For nearly five years now, two bruising battles have played out between dozens of companies. All in the war to become the dominant online seller for one of the largest and most lucrative set of products that’s still mostly sold offline—medicines.

The market opportunity was large, growing, and untapped. At $18.5 billion $18.5 billion Livemint Medicine sales rise 14.5% in Nov, Indian pharma firms lead growth Read more last year, India’s retail pharma market has been growing at annual rates of 15-20% for many years now. This is primarily due to a big chunk of the population moving up the economic ladder. And yet, India’s e-pharmacies had managed to convert just around 2% of the market till 2019.

On 13 August, Amazon entered entered Times of India Amazon launches online pharmacy in India Read more the market, announcing a dedicated e-pharmacy offering. Amazon’s announcement, whether by design or coincidence, settled the dust on the battlefield in just a few days.

Barely five days later, on 18 August, two of the largest e-pharmacies exited the first of the battlefields, even as two new players emerged. All within the space of 24 hours.

First, news broke that Medlife, once India’s largest e-pharmacy, was merging with its rival PharmEasy. The terms of the merger made it clear who was going to call the shots, with Medlife’s shareholders receiving 19.59% in the combined entity.

Then The Times of India reported reported Times of India Flipkart in talks for e-pharmacy biz Read more that Walmart-owned Flipkart, India’s largest e-commerce, was shortly going to enter the e-pharmacy space as well. It had also been holding talks with PharmEasy.

Finally, Netmeds, the earliest of India’s e-pharmacies and also one of the largest, was bought by Reliance Retail, the retail arm of India’s largest conglomerate, Reliance Industries. That Reliance could acquire acquire The Ken Jio Platforms should have acquired Netmeds. Instead, its sibling did Read more a majority stake in a company, which had raised nearly $100 million in venture funding, for just $83.5 million was telling.

Both Medlife Medlife Business Standard SoftBank in talks to invest $70 million in Indian e-pharmacy Medlife Read more and Netmeds Netmeds Inc42 Healthtech Startup Netmeds May Raise $100 Mn In Series D Funding Read more had unsuccessfully tried to raise venture funding to fight the e-pharmacy wars for nearly two years now.

AUTHOR

Rohin Dharmakumar

Rohin is co-founder and CEO at The Ken. He holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta and an engineering degree in Computer Sciences from the R.V.C.E., Bangalore.

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