The Coexistence of Retail Pharmacy Stores and their E-commerce Peers

The Coexistence of Retail Pharmacy Stores and their E-commerce Peers

Shreyans Mehta, Co-Founder, Sehat Sathi, 0

The Indian retail pharmacy market is witnessing various gaps. Industry estimates suggest that approximately more than half of India’s population lacks access to healthcare services. This situation is more acute in rural areas as there are inadequate pharmacies coupled with an enormous demand-supply gap.

The Brick and Mortar Pharmacy Model
Retail pharmacy stores provide branded as well as generic drugs along with other pharmaceutical products, all under one roof. These pharmacies are trusted counsels for their customers' substitute selection that educates them about medications’ side effects, provides low-cost generic drugs, and more. They are necessary as they offer instant aid such as pain killers and antibiotics in situations of sudden acute conditions. Additionally, one of the major benefits that they offer is, they don't require prescriptions. As one can visit these stores and easily get the medication they require. Retail pharmacies are an integral part of the healthcare segment and India's healthcare infrastructure cannot be imagined without them. However, they fall behind in following the guidance for storage and transport of medicines that puts the stability of medicines at risk.

As per IBEF, India ranks third in the global pharmaceutical production by volume and 14th in value. The retail pharmacy market occupies a prominent space in the segment. Owing to the pandemic, there has been a shift among consumer preferences leading the retail pharmacy segment to undergo various disruptions. Since consumers now prefer modern pharmacy retail outlets to purchase their prescribed drugs and other wellness products from organized pharmacy stores that come with promises of hygiene, attractive displays, clubbed with a wide variety of products that are good in quality. The rising awareness about preventive healthcare and the shift in consumer demand have urged retail pharmacies to focus on customer care support, adopt digital revolution, tread on hyper local presence and divert their attention in launching specialty drugs.

The New-Age Route of E-Pharmacy
E-pharmacies ensure that required medications reach customers on top of making them affordable for all. They also ensure complete authenticity of medicines and usually offer help in the case of chronic treatments. E-pharmacies meticulously appoint pharmacists to effectively validate prescriptions and dispense medicines in tamer proof containers abiding by the Pharmacy Act 2015. They systematically record every prescription digitally. They also effectively follow the WHO model’s guidelines for storage and transport of medicines while assuring that patients have access to medicines with intact integrity at their doorstep.

The Pandemic’s Impact on the Pharmacy Market
The pandemic had a major role to play in boosting the e-pharmacy segment’s growth. Due to the coronavirus induced lockdown and social distancing protocols, consumers were pushed to order medicines online rather than visiting the store physically. Due to this rising demand of the consumers, the e-stores are now offering services apart from medications, including COVID-related drugs and vaccination.

Retail Pharmacy vs E-pharmacies
At the global level, e-pharmacies coexist with retail pharmacy stores. However, in India, there is tension between physical pharmacy stores and their e-commerce peers, since both models come with a fair share of benefits and challenges. Hence, choosing or adopting any one won't be feasible!
While retail is the traditional approach with stores coming up with brand value and image in the market; the segment lacks in keeping abreast with the technological advancements. They have been able to thrive successfully only in local areas across urban metro cities and smaller towns. Adding to it, since consumers now prefer online shopping of medications, retail stores might not be able to cope with the industry changes and the surging demand.
The e-pharmacy market on the other hand, is a comparatively new market. It leverages the power of technology to ensure high-end customer service. However, it is still in its nascent stages and might need time to gain customers’ trust since they immensely fear about counterfeit medicines. Furthermore, as of now, the online pharmacy stores are accessible only in tier 1 and metro cities. According to IBEF, for the e-pharmacies to reach the remote locations is still a challenging path as they would have to establish logistics channels to reach the customers in the remote areas. This can be both time consuming as well as an expensive affair!

Adoption of technological innovations will make the retail pharmacy market strong, reliable, transparent as well as efficient

Digital Adoption: The Solution to Bridging the Gap in the Indian pharma market
What needs to be understood is that embracing technology can help in effectively bridging the gaps that exist in the Indian healthcare sector especially the pharmacy market. Industry experts highlight this very trend believing that digital adoption is the solution for India's major healthcare problems. As a result, in the present times, e-pharmacy is emerging to be the go-to solution. Online pharmacy stores offer various advantages to the population. Hence, they are a blessing in disguise in the truest sense as they offer doorstep delivery to the consumers, right at the comfort of their homes whilst enabling them to practice social distancing norms.

Tech solutions can be deployed to cater specific and lifelong learning needs of individual pharmacists which will further pave the way for improving patient and public health outcomes. Retailers, as well as distributors, need to modernize and digitize the procurement and inventory control processes and also have the presence of qualified pharmacists to dispense drugs. Digitizing the retail pharmacies will ensure that medicines are able to reach even the remotest of locations since their network is robust and extensive. They are the fastest means of providing care delivery and with the appropriate digital tools in place; they can provide medications and engage with the customers in a quicker and efficient manner.

Steps like these will help in upscaling retail pharmacy market as well as revamping the Indian healthcare sector.

Bottom line!
Counterfeiting and substandard medicines have been some of the major challenges that the Indian pharmaceutical industry has been facing. While there have been regulations to ensure that the distribution system is seamless, there is still a long way to go! Pharmacists and pharmacies; both retail and online, help provide high-end healthcare services and top-notch medicines to the masses.

Adoption of technological innovations will make the retail pharmacy market strong, reliable, transparent as well as efficient. The battle, in reality, isn't about retail and online pharmacy stores but between compliant versus non-compliant. The solution to upscale the Indian pharma industry is to bring about solutions so that both brick and mortar models, as well as e-stores, can work collaboratively to fulfill the healthcare requirements of millions of people in the country!