India online pharmacy scene is hotting up. RIL has bought majority stake in Netmeds within days of Amazon making its foray into the Indian e-pharmacy market in Bengaluru. Walmart-owned Flipkart is also looking to foray in the space, which has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This windfall for the online pharma space in India come after years of struggles and bitter battles between a bunch of startups hoping to becoming large internet companies. Besides Netmeds, PharmEasy, Medlife and 1mg are some of the online pharmacies already in the fray. While margins in medicine delivery are low, Covid-19 has reversed the scenario for the players in the business. A Moneycontrol report pointed out that online pharmacies have seen orders increase by 50 percent in the last three months. Further, A 2019 report estimated the Indian pharmaceutical industry to grow from more than $29 billion in estimated revenues in 2019 to $55 billion in 2020.
Within a few days of Amazon’s announcement to pilot in India, The All India Organization of Chemists & Druggists, an industry group that claims to represent hundreds of thousands of retail pharmacies and distributors, drafted a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Amit Agarwal, an Amazon executive based in India.
“We are writing to you as we came to know that http://www.amazon.com has decided to enter ‘Online Pharmacy’ space, probably oblivious to the fact that the E-Pharmacies are illegal and not recognized by the laws under Drug & Cosmetic Act & Rules there under,” the letter dated August 14 reads. “This space has been marred by extreme controversies, court cases and legal issues in the last few years.”
Online pharmacies in India have often struggled on account of unclear regulations governing their business and have urged government for clarity time and again. Groups like The All India Organization of Chemists & Druggists are now arguing that online pharmacies will not only lead to misuse and overuse of medications, but also promote sale of counterfeit medicines in India.
With impending face offs between online pharmacies, and trade bodies resisting their business, the battle lines have been drawn. In the coming months, the online pharma might see greater consolidation with more mergers and acquisitions.