There’s little to separate East Delhi’s Krishna Nagar from its neighbouring suburbs. It has narrow roads, densely clustered commercial and residential buildings, and a decidedly middle-class populace. Nothing unique; certainly nothing special. Four months ago, though, Krishna Nagar became home to one of oil-to-data conglomerate Reliance’s first offline pharmacy stores in Delhi.

On the surface, choosing such a generic area seems odd for a conglomerate that typically likes to make a splash with everything it does. Reliance also decided not to launch a standalone store. Instead, it simply carved out space within a Reliance Smart Point, a small-format retail store that also fulfils orders placed on JioMart, the company’s e-grocery platform.

Both decisions were extremely strategic. Krishna Nagar offers something that few other areas can match. There are at least a hundred big and small clinics, nursing homes, and hospitals within a one-kilometre radius of the Smart Point, providing Reliance with a steady stream of customers. The store-in-store strategy would also allow it to rapidly scale its offline pharmacy chain, all the while adding another stream of revenue for Smart Points across the country.

This approach allowed Reliance to open 114 such pharmacies, operating under the Netmeds brand, in the year ended March 2021. Since then, more stores like one in Krishna Nagar have popped up across the country. The Ken could not determine the exact number of Reliance-owned pharmacies, and the company did not respond to requests for comment.

This offline pharmacy chain is critical to Reliance’s plans for the pharma space. The Mukesh Ambani-led behemoth wants to lead the sector by pioneering an omnichannel pharma strategy. To that end, it had already built a health-focussed app, JioHealthHub, in 2016. The app stores health records, offers video consults with doctors, and sells diagnostics packages from third parties such as Thyrocare. Last year, Reliance built out its digital muscle by acquiring acquiring The Ken Reliance’s Netmeds acquisition marks the end of an era Read more  India’s earliest e-pharmacy, Netmeds. Eventually, all Reliance’s pharma offerings will be folded into JioHealthHub. Already, the app has over one million downloads on Google’s India Play Store.

Reliance’s endgame is to target the 440 million subscribers of its telecom arm  Jio, as well as its 150 million retail customers, cross-selling across online and offline channels in grocery, pharmacy, fashion, and telephone recharges.

Even as it fleshed out its digital offerings on one side, it saw offline presence as the final piece of its pharma puzzle. Offline, after all, is where a bulk of the action takes place in India’s pharma space. E-pharmacies account for only 7% 7% The Ken IPO-bound PharmEasy’s theory of healthtech: Unified or confused?

AUTHOR

Maitri Porecha

Maitri writes about everything health for The Ken. For close to 10 years now, she has navigated hospital corridors in her search for a good story. In a past life, when she was not a journalist, she used to teach French at her neighbourhood school. Also an avid fan of forensics, she is always up for decoding mysteries in her free time.

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