With the government looking to recognize e-pharmacies, offline players see margin erosion

Pankaj Jani* is a chemist in Ambawadi, Ahmedabad. And he has been one for over 25 years. But the times are a-changing. So are the preferences of customers who may choose to order medicines over the internet, rather than visit his store.

“It is going to be a tough time ahead,” says Jani, referring to the Health Ministry’s recent draft notification that seeks to recognize and legitimize online or e-pharmacies.

Jani’s pharmacy stores Rs.25 lakh worth of medicines and have an average daily turnover of up to Rs.80,000. But his margins on the sale of prescribed drugs are thin.

The online sale of drugs will not just impact business but also disrupt drug pricing, says Jani. “Because of their large volumes, online retailers can bargain with manufacturers and offer heavy discounts on the drugs. We have limitations, we operate on wafer-thin margins,” he explains.

Nervousness grips both online and offline drug retailers, as change seems imminent. While the old-world chemists are threatened by the slow but sure emergence of e-pharmacies, the online players apprehend regulatory uncertainty. The final shape and structure of the proposed new rules will determine their future. And yet, e-pharmacies now cherish a dream. While they were labeled “illegal” in the past, the draft rules define them as a business of distribution, selling, stocking, exhibiting or offering drugs for sale through a web portal or any other electronic mode. read more

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