Driven by the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, India’s online pharmacy sector is once again witnessing a surge in orders for medical devices, personal protective equipment (PPE), health supplements and commonly available drugs.
High caseloads in cities coupled with regional lockdowns, especially in large metros, has pushed consumers to order online than visit offline pharmacies and diagnostic centres.
This is driving up sales by 25-65% for online pharmacies, according to company executives and industry experts.
At 1 mg, among the top three online pharmacies in the country, medicines like Fabiflu and Doxzee – said to treat mild Covid-19 cases – saw a 40-50X increase in sales in April, compared to March.
The company said sales would have been higher if it weren’t for supply constraints of such drugs.
Demand for Covid-19-related products on its platform was 5X in April compared to the previous month, it said.
“At present, there is almost unbounded consumer need, and we are investing actively to ensure the supply chains can cater to this demand,” said Prashant Tandon, co-founder and CEO of 1 mg. “Consumers are very apprehensive about exposure as they get their lab tests and medicines.”
Experts said the increased demand for Covid-19 related products – such as pulse oximeters, PPE kits, oxygen cans, masks, supplements like Zincovit and Limcee – is uniform across major online pharma players.
Sales have also got a fillip from the FMCG products that these companies retail, they added.
Omnichannel pharmacy chain Wellness Forever said orders have spiked by 25% with the onset of the second wave. There has been an uptick in sales of FMCG products, medical devices such as oximeters and thermometers, as well as medicines, it said.
“We are seeing a similar spike in orders over the app, calls and walk-ins,” said Gulshan Bhaktiani, co-founder, Wellness Forever Medicare, which closed the year ending March 31 with Rs 900 crore in revenue, a 25% jump year on year.
According to industry trackers, the sector’s growth is on top of an already robust revenue increase of around 35% last year.
An almost 3X expansion in the number of users ordering medicines online last year means the sector is bound to see strong growth this year as well.
“I think the growth will slow down because the base is much larger now. We might not see 40-45% growth this year, but it will still be high given greater digital adoption,” said Ankur Pahwa, Partner and National Leader for the E-commerce and Consumer Internet sector at EY India.
“Even in the offline market, players are discounting, so that’s not where the game is anymore. Demand is moving online as experience and convenience gets clearer for consumers,” Pahwa said.
EY estimates India’s online pharmacy sector to grow to about $2.7 billion by 2023, from $360 million in 2019.
The second wave is setting the industry up for yet another year of strong growth and the spike in orders in April across industry is in the range of 30-50%, said a company executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Demand for Covid-related drugs and devices has also spiked offline, owing to the surge in cases. “It’s a dire situation. Consumers are exploring every avenue they have to stock up on essential medicines,” the person added.
Apart from reaping the benefits of increased demand, online pharmacies and digital health companies are also looking to join India’s massive vaccination drive.
Last week, Prosus-backed Pharmeasy, the leader in India’s online pharmacy space, said it would look to vaccinate 30 million people, working with corporates, resident welfare associations (RWAs) and healthcare providers. It wants to be the largest private player in India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive.
A person in the know of the matter told ET that Pharmeasy’s online consumer-facing retail business registered sales worth Rs 140 crore in March 2021, from around Rs 100 crore in the same month last year, a 40% year-on-year growth in GMV.
Healthcare booking platform Practo has said it is looking to vaccinate 10 million people, by largely catering to corporates. Already, 500 corporates that employ 1 million people have evinced interest, it said, adding that it is looking to work with around 1,000 companies in the first round of its vaccination programme.