2020 will go down in history as an iconic year—one where people, businesses and markets around the world stood affected and were forced to adapt almost overnight. As Coronavirus continues to drive up the count of those affected on a daily basis, businesses and people are exposed to new risks as well as unexplored possibilities.

For the pharmaceutical industry, these are turbulent times—as recognition and demand for pharma products are higher than ever before. At the same time, they have to come to terms with the harsher realities of this pandemic—supply shortage of API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients), higher demand vs. R&D decisions and trying to figure out the shift in market dynamics. 

The Online Pharma Market Today

The global online pharmacy market has been growing steadily since 2015; owing to the rise in smartphone usage and internet penetration. The increasing penetration of eCommerce has influenced many online pharmacies also known as ePharmacy, around the world, to offer doorstep deliveries as a standard offering. 

The global ePharmacy market was valued at $49,727.7 Million in 2018 and is projected to reach $177,794.9 Million by 2026. The market is also expected to undergo an exponential growth of 17.3% CAGR in the next 5 years, riding on the back of the merged influence of the rise in internet adoption and eCommerce giants such as Amazon.com acquiring pharma companies.

Globally, North America is the largest market for online pharma—a trend driven by the rise in eCommerce adoption and demand for pharmaceutical products from a growing geriatric segment of the population. 

Online pharmacies have the advantage of being able to deliver low-cost medical products over traditional brick and mortar pharmacies. ePharmacy companies have also reduced the dependence of chronically-ill and elderly people on third persons for the procurement of medicines. 

On the downside—in markets where online pharmacies are not regulated—there is the question of counterfeit and unapproved drugs available for purchase. However, convenience and privacy continue to be the driving forces behind the rise and growth of online pharmacies. 

Some of the prominent global players in this market are Lloyds Pharmacy Limited, The Walgreen Company, CVS Health, OptumRx, The Kroger Co., and Netmeds amongst others.

Online Pharmacies in the Era of COVID-19

Already strengthened by the increasing reach of eCommerce and a growing population resorting to online purchases, the Coronavirus pandemic has further increased the demand for online pharma. But this doesn’t mean that it’s all sunshine and no rain for the pharma industry. The era of COVID-19 had brought with it a fair share of challenges.

The Allocation and Supply of Medicines for COVID-19 Treatment

With the increasing number of cases being reported worldwide and the dwindling supply of APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients), most pharmacies around the world are having to take a very grave call. The allocation and supply of medicines potentially for COVID-19 treatment; which implies that these medicines may not be available in their regular supply for other treatments. In a recent press release by CVS Health, an online pharmacy, the need to protect the supply of such medicines useful for COVID-19 treatment has been addressed at length.

200% Increase in Google Search Volumes for COVID-19 Related Health Products

With the Coronavirus pandemic gripping the world and social distancing being the preferred mode of operation, both online and offline pharmacies are having to modify their operations. From having to deal with the logistics nightmare of increased orders and panic buying, most online pharmacies are prioritising essential medicines over others. While others are looking at ways to deliver medicines to doorsteps and reduce store visits. CVS Health has announced that it is waiving home-delivery charges this period.

Google’s search volumes for COVID-19 related health products have increased by as much as 200%. According to Adobe’s analysis, online purchases of medical products such as face masks, hand sanitizers and antibacterials have shot through the roof—more than 800%.

With governments placing restrictions on travel and imposing lockdown or stay at home measures, people are using the opportunity to stock up on over-the-counter medicines. In fact, purchases for cough, cold and common-flu tablets have increased by as much as 198%.

Are You an ePharma Marketer?

Given the circumstances, you might already be asking a lot of what’s and how’s on optimizing your operational and marketing strategies during this period. How can you cater to the needs of this new market dynamics? What steps can you take to ensure customer experiences are not hampered during this time? What are some of the best practices you can adopt to support the global battle against COVID-19?

Well, we’ve got you covered.

8 Proven Scenarios That Work For Online Pharmacies

From strengthening your digital experience to being heard above the noise and educating your customers to shop responsibly—we’ll talk about some of the realistic and practical measures you can adopt today.

Let’s wash our hands and get started.

1. Ward off the Myths, Educate on the Facts

Rumours are an unavoidable part of communication, but during times of crisis, they can often become more popular than facts. You must keep in mind that visitors arriving at your website are not just looking for items, they’re also seeking valid information. As a leader in the health and medical space, you need to establish your authority with relevant information. 

At times like these, information is a priceless resource and the more you cater to the needs of your visitors the better your brand’s perception will be. It might be something as simple as “can handling cash put you at risk of contracting the virus?” or “how to receive packages safely?

See how 1mg.com tackles these everyday concerns on their website – 

Don’t worry about – what if the information I’m giving out is basic—it is often the basic elements that are overlooked. After all, more people catch a virus in daily life than in a secured medical testing facility that follows protocol. 

2. Reassure Your Visitors⁠—No Room To Panic

In an already volatile environment, it’s easy for panic to ensue. The last thing you need is for people to resort to panic buying. Make use of website banners and hello-bars to reassure your visitors of stock availability, assured shipping and delivery. Make sure to mention possible delays if any owing to the COVID-19 situation.

If your online pharmacy offers additional value-adds such as home sample collection for lab tests, or free online consultations—let your visitors know through carousel banners on your site. Since COVID-19 is a hot topic, most often other medical requirements don’t get the attention they deserve. 

Reassure your visitors that you are there to support them through this difficult time. See how MedLife is promoting social care in this time of social distancing through their website.

3. Keep It Simple

Give your website visitors a clean and easy experience in these difficult times. 

Most online pharmacies will see a rise in purchases of prescription drugs during this time as compared to before. Prescription meds require a doctor’s prescription and during normal times, people would prefer buying them at a physical store.

Make sure your website has a clean and simple layout for this with clear instructions on how to upload a prescription and make payments. This is how Apollo does it.

4. Talk About Safety

With social distancing in full swing, concerns about transmission through contact is on the verge of turning into paranoia. Let your visitors know about the steps you have in place to prevent such chances of transmission such as contactless delivery, drop-off deliveries for prepaid orders.

It’s not only about the safety of your customers, but they also want to know that your employees and workers are safe. CVS Health talks about the steps they have taken for the protection of their employees and their customers.

For online orders and deliveries, let your customers know that you have a well-planned contactless curbside pick-up scheme in place at your store, or a doorstep drop-off to ensure the safety of your customers. Global delivery brand DPD Group, reassures customers this way-

5. Keep Shipping Policies Transparent and Realistic

With much of the economy and basic services working at less than optimal levels, it is vital that online pharmacies must differentiate between “essential” and “non-essential” orders—giving priority for essential orders. Let this be known that essential orders will be shipped first and non-essential or non-critical orders may be delayed. 

We know that the situation is changing daily, and while new restrictions are imposed every day and old ones are lifted, the status-quo can no longer be banked on. Let your customers know how these changes could affect deliveries.Do not promise unrealistic delivery times such as guaranteed next day delivery. It may be obvious, but it is better to state the expected delays with shipments. If there are specific locations that you do not serve—mention them on your website.

6. Time to Bring Them All Online 

If your mode of sales happens to be a mix of online and offline stores, it’s time to bring them all online. Second-to-groceries, pharmacies are one of the most visited places; to encourage social distancing you need to bring your customers to shop on your website—away from retail outlets. 

One way you can do this is to create online customer journeys through campaigns that emphasise the importance of staying at home and purchasing pharmaceutical items online.

7. Improve Your On-Site Product Discovery Experience

Not all your customers may be familiar with purchasing medicines online, some might be entirely new to this experience. Therefore, it becomes paramount to help them find what they are looking for—all the while creating a hassle-free experience.

Product discovery solutions like Insider’s Maven can help your users find what they are looking for by asking the right questions and returning personalized recommendations powered by AI. This way you can speed up the product discovery process and make your customers feel at ease as they search for the items they need faster—preventing panic behaviour.

8. Encourage Responsible Buying

Panic buying and overstocking have led to a scarcity of essentials like hand-wash, soaps, hand sanitizers, masks and even toilet paper. While there is plenty to go around for everyone’s need, there isn’t enough for panic.

Many pharmaceutical companies are also rationing the availability of those medicines that are vital for COVID-19 related treatments, resulting in fewer quantities of those for the general public. 

Creating awareness on why this is being done, like how CVS health has done in this article, will be crucial in helping your customer understand the importance of why they need to purchase responsibly. 

Before You Go 

As one of the most “searched” for market segments at this time, online pharmacies are in a unique position. This is the right time to create and deliver superior online experiences and build lasting relationships that will far outlive the Coronavirus. 

As a player in the ePharma segment, this is your chance to become a thought leader—it all boils down to how your brand is fighting the digital battle against COVID-19. 

The hallmark of any relationship is care, along with other traits such as honesty and transparency. Being caring, honest and transparent with customers during difficult times like these will impact how they view your brand during the good time. Troubled times are often the best time to strengthen relationships and build new ones. This is the time to be the proverbial ‘helping-hand’ that your customers can remember with love when this is all over.

All you need to do is present real, actionable and reliable content while creating an easy web experience during these challenging times. 

To learn more about how Insider can help your business during the crisis with continuity and growth reach out to us and we’ll schedule a personalized demo with one of our digital growth experts.