi as the global head of marketing. Alavi was previously associated with Uber as senior director global marketing from March 2019 to August 2020 and Intuit as head of brand marketing. She has also worked with financial technology company, Chime as vice...

MAM Marketing MAM
OnePlus ropes in Jasprit Bumrah as brand ambassador for wearables

New Delhi: Premium smartphone brand OnePlus has roped in cricketer Jasprit Bumrah as the brand ambassador for its wearable category. The OnePlus wearables category includes the OnePlus watch and the OnePlus Band. The association will include a 360-degree campaign and will be kick-started by a...

MAM Marketing Brands
Ronaldo's Coke snub kicks off a meme-fest

Mumbai: What seemed like a simple act by Portugal footballer Cristiano Ronaldo of moving aside two bottles of Coke and replacing them with a bottle of water at a post-match presser quickly metamorphosed into a sponsors’ nightmare at the 2020 Euro football league. For one, it cost the beverage giant...

MAM Marketing MAM
1702 Digital promotes Pranay Bhan to national creative director

New Delhi: Integrated digital marketing company, 1702 Digital has promoted Pranay Bhan to the role of national creative director.

MAM Media and Advertising People
ICC signs GoDaddy as official sponsor for WTC 2021

New Delhi: GoDaddy on Friday announced its official sponsorship of the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Test Championship 2021.

MAM Marketing MAM
slice onboards Siva Kumar Tangudu as CTO

MUMBAI: Fintech startup and credit card challenger slice on Friday announced the appointment of Siva Kumar Tangudu as the company’s new chief technology officer.

MAM Marketing MAM
Interbrand unveils top 30 brands set to revolutionise the US market

Mumbai: Global brand consultancy Interbrand launched its Breakthrough Brands 2021 report unveiling the top 30 brands set to take the US market by storm in the coming decade. From mobile banking developed specifically for Black and Latinx customers to secure messaging services and plant-derived...

MAM Marketing MAM
CARS24 expands operations to UAE and Australia

E-commerce platform for pre-owned vehicles, CARS24 is set to disrupt the used automobile ecosystem around the globe. The company has launched its business in Australia and UAE and is gearing up to launch business in Southeast Asian and Middle East countries this year.

MAM Marketing MAM
ICC announces Upstox as Official Partner

The International Cricket Council (ICC) on Thursday announced a major long-term partnership with the homegrown investment platform Upstox.

MAM Marketing MAM

Sign up for our Newsletter

subscribe for latest stories

* indicates required