In 2015, two youngsters from Mumbai had a dream. They had a dream of connecting patients to local pharmacies and diagnostic centers through a mobile app. Their vision was not just limited to providing healthcare facilities to all at their doorsteps and making them affordable through mighty discounts. This was the beginning of the PharmEasy journey.
The Purpose behind PharmEasy’s Birth
Dharmil Sheth, an MBA from IMT Ghaziabad along with Dr Dhawal Shah, an MBBS and an MBA holder from XLRI Jamshedpur, together founded PharmEasy in 2015 that aimed at providing services such as doorstep delivery of medicines, sample collection for diagnostic tests (at home), teleconsultation and subscription-based healthcare services.
The medical service sector in India went through a transformational change as the COVID-19 pandemic enveloped the world in the 2020-21. On one hand, people were in immediate need of covid-related health infrastructure, while on the other, the need for medicines for common ailments declined. Consumers across India chose to shop online for almost all of their necessities from groceries and common household items to medicines, as the threat of the infection kept most of them locked inside their homes.
While it can be said that covid global epidemic has given a thrust to online-pharmacy businesses in India, there were other factors already in play before the advent of this industry:
Major steps were taken by the government: The pharmaceutical market growth was enlarged by the government programs such as Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Jan Aushadhi Pariyojna (PMBJP). The program aims to provide quality and affordable medicines across the country.
Internet penetration across India: The number of internet users is expected to increase at a rate of 8.78 per cent in the 2020-25 period. The e-commerce industry is expected to be boosted directly by the rise of internet penetration in India.
Changing consumer preferences: The pandemic has inflamed an unprecedented adoption of e-commerce services in India. The e-commerce transactions in India had increased by more than 70 per cent between April and September 2020 period. Within the same period, it was observed that tier III markets recorded a 53 per cent year-on-year growth in e-commerce adoption.
Online pharmacies are one of the few sectors in the country to have shown growth during the second wave of the pandemic.
Investments, Acquisitions and More
In May 2021, PharmEasy announced the acquisition of its smaller rival Medlife. As Reliance, Amazon and TATA strive to make a place for themselves in the online pharmacy sector, the Mumbai-based unicorn already consolidated the deal, boosting its growth even further. PharmEasy is now the largest healthcare delivery platform in the country, serving more than 2-million households every single month!
It can be said that PharmEasy was aiming way ahead of its competitors. As of August 2020, PharmEasy had already proposed to the Competition Commission of India its intentions to acquire Medlife. But the story doesn’t end here. The unicorn that digitizes and organizes supply chains for its pharmacy partners has raised $323 Million led by Prosus Ventures (formerly called Naspers Ventures) and TPG Growth, with participation from Temasek, CDPQ,LGT, Light rocks, Eight Roads and Think Investments.
While Reliance acquired Netmeds for rupees 640 crores in 2020, TATA group acquired a heavy 65 per cent stake in 1Mg (a New-Delhi based startup). Amazon too started door-to-door delivery services in Bengaluru through its partner (and seller), Cloudtail.
Online pharmacies are one of the few sectors in the country to have shown growth during the second wave of the pandemic. Shipments of pharmaceuticals grew by 18 per cent in April 2021, compared to the previous month. Throughout 2020, the order volumes more than doubled and the number of users who used online pharmacies tripled!
According to Market tracker RedSeer, more than 9 million families had started using online pharmacies in 2020.
PharmEasy-A Business Model Which Propels It to the Top
PharmEasy delivers medicines and medical accessories to the different corners of various Indian towns and cities. It is just like an online supermarket but just for the buyers of medicines. PharmEasy delivers medicines all over India to more than 1000 cities and towns, covering more than 22000 pin codes! It identifies pharmacies that are closest to its customers. Customers can then access PharmEasy’s website or app to order their items. The packages are delivered swiftly at the doorsteps of the customers with discounts up to 20 per cent.
PharmEasy was born with a vision to deliver genuine medicines at affordable prices by optimizing supply chains and logistics. In its initial phase, the founders discovered that Indians abstained from buying medicines from e-pharmacies. This is because people were not sure where the medicines were supplied from. PharmEasy with its unique business model entered the e-pharmacy sector to dispel the notion for good.
To understand the business model of PharmEasy, we have to know what the Marketplace-based model of e-commerce is. This model essentially provides an information-technology platform on a digital and electronic network, which can act as a facilitator between the buyer and the seller. PharmEasy has provided its customers with a user-friendly app with an easy-to-use interface. Through the app, the customers can set medicines reminders, store digital prescription records, set e-consultation appointments, opt for a sample collection from home for lab tests, and return their product through an easy return policy. PharmEasy has collaborated with various laboratories across the country to avail the above services, some of which are Apple Diagnostics, SRL Diagnostics, iGenetic Diagnostics, Suburban Diagnostics, Dr Avinash Phadke Labs and Oncquest Diagnostics.
PharmEasy’s Revenue Model: An Income Churning Machine!
PharmEasy earns by displaying sponsored ads of various pharmaceutical brands. Advertising is the major source of revenue for this clever e-pharmacy and it capitalizes on it to the hilt. The ads that are displayed on PharmEasy’s platforms (website and the app) are picked from the homepages of various brands it is going to display. On top of that, PharmEasy also offers some value-added services such as medicines reminders, reminders for refilling and providing helpline contacts.
Some of the smart moves in marketing
In addition to offering discounts on its website, PharmEasy has also tied up with various mobile wallets to provide discounts on medicines and various over-the-counter products.
PharmEasy has used various forms of media such as AC Bus Wraps Ads, billboards, hoardings, Metro Trains Wrap Ads, and even bus panels. In addition to media, the company also used below-the-line activation campaigns such as residential welfare campaigns like health camps to promote its brand.
Print and broadcast media campaigns were also used to explain the ease of using an online pharmacy. Moreover, Twitter was extensively used as the brand’s official social media channel.
What gaps is PharmEasy trying to fill?
PharmEasy founder Dharmil Sheth stated in one of the interviews that they started the e-pharmacy platform to make healthcare services affordable and accessible to all. Earlier, no platform could connect patients or a customer to authentic healthcare services. This is where the founders saw a huge gap in the healthcare industry. Though people could buy cosmetics, stationary and even purchase retail properties online, no platform could deliver medicines to the customers. There was a need for someone to deliver the medicines at the doorsteps of the patients so that they did not have to walk down the road to look for medicines or healthcare products. Patients are usually dependent on their families for their well-being and support. This is where PharmEasy tried to make space for itself. The founders thought of intuitive ways to help the patients in as many ways as possible. They wanted their product to be more than just a delivery service. Now, the platform has started to suggest its users undergo different lifestyle changes and perform certain activities so that they can avoid certain diseases and ailments. The idea was to make the platform act like a “family member” and take care of its patients. Furthermore, the platform pushed to make the relationship between the patient and the chemist intimate instead of transactional by using an efficient system that identified pharmacies that were closest to their customers.
PharmEasy’s model depends entirely on its state of the art technological infrastructure., which allows them to negotiate effectively with their retail partners, as they can offer lucrative discounts that can be passed on to the customers.
How does PharmEasy Stand out in the Industry?
When a thorough comparative analysis is conducted, it is found that PharmEasy is far ahead of its competitors in terms of service delivery. Medicines are the need of the hour and sometimes they are needed on the same day or right away at the moment. PharmEasy’s concept of service is based on a hyper-local model, they have built an intricate network of vendors across the country, as the result of which they can ensure that the delivery takes place in the shortest period possible. Secondly, the platform differs in terms of the discount it offers. PharmEasy ensures affordability by offering a flat 20 per cent discount on medicines and a 40 per cent discount on diagnostics!
The platform also offers a special discount on medicines and other essential supplies for the category of Cancer and AIDs patients, which are usually heavy on the pocket. PharmEasy’s model depends entirely on its state of the art technological infrastructure., which allows them to negotiate effectively with their retail partners, as they can offer lucrative discounts that can be passed on to the customers.
People’s response, in turn, has been quite enthusiastic. Most of the users who have registered on the platform have never witnessed services like that of PharmEasy anywhere else before! Moreover, they are quite satisfied with the discounts. The senior citizens who are suffering from hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes etc, are enjoying the app’s experience. For the first time in their lives, an online platform had solved their problems of mobility easily. With time, the
E-pharmacy has added more services to its basket, such as e-consultations and setting e-appointments with the doctors. Indian customers are glad that such a concept has entered the market that only delivers quality services, but is also very convenient for them too!
Operating an Online Pharmacy in the Indian Market: A Key Challenge
The first and the foremost hurdle that PharmEasy faced was the supply chain. There had been no use of technology in the entire medical supply chain when they started. In the pharmaceutical sector, more than 80 per cent of the retailers had never used a computerised billing system before. This posed a great challenge to the founders who struggled to find a way to keep a track record of the patients to whom medicines were dispensed. Also, it was difficult to track the movement of the shipped products. Earlier, when retailers made a sale to the customers, they would have no record of the sale to the customers afterwards.
PharmEasy addressed this challenge by ensuring that every retailer they worked with had a completely “digitised store”. The PharmEasy team assisted them in installing the necessary inventory management tools, as well as maintaining the record of every patient they sold their medicines to. The team provided them with the know-how of digital invoicing, maintaining the patient name, batch number, manufacturing details of the order, delivery address of the customer in a record.
Above all, a digital model was needed to be introduced in the pharmaceutical sector to track the movement of the products, ensure record management and create databases to abide by the regulatory laws and prevent the leakage of spurious products in the market. The way PharmEasy operates ensures end-to-end monitoring at every level. First, the order is received from the customer in a digitised format and an image of the prescription is also shared. Then, the company sends an authorised agent from the customer’s end to pick up the order and deliver it to the exact address along with the prescription.
Still, some elements in the regulatory authorities question the importance of this emerging innovative model of business, only time will tell how things pan out for this promising operation.