Despite challenges, e-pharmacies sweeten the delivery pill by using tech

Online pharmacies, just like any other business operation, are facing challenges with manpower
Online pharmacies are making the best use of technology and supply chain efficiencies to ensure hassle-free delivery of orders despite manpower challenges. The platforms have seen an upsurge up to 3x their weekly average orders, with hand sanitisers and masks being the most sought-after products.

Pradeep Dadha, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Netmeds.com, said his company is working to ensure customers get uninterrupted supply of protective and preventive products. “The country has seen unprecedented upsurge of over 1,400 per cent in sanitation products, and over 500 per cent in disinfectants in the past two weeks. This has put immense pressure on manufacturers. We are working actively to source products from different producers to keep up with the demand,” he added.

Netmeds.com sells sanitisers at government rates. The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority has recently capped the prices of masks and sanitisers.

“We have ensured Netmeds.com has adequate stock of hand sanitisers at government-approved rates, according to the directive issued by the Centre. This will be extremely beneficial to people who were otherwise being forced to pay a premium by some opportunistic retailers,” said Dadha.

Tanmay Saxena, chief operating officer of 1mg, said the companyis witnessing surge in demand due to COVID-19. “Some categories like chronic medicines and immunity boosters and essential products like sanitisers, masks, gloves are seeing more than 7-8x their normal demand load,” he said.

Online pharmacies, just like any other business operation, are facing challenges with manpower. The owner of an online pharmacy said there is growing challenge of absenteeism. On average, his operations are facing a challenge of 50 per cent absenteeism, whether it is delivery staff, packaging and back-end, supply chain, etc.

Netmeds.com, for example, has implemented work-from-home solutions for over 50 per cent of the team. “Our supply chain teams have been given training and protective gear. Our warehouse staff has been given gloves and masks. We have requested our courier partners to ensure the delivery team is supplied with sanitisers. We recommend online payments instead of cash on delivery to reduce the number of touchpoints. We have also implemented an artificial intelligence-based solution to alert against bulk-buying medicines by setting a maximum limit for an order,” said Dadha.

Saxena said, “We are part of essential services under the health care category that is exempt from on-ground movement restrictions. We have a strong nationwide supply chain and have more than 700 vendor partners spread across our entire supply network. We are working round the clock to source essential medical supplies directly from our vendor partners and manufacturers.”

He said the firm is doing its best to manage its own on-ground logistics to ensure it minimises any medicine and diagnostic test supply disruption, and support ones quarantined and social distancing themselves.

Bengaluru-based online pharmacy Medlife, which has seen an increase of about 300 per cent in orders in the past one week, says the government and states streamlining the supply chain are the need of the hour.

“Our big warehouses are in Mumbai and Delhi. If we can’t distribute the products, it’s a problem. The government said essential services are allowed, but there is a lot of cross-border stoppages causing disruption,” said Ananth Narayanan, co-founder, and chief executive officer, Medlife.

How to get medicines, masks, and hand sanitisers in all 30 of our fulfilment centres is the real challenge, he added. Masks and sanitisers are witnessing 5x increase in orders on the platform. The start-up is sanitising all its warehouses every two hours and delivery executives are working in batches.

Business-to-business marketplace Medibox witnessed 40 per cent uptick in terms of overall users. Its average transaction value has risen 20-25 per cent since February.

“We are onboarding more manufacturers and suppliers who have the capacity to ensure seamless supply,” said Bhavik Kumar, founder and CEO, Medibox. Unlike e-pharma platforms, the start-up faces minimal issues in terms of return to origin or buyer not being available, as it caters to hospitals, distributors and warehouses, he said.

Medibox has also enabled multiple delivery partners for one pincode. In case the original delivery partner is not available in a particular pincode for order pick-ups, the Bengaluru-based firm has application program interface in place to switch to other third-party logistics players within 30 minutes, when the need arises.


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