The pandemic has pushed us to the digital world, in a way, we had never imagined. From adopting remote work to trying online shopping, the fear of viruses has been pushing us to go digital. Online pharmacies are no exception. Since 2020, the online pharmacy market has been growing.
According to industry players, the growth has been exemplary.
For instance: Jeevee, an online pharmacy and healthcare app which began its operation in November 2019 saw more than four times growth right after the lockdown. According to Aabhushan Kansakar, founder and CEO of Jeevee Health Pvt.Ltd, the company has been seeing 100 percent growth in every quarter.
Similarly, MeroHealthCare, an online pharmacy portal that began its service in July 2020 has experienced around 40 percent growth in the duration of these 10 months.
Likewise, ePharmacy, an online medical store that has been operating since late 2018 has seen almost five times growth till now. According to Nishit Raj Bhandari, co-founder of Mahendra Epharmacy Pvt.Ltd says that the growth has been exemplary and they met their target quite early.
“When we began, we had given around five years to achieve our target, but due to Covid the growth became quick,” shares Raj Bhandari.
Most online pharmacies here deliver a range of products including general medicines, medicines for chronic diseases, baby health care products, healthy food items, dermo-cosmetics, personal care and safety essentials, Ayurvedic medicines and many health-related products.
The majority of customers consists of the ones who need medicines for chronic disease. Nabaraj Siwakoti, co-founder of MeroHealthCare says that most of the orders are for medicines related to diabetes and blood pressure.
According to Raj Bhandari, derma cosmetics is also one of the highly demanded products. “Mostly females above the age of 20 order derma cosmetics. And chronic medicines are mostly ordered by males above 35 years,” says Raj Bhandari from E-pharmacy.
Also, online pharmacy has been a boon for many elderly individuals whose children are abroad. “Many elderly people who don’t have any young individual living with them. Many of our customers are the ones who order wheelchair, oxygen and other critical medication for their parents from abroad,” says Kansakar.
According to the entrepreneurs, even medicines like cetamol, zinc tablets, vitamin C are among the highly demanded medicines during the pandemic. However, during other times, most people prefer buying these kinds of medicines in the nearby pharmacy.
Yet to explore market outside the valley
Online shopping is very slowly becoming a part of our lifestyle. Thanks to the quarantine measures which have been contributing to change the consumer behaviour. The high penetration is still limited to the Kathmandu valley, but the industry players are confident about reaching all over Nepal with time.
Around 65 percent of Jeevee’s customers are from Kathmandu valley and the rest of them are from other places. According to Kansakar from Jeeevee, they have reached almost 52 cities in the country.
E-pharmacy’s Raj Bhandari shares that 20 percent of their daily sales are from outside the valley. “We haven’t done any promotion when it comes to the outside valley. We are in the plans and will start doing that very soon,” says Raj Bhandari.
MeroHealthCare is limited to delivering the medicines inside the valley. “We courier the medicines in some case, but we haven’t yet started it insignificant amount,” says Siwakoti.
Opportunities and prospect
Online markets have been playing an integral role in the frontline to prevent people from coming out searching for critical medical supplies. However, during normal times, the role of community pharmacy is irreplaceable, especially in a country like Nepal. Pharmacies are easily accessible when we need consultations or in the case of medication.
According to the entrepreneurs, online pharmacies must go beyond selling regular medicines. Jeevee co-founder Kansakar says that the majority of medical supplies and needs are fulfilled by the hospital. According to him, online pharmacies must facilitate products and services that focus on an individual’s holistic health.
Similarly, Raj Bhandari says that online pharmacies need to focus on increasing their customer base to sustain. “We need less human resources in a community pharmacy but we need more human resources for IT and logistics department when we move online. So, we need to have a significant number of customers to cover the cost,” says Raj Bhandari.
Kansakar from Jeevee aligns with the thought of Raj Bhandari.
“We have very least profit on medical stuff and we also need to keep discounts so that customers get some advantage while purchasing online. Hence, increasing the number of customers is important,” he shares.
Siwakoti shares that online pharmacies need to move to telehealth services as well. “Telehealth consultation is the future. So, we need to expand the horizon to survive and thrive in the market,” says Siwakoti.
Around two months ago Department of Drug Administration (DDA) had directed all the online pharmacies to stop their operation reasoning it to be illegal. However, they did not take any concrete action. Also, the government has not made any guidelines for the operation of online pharmacies.
The entrepreneurs urge the government to form a proper guideline to run an online pharmacy. Siwakoti from MeroHealthCare shares that the online pharmacies which have been operating without registration should be banned. “For this, we need a proper guideline,” he says.
“There are many online pharmacies which mention fake discount on products in their Facebook page. But when customers visit their website, they find out that the actual price is different,” observes E-pharmacy founder Raj Bhandari. He says that bringing proper guidelines will solve this issue.
Kansakar has a slightly different view on this. He considers that online pharmacies are not different industries. “They are like any other pharmacies registered with the Department of Drug Administration,” says Kansakar. Even other pharmacies take orders via messaging apps, he says. As the criteria are all same, he says that online pharmacies should be treated like other pharmacies. He believes that rules and guidelines for all pharmacies have to be the same.