Before the three-month lockdown, things were somewhat normal. Most didn’t care about the online fad, and almost all of them preferred in-person shopping above anything else.
Then, the lockdown inevitably happened, and normal went out of the window.
Despite the unforgiving circumstances, it became a breeding ground for accepting new ideas. Digital Payment platforms soared, Education Institutes were forced to go online, and the Ecommerce Platform saw a drastic rise in popularity. Online order and home delivery became a new normal in the digital world.
Interestingly, few companies saw the potential of the digital age. Those companies started long before many considered it to be the next reasonable step.
Those startups have a unique story. A story about their ideas, innovations, and struggles.
ePharmacy is one of those startups that saw the potential of the digital age, long before everybody else. And, this is their journey from a small idea to a promising platform.
ePharmacy is a one-stop solution online platform for healthcare requirements. Customers can order medicine, health, and beauty care products on the ePharmacy platforms- website, mobile apps, and leading social media platforms. The order gets delivered at their respective doorstep.
Early Beginning & Initiation
Every startup has an early beginning. In that context, the story of ePharmacy is no different. The company was founded in January 2019 by Mr. Romendra Bhahadur Amatya with five other members. It started with a simple idea, to solve a simple yet recurring problem.
“We started with an idea to deliver registered medicine to customers. It might not seem like a revolutionary idea, but we wanted to solve a problem. Oftentimes when doctors prescribe multiple medicines, customers are unable to find all of the prescribed medicine in a single pharmacy.
Depending on the situation and urgency, it becomes a nuisance to visit multiple pharmacies. So, we wanted to be part of that solution for our customers. Regardless of the location, we try our best to deliver.”, says CTO of ePharmacy, Mr. Nishit Rajbhandari.
Mr. Rajbhandari also credits his friends and families for setting a solid foundation for the formation of ePharmacy. Additionally, a combination of supportive members and experts in their respective fields have helped strengthen ePharmacy’s core foundations.
Testing the Waters
Before ePharmacy moved ahead with full throttle, the team planned to test out their ideas first. They utilized social messaging platforms like Viber, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger as a trial platform to check the feasibility of online pharmacy among Nepalese people.
“During the early stages, we came up with a vision on how to move forward. Before that, we wanted to move forward legally. We decided to self-invest on the idea with the help of friends and families. Then, we communicated with our customers through those messaging platforms. We tried our best to improve with all the feedback we got at that time. Surprisingly, we got plenty of positive feedback over a period of six months. After gaining confidence in the idea, we decided to persuade it with full stream.”
Mr. Rajbhandari also mentions that ePharmacy followed best practices, including good pharmacy practice, good clinical practice, since day one. Moreover, the inclusion of friends and families from different educational and professional backgrounds helped ePharmacy get a better start.
Mr. Nishit Rajbhandari adds that ePharmacy is a logistic service at heart. The company delivers prescription medicine and other healthcare items further reducing customer inconvenience.
“When a customer puts in an order, they should upload their prescription in the ePharmacy website or app. Then, we analyze the prescription, reconfirm the order, advice our customers on dosage administration, and dispatch within 24 hours. In the case of phone calls, we request customers to upload their prescriptions via messaging channels.”
“As a startup, initially, we were unable to have a high level of inventory to cater to the customer’s needs. However, with an increase in demand during this COVID-19 pandemic, we did change our model and equipped our pharmacy with a wide range of medicines, health-related items, and beauty care products.” Mr. Rajbhandari adds.
ePharmacy isn’t the only online medicine delivery service in Nepal. The company faces stiff competition from the likes of Jeevee, OnlineAusadi, 24Seven among others. Interestingly, ePharmacy differentiates itself with a unique X-Factor.
“We try to give customers a complete package, offering our services across multiple platforms. Moreover, we aspire to do more. With that in mind, our app also features two unique x-factors.
Firstly, we have a Family Wellness feature. It allows customers to upload their reports directly to the app. Plus, the app allows customers to upload multiple reports of their family members.
Secondly, customers can easily order medicine in a set. So, if a customer wants to buy medicine for their father and mother, they can easily create a separate package for both of them. The “Reminder” feature will help customers replenish their stock in a timely fashion.”, Mr. Rajbhandari mentions.
Trials and Tribulations
Every startup goes through their struggles, their capacity to overcome those hurdles defines their ability to sustain that business. ePharmacy did have its fair share of struggles which is normal for a startup. However, Mr. Rajbhandari has a different take on that.
“Most do not know about the possibility and extent of technology. During our trial period, we realized that there is still a gap in technological knowledge among the majority of customers. While few don’t even realize that medicine can be ordered online, most prefer ordering via phone call.
Although, it is expected since our customer base belongs to the 45-50+ age group. Rather than going with the hassle of visiting the website, creating an account, then ordering, they prefer to call, put in the order, and be done with it.”
Mr. Rajbhandari says that people leave it up to ePharmacy to order for them. While it does sound ridiculous, it highlights one of the major hurdles of the Nepali tech evolution. Consumers always prefer the traditional method, putting little to no faith in new tech.
Effects of Lockdown
The global pandemic highlighted the necessity behind adapting to new technology. With numerous lockdowns and potential health hazards, people saw the safety and reliability behind ordering online. Most people came to realize that it was more than just a fad, it has now become an integral part of our life.
“For better or worse, the COVID-19 pandemic showed the importance of using technology. It forced many to explore the possibility of new technology. We saw many customers change from ‘I don’t want to learn’ mentality to ‘I want to learn’. It was a sharp contrast to things before the lockdown.
During this time, people put more faith in purchasing via the website than phone calls. The burst of popularity wasn’t just limited to the ePharmacy website. We launched our app, on both Android and iOS platforms, at the height of the lockdown. At that time, we saw about 1500-2000 downloads without any active promotions. And our customer base doubled by 100%. We realized that mobile penetration is increasing.”, Mr. Rajbhandari explains.
The lockdown highlighted mobile platforms as the next big step with huge traction potential.
ePharmacy offers free delivery without any minimum order limit. The current service location is focused inside Kathmandu Valley province.
“If a customer orders even Rs. 10 worth of medicine, we deliver it without any extra charge. Right now, we offer our delivery service anywhere inside Ring Road. We also deliver 2km-3km outside Ring Road but at a little extra charge based on the location.”, says Mr. Rajbhandari.
However, the unforgiving circumstances of the lockdown have allowed the ePharmacy team to test their delivery services outside Bagmati province.
“During the height of lockdown, we had received an order to deliver medicine to Pokhara. The customer claimed that the ordered medicine wasn’t available there. Despite limited transportation, we wanted to help. At the time, we delivered via courier, which added to our experience delivering outside our comfort zone.”
Future of ePharmacy
Mr. Rajbhandari claims that the situation allowed the team to achieve 50% of their goals in just 2 years. However, the end of the lockdown has brought on new challenges.
“We had about 30-40% order cancellation due to stock problems during the lockdown. So, the reopening of the business means we have to deal with less cancellation. At the same time, our sales are down when compared to the lockdown days. But we are seeing an increase in recurring customers.
However, we are happy that we got the opportunity to learn and promote the online-platform. The entire thing has been confidence-inspiring.” Mr. Rajbhandari continues.
“ePharmacy is a new concept. However, it might take some time before it becomes a proven concept. How will ePharmacy evolve in the future? Well, we are still in the struggling phase, but we have already achieved most of our goals. While the future is uncertain, we hope that better days are yet to come.”