Covid lockdown: Buying from home leads to surge in e-pharmacy sales

New Delhi: Online medical stores such as Netmeds, 1mg and PharmEasy, which have been struggling to take off in a big way for over three years mainly due to regulatory issues, have seen an unprecedented surge in sales across cities amid the Covid-19 crisis.

While most brick-and-mortar pharmacies continue to function amid the countrywide lockdown to contain the pandemic, many consumers have switched to buying medicines online for fear of getting infected by the novel coronavirus, industry insiders said.

“The demand for overall medicines category has gone up by almost 100%,” said Dharmil Sheth, founder of PharmEasy.

The surge in sale of medicines for flu, cold and cough was particularly high on online platforms.

“The sales of these medicines went up considerably since people wanted to keep stock of these medicines irrespective of it being needed by the patient or not,” Sheth said. “Additionally, the HCQ demand shot up exponentially as soon as government released a circular mentioning doctors to have it regularly and Trump talking about it.”

Despite challenges such as low manpower during the lockdown, the e-pharmacies have been working hard to ensure that people get ample supply of medicines.

“The ongoing lockdown has presented us with both opportunities and challenges,” said Pradeep Dadha, founder & CEO of Netmeds. com. “When we first realised the severity of the coronavirus crisis, we worked closely with our suppliers for stocks because we were conscious of our responsibility as a frontline player in the battle. We scaled up our technology and used AI to prevent hoarding by customers. We also ensured that all our delivery centres followed the most stringent measures in cleaning and sanitisation.”

About 50 startups, including Netmeds, 1mg and PharmEasy, sell medicines online in India. They offer the same medications as local pharmacies and deliver them at the patient’s doorstep.

The issue of regulation of online pharmacies is under review by a group of ministers (GoM) led by defence minister Rajnath Singh. E-pharmacies are expected to grow 7 times to $3.7 billion by 2022.

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