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It is time Pharma brands say - #EcommerceEssentialHai

Sabiha Khan (VP, Strategy, Planning and New Business) and Sahil Shah (Executive VP, Operations and Media) from WATConsult, write how the online Pharma sector is picking up

This is a series of articles wherein writers will decode the way ahead for the Pharma category from an online commerce point of view for readers to go ahead and say #eCommerceEssentialHai". Future articles in the series will cover other industries.

Covid-19 has led to behavioural changes of not just consumers but also marketers and manufacturers, especially where healthcare, wellness and pharma are concerned. When India went into a nationwide lockdown overnight, a lot of us got anxious about our essentials; especially medicines addressing chronic diseases. While there were pharmacies open with certain restrictions, a significant amount of online buying of medicines had started to take place.

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At the same time, pharma brands realised the need to get digitally active and started to work towards corrective steps to improve their presence online, especially with respect to their online commerce efforts. Where until now the term “Online Pharmacy” was met with a lot of scepticism, today there is enough and more evidence that the trend in the success and adoption of e-pharmacies indicates an upward outlook.

Increasing love for E-Pharma

The e-pharmacy market is estimated to grow to $2.7 billion by 2023 (EY) from a mere $360 million as of 2019, which is a straight up 7.5X growth at scale. This acceleration can be attributed to increased internet penetration + acceptability of digital payments and to the pandemic situation as well. In their quest to stay safe, majority of the consumers turned to the internet as their solution — be it in terms of seeking information, addressing their “essentials” needs, looking for ways to improve the ‘health’ quotient of their lifestyle or even in terms of just allaying their fears.

According to Google trends data (from Feb-Apr 2020), indexed search volumes for immunity rose by 500%, searches for ‘online doctor’ increased 1.8 times and searches for ‘e-pharmacies’ by 1.5 times. Platforms like Practo, 1MG, etc., have witnessed a sharp increase in overall traffic and also in sections that offer disease-related and condition-specific information. And it didn’t just stop there. Over the last three months, e-pharmacies have done record sales due to the convenience they offer as well as an explosion into the self-care category; thanks to an increased consumer focus on better immunity, strength, vitals and more.

Additionally, there are concerns among consumers due to ‘crowded clinics’ and risk of infection due to physical interaction with healthcare providers. As a result, tele-consultation has increased in terms of demand (Source: Practo) and more and more consumers are showing interest in adopting this facility.

Clearly, there is a shift in consumer behaviour and considering the trends and the current situation, one can foresee a growing stickiness in adoption of eCommerce for pharma.

How Pharma brands can share the love

Pharma brands are finally waking up to the potential that digital brings to the table and are increasingly working towards ‘online’ being a key sales contributor especially where OTC products and nutraceuticals/ wellness products are concerned. For those who are still dwelling on the decision, one can no longer afford to ignore the e-tailing potential of pharma.

So how can you as a pharma brand shake hands effectively with e-pharma players?

  • Begin with getting your hygiene in place

The first step of starting to sell online is to get the basics in place. Get yourself listed with a few select top e-pharmacies with an existent demand for your brand/ category. Being listed means you are invariably starting to supply to the huge demand out there. The next step is to get all the creatives, detailed content and it’s tagging in place to ensure better discoverability and wholesome information to aid faster decision making. And the buck does not stop here; make sure that you have a strong supply chain system in place through your distribution partners so that you can always remain in stock + do faster deliveries.

  • Adopt an FMCG approach where wellness/ OTC is concerned

Just merely listing on an eCommerce platform or online pharmacy is not enough. You will need to battle it out there in a competitive market and make sure the brand is discovered and considered. In simple terms, looking better than the competition is as good as being added to the cart. Optimize A+ Content, Brand Stores, PDP Content, Keyword Grouping, Video Content, Listing guidelines, and Digital Display Assets will grow sales efficiency. To cite an example, a leading health and personal care brand managed to improve discoverability and PDP sessions by 74% due to content optimisation efforts using better A+ Content + RPDs. Furthermore, because of the seeding of enhanced product images + videos, the brand was able to get incremental sales by 8.25%. (Source: WATConsult Ecommencify Division)

  • Don’t just focus on OTC and Nutraceuticals

Consumers literally look for the specific prescription-based medication by the exact brand keywords — this is one key differentiator for medicines as a category versus other categories, wherein they will not search in generic terms. So having your schedule H drugs listed on e-pharmacies helps in discovery and hence sales. Additionally, the online platform allows you to list a lot of necessary information regarding the prescribed medicine which evolved consumers do seek out actively. So, leverage that facility to build trust and credibility with the end consumer — an opportunity you don’t get to leverage offline.

  • Leverage opportunities provided by e-pharmacies

There are a multitude of marketing opportunities that can be considered on e-pharmacy platforms like native advertising options, lead form integrations, topic and query based engagement sessions, etc., all of which help in building the brand better on these healthcare platforms. Additionally, some of these options integrate a consultative approach which is a surrogate tactic but does reap benefits in the long run.

  • Blockchain can tackle counterfeiting

Pharma in India as an industry has a huge problem of counterfeiting. There needs to be some form of technology that’s built up to eradicate this issue. Blockchain is one very promising solution, which needs to start from the manufacturer’s end into a ledger-based ecosystem which is supported by the pharmaceutical company. This will help both consumers get the genuine products and obviously pharmaceutical companies with increased sales.

  • Refocus and readjust sales & marketing practices to meet the needs of consumers

The digital ecosystem allows for many interesting approaches where product marketing for pharma brands is concerned. One can leverage this ecosystem very effectively to do test launches or understand consumer sentiment before going all - out in the market. For the launch of Perfect7 in India, Merck did a pilot launch online, to understand consumer demand and response to the product. Two audience sets were considered - one driven from a pure Pharma lens through 1MG (e-pharmacy) and the other driven from a generic lens through Amazon. In order to gain 100% market share for the Perfect7 brand, it was important to make sure that Merck existed with its own select sellers on these two platforms. Thus, the brand put in place certain restrictions in the ecosystem, with respect to order fulfillment and order placement thereby prohibiting arbitrage through unauthorised sellers and also to enable order tracking. The pilot was extremely successful and increased the brand’s share in the total revenue and units on the platforms by 60% and in 5 months Perfect7 was launched offline as well. (Source: WATConsult Ecommencify Division)

  • Keep your eyes and ears open

There is a lot that can be learned and a lot that can be earned, if only one knows how to navigate effectively through the online ecosystem. A leading derma-cosmetic brand analysed six months’ data in order to understand the trend line of the category and its competitors. By understanding its competitors’ share in the category sales and search, the brand was able to increase sales by 15% month on month. (Source: WATConsult Ecommencify Division). Moral of the story — the best fruits are borne after a thorough investment of time and quite a bit of analysis.

  • Owned versus marketplaces for wellness brands

A number of startups as well as established brands have gone the route of owned channels as well as marketplaces — for example, Nutrova, Cureveda, Himalaya, Zandu Care, etc. Of course, it makes sense to build an owned platform only when you have a range of current products + a future promise of bringing about more products. There are a multitude of advantages like better margins, customer data, omnichannel opportunities, etc., which makes it attractive enough to go the extra mile.


India is already riding the digital wave very successfully. With GenZ growing up with easy access to a smartphone, it is a no-brainer that online pharmacies are no longer going to be a trend but will become the norm that will coexist in the ecosystem. Rumour has it that medicine delivery is an arm that many (like Swiggy, Big Basket, Amazon and Flipkart) are going to diversify into. Clearly, there’s a lot in favour of the promise that eCommerce holds for pharmaceutical companies. And as the proverb goes, opportunities neglected can never be recovered. So pharma brands, what are you waiting for?

Get started now.

The agency, with its division- eCommencify launched in 2016, continues to scale its eCommerce practice with brands across the country. eCommencify is the eCommerce consulting arm of WATConsult that provides a solution driven approach for retailers and brands, to define and deliver state of the art commerce strategies. It consists of a well-defined crew bringing together strategic certainty, technical expertise, and creative inspiration to reframe brand’s challenges to high performing commerce (owned + marketplaces) solutions. The vertical has handled brands like Panasonic, Merck Consumer Care, Faces Canada, Microcotton, Bioderma to name a few.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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