The winner of the Indian online pharma category, as of now, is A R Rahman

My observations on PharmEasy’s print ad earlier this week (on LinkedIn) brought out a lot of interesting comments. To be honest, I haven’t been specifically looking at the online pharma sector’s marketing communications closely enough. I cannot escape the print ads that are all over The Economic Times and The Times of India these days. I also cannot escape Boman Irani and Urvashi Urvashi, two things easily recall-worthy with regard to online pharma brands.

Quite a few comments in that post mentioned that online pharma need not be staid and can do with a lighter take. But when you look at the 3 most active brands in this space – Netmeds, Medlife and PharmEasy – they are all working on the same brief. Offer online pharma with a lighter touch!

Here are some videos, to back this point.

Netmeds:

Medlife:

PharmEasy:

The focus for all 3 is exclusively on discounts. And they hammer the discounts point like there’s no tomorrow (in other words, no more VC money tomorrow).

Given this backdrop, what PharmEasy has done is definitely a tad more recall-worthy than the other two – the song Urvashi is perennially popular and catchy. Plus, a remix by Yo Yo Honey Singh is also on the charts now. More than Boman Irani’s Lafaddu series or Netmeds’ series featuring Sudesh and Krushna, easily. Specifically, the song has a pan-Indian appeal, so it feels relevant in most Indian states, cutting across language barriers.

So, deep discounts – applies to all 3.
Lighter communication away from medicines-as-necessity narrative – applies to all 3.
The winner of the Indian online pharma category, as of now, is A R Rahman.

I do, however, think the ‘what will you do with the money saved’ is an old, lazy trope that applies to any deep-discounted category. Like you have both Ola and Uber in your phone and use one or the other interchangeably, or have both Amazon and Flipkart and cross-check prices across both marketplaces (because… why not? You are not wasting precious time offline walking in and out of physical stores, right?), it may be perfectly reasonable to expect India’s price-conscious and value-conscious users to have all 3 (and perhaps 1MG too, though they advertise considerably far lesser in recent times) apps and do a price comparison before ordering medicines. After all 100% cashback is better than flat 25% discount, right? A lot more shauks can be poora karlofied with the former, eh?

The other factor critical to the category is that of the user experience.

Much like Flipkart’s sustained efforts in educating Indians about e-commerce, assuaging fears of ‘what will happen to my money?’, ‘will the delivery happen at all?’ and so on, these brands have already crossed the education stage where the focus was on the ‘how’. That is, taking a photo of the prescription, uploading it and ordering medicines. That bridge has been crossed, largely. That’s why they can all afford to now focus on the monetary savings part.

The second factor in user experience is search and the UI. Medlife is app-only and there’s no way to order on the desktop. PharmEasy, Netmeds and 1MG offer desktop purchase too, to name just 3 among the many other online pharma brands. I do not have any prescriptions right now to upload and check the search feature, but I tried some over-the-counter stuff that generally does not require prescriptions, just to use the search feature. The result was interesting.

Netmeds and 1MG show the actual pack, to offer some comfort and familiarity of what we are buying, while PharmEasy seems to be using generic placeholder pics even for such categories like the one I searched for. You could argue that for most medicines, that come in strips, there is no need for a product shot at all and you would be right. But consider those medicines where there is more than one manufacturer. This is the space where an offline pharmacist will offer, ‘This particular medicine as mentioned in the prescription is not available right now. Can I give you the same thing from another brand?’. And you’d call the doctor or her clinic to confirm this is ok and decide your purchase. Or, if the medicine is not that life-dependent, you’d look at the other brand’s strip and decide quickly based on your own discretion. Product shots may possibly help in such scenarios. To be fair, PharmEasy does have product shots for most products under the health and wellness category.

The last factor (among many others like payment, tracking etc. that I don’t intend to focus on because I’m not buying anything at this point) in user experience is the delivery. As a sample set, take a look at the ‘tweet and replies’ section on the Twitter handles of the brands.

Tweets and replies: Netmeds | 1MG | Medlife | PharmEasy

 

The blood-bath there is no different from what Amazon or Flipkart go through. There are delayed orders, severely delayed orders, canceled orders, refunds given against canceled orders for which customers are cursing the brands since these are medicines being ordered, not items that one can live without, there are allegations of reduced quantity, wrong brands delivered etc. This is standard for any online category and one that aggregates from multiple brands and retailers.

So, the bottomline as far as delivery goes – if it is essential to you and your loved ones’ life and health, please buy them from an offline medical store and get them immediately. Do not depend on the severely unpredictable last-mile delivery backbone (or the lack of it) of India (and hence India’s online pharma brands – no fault fo their, that IS the ecosystem). If you can wait, order online and save money at the expense of overseas venture capitalists.

And yes, pick a shauk to fulfill 🙂

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