A year after demonetisation, even as rural areas have gradually switched back to cash transactions to buy medicines, urban centres have witnessed significant growth in e-pharmacy, mostly in Mumbai and Pune in Maharashtra, where business of online portals has swelled twofold.
Dhaval Shah, founder of PharmEasy, an online aggregator for supplying medicines, said post demonetisation his monthly orders had risen by 150 per cent in a year with a dip in cash orders and hike in online payments. “Just before demonetisation, we recorded less than 3 per cent sale via bank transactions, which includes card payments and net banking, despite offering discounts. That has now reached 25 per cent,” Shah said. Orders of customers wanting to buy medicines through ‘cash on delivery’ have dipped from 97 per cent to 75 per cent, he added.
A similar trend has been noticed in other e-pharma portals. Netmeds, a Chennai headquartered online medical portal, saw its online sales double in a year after demonetisation. Pradeep Dadha, its founder, claimed the e-pharma business had specifically grown in cities. “The government has also pushed for online transactions. This has helped us. Until last year, our website saw 30-35 per cent cash transactions for purchasing medicines, which have gone down to 22 per cent,” he said.
The online portals are, however, limited to urban areas. In rural regions, where inter-city delivery of medicines is difficult, patients still approach the local retail chemist. “In cities, chemists which started using mobile wallets or installed point-of-sale machines were able to survive,” said Anil Navandar, secretary of the Maharashtra State Chemist and Druggist Association. He added the cash crunch was noticed for four months after the demonetisation was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8, 2016.
Retail chemists have, however, not seen a major escalation in bank transactions to dispense medicines. Prasad Danave, who owns three pharmacy shops in Mumbai and one in Palghar, said he had to install point-of-sale, also called card-swiping machine, in Palghar where the requirement emerged for the first time post-demonetisation, but the number of customers wanting to swipe their cards reduced once cash returned to the market. “In Mumbai, 85 per cent chemists have installed machines or started using mobile wallets,” he added.
Danave claimed the government’s intention to turn cash economy into plastic economy was not successful in retail chemist stores. “Our online transactions or card payments have increased from 1 per cent to just 2.5 percent in the last one year. Major mode of payment for drugs is still cash,” he said.