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Emerging space market map: The online pharmacy market in Bangladesh

Thesis and overview of the market: The emergence of the online pharmacy market in Bangladesh relies on the following shifts and narratives in the market. 

A generational shift in consumer behavior: The increasing prevalence of the digital economy has resulted in both new opportunities and difficulties for businesses of all types. There has been a trend towards digitization on a global scale, and many venture capitalists have made it a priority to expand the digital economy. The increasing use of the internet and digital devices by consumers has also contributed to the shift toward online. 

Online delivery services in Bangladesh experienced tremendous growth during the pandemic. Various digital services in Dhaka were already showing steady growth in recent years, but the pandemic has accelerated this trend, resulting in a surge of new players in the digital commerce industry. The rapid growth of these services has been described as a gold rush. 

The pandemic created a solid need for home delivery. People were staying indoors and needed supplies. It created a huge demand for online delivery services. Companies like Chaldal and others benefited enormously from the sudden surge in demand. 

Similarly, an ambitious bunch of entrepreneurs saw an opportunity in the challenge and jumped in. The reading was that new digital commerce adaptation will survive the post-pandemic and create a lasting competitive advantage for the new players. 

The healthcare services of Bangladesh rely heavily on the pharmaceutical industry due to the high demand for medicine from the large population. This high demand has fueled the development of the pharmaceutical industry in Bangladesh over the last few decades. 

The rise of digital commerce has also affected the healthcare landscape in the country giving rise to a new generation of digital healthcare services. We have seen a new bunch of companies trying various digital healthcare services from telemedicine to on-demand diagnostics services and several other services. Online pharmacy is apparently an extension of this growing trend. 

The Bangladesh market narrative: There are other aspects. Bangladesh has an economic story that has been attracting a lot of attention lately. Between 2012 and 2021, Bangladesh’s GDP almost tripled. 

Just recently, BCG published a report predicting that Bangladesh will become a trillion-dollar economy by 2040. It is a densely populated country with a population of 167 million people. A young nation in every sense of the word where the median age is around 27

The country has a growing tech ecosystem. Bangladesh has seen a growing penetration of mobile and smartphones — 50% smartphone penetration and 95% 4G coverage

There are caveats and nuances to these numbers. A recent study suggests a large percentage of the population can’t/don’t access the internet because of the current price point and the current effective internet penetration rates show the progress towards a digital economy remains slow. The study conducted by BBS finds only 38.9% of people in the country use the internet and 61.8% of people in the country use mobile phones. The study also finds that a large number of people don’t/can’t use digital services because of the high cost of the internet. 

Despite these limitations, the market for digital commerce has grown. The last five years have seen a series of digital commerce and on-demand delivery services thrive. 

Online medicine delivery has become one of the prominent verticals in the overall on-demand delivery trends. 

The market

Statista projects that revenue in the online pharmacy segment in Bangladesh will reach US$59.00 million in 2022. The German data platform predicts an annual revenue growth rate (CAGR 2022-2027) of 23.99%, resulting in a projected market volume of US$172.90 million by 2027.

The pharmaceutical market in Bangladesh is expected to surpass US$ 6 Billion by 2025. According to the IMS Health Care Report, the local pharmaceutical market was about $3 billion in 2019. 

Online pharmacies in Bangladesh have been experiencing consistent growth as the market becomes more aware of their existence, but it is difficult to find reliable data specifically for the online pharmacy market. 

Apparently, although the overall retail pharmacy is a huge market, the online market is still relatively small. 

In India, online pharmacies account for 5% of the retail pharmaceutical industry. It is expected that online pharmacies in Bangladesh will reach a similar market share within the next few years. 

By 2024, it is estimated that the online pharmaceutical industry in Bangladesh will be worth between $150 to $250 million. However, the growth of this market will depend on factors such as consumer awareness and the level of technology adoption. 

Major players 

Pharmacy is a highly fragmented market in Bangladesh. There are several large pharmacy chains such as Lazz Pharma and a few others but most of these are concentrated in Dhaka mainly. 

Offline pharmacies dominate the segment. There are now several online pharmacy players and some of them have raised meaningful capital as well. Let’s take a look at the competitive landscape in the vertical. 

Offline pharmacy: According to the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA), there were some 155,589 pharmacies in the year 2019-20. The number was a significant jump from 133,629 pharmacies in the previous fiscal year 2018-19. During that same period, there were 739 model pharmacies in the country. 

Consumers continue to rely on physical pharmacies. Pharmacy density is quite a thing all over Bangladesh, customers often find it easy to purchase medicines from these offline outlets. 

We have seen several online pharmacies over the last few years. Some of the traditional offline pharmacies have also built their online delivery business. Prominent ones include: 

BanglaMeds.com: Chaldal acquired BanglaMeds last year. The company apparently has greater firepower and opportunities to leverage Chaldal’s reach and resources to grow more aggressively. BanglaMeds also plans to get into other digital healthcare services. 

Aroggo.com: Aroggo is among the most prominent players in the market. The company has raised significant investment in recent times and has made a good name for excellent execution within a relatively short period. Aroggo is one of the key players in the vertical and apparently has the firepower to grab early market share. 

MedEasy: MedEasy is one of the prominent online pharmacies and digital health platforms in Bangladesh. The company provides doctor video consultations and medicine home delivery across Bangladesh. The company raised investment from Accelerating Asia and says it has seen excellent growth. 

ePharma.com.bd: One of the prominent players in the space. A brand of Limitless Solutions Limited, ePharma describes itself as a “ONE-STOP ONLINE Healthcare Solutions where we not only provide a wide range of medicines, we also offer a wide choice of healthcare products including wellness products, vitamins, diet/fitness supplements, herbal products, pain relievers, diabetic care kits, baby/mother care products, beauty care products, and surgical supplies.” 

Shombhob Health: Shombhob is an online pharmacy that sells both medicines and healthcare products. The company is just a year old and like many other players on this list is gearing up to find a solid footing in the market. Shombhob also has one offline pharmacy that works as both a warehouse and an offline pharmacy. The company raised a $300k seed investment last year and has built a unique growth strategy focusing on building a women-focused brand. 

Health OS: Health OS is not an online pharmacy company. The company runs a medicine procurement app for offline pharmacies that it claims is now used by thousands of pharmacies in Bangladesh. The company can potentially help offline pharmacies effectively compete with online pharmacies. 

Lazz Pharma: Probably one of the largest and oldest pharmacy chains in the country, also runs a successful online operation. It has strong brand awareness and a wide offline presence and can potentially compete with any online players. However, Lazz comes from a traditional offline background which can potentially be a challenge for the company to effectively prioritize its online operation. But if it can overcome the innovator’s dilemma, it is a strong contender. 

There are other players such as Praava Health which also runs a pharmacy. While there are a number of players in the vertical, all the players are in their early days. The market is also underdeveloped. Online pharmacy penetration remains limited until now, but this will be the second biggest market in Bangladesh after RMGs. 

Prominent business models 

The marketplace eCommerce platforms usually act as facilitators between buyers and sellers and charge a commission for enabling the transaction. The platform traditionally acts as an aggregator. It begins with aggregating demand for the suppliers. The aggregation eventually turns into market power and allows the platform to expand and squeeze. 

However, online pharmacies are more like managed eCommerce websites where the platform maintains inventory and manages the logistics in-house. It buys medicines from manufacturers, manages the inventory in its warehouse, and sells to customers through its online and offline channels. 

While it is not a commission model, demand aggregation remains central to the success of these platforms. The more demands companies aggregate, the more market power occurs. The market power in turn helps it to get better deals from the suppliers. Similarly, it can help it expand into adjacent verticals more readily. 

Active investors in the vertical: These are some of the investors who have made investments in the online pharmacy space in Bangladesh. 

  • Ratio Ventures 
  • Sketchnote Partners 
  • SRB Ventures 
  • Hyper
  • Julian Shapiro 
  • IDLC Finance 
  • Epic Angels
  • Falcon Network
  • Accelerating Asia 

Opportunities

Online pharmacy is a relatively new vertical in Dhaka’s eCommerce scene. Fast movers will enjoy certain benefits as the market matures. Going omnichannel can create a definite competitive advantage for online pharmacies as a company expands. It can also help these companies build trust faster. The synergy can meaningfully contribute to growth such as reducing inventory management costs, improving return on marketing expenses, and reducing the both cost and time of delivery. But the online pharmacies have to ensure timely delivery and achieve customer trust that it delivers products on time.

Online pharmacies have already started diversifying into adjacent healthcare products. Since healthcare is an integrated service, it offers further service aggregation opportunities, which means these companies can expand into new services using their existing users such as prescription refill reminders or other valued added services. But the companies have to make sure that at least one of their products has a strong market position before expanding into a new service. 

Key challenges

One major challenge, for now, is the dominant customer behavior that leans toward offline and excellent penetration of offline retail pharmacies in the country. You can find multiple pharmacies in almost all localities across the country. This creates a negative incentive for customers. 

This also leads to another related challenge, which is whether to absorb or pass on the cost of delivery to customers with every sale. Because people usually don’t need large quantities of prescription drugs, it has been difficult to efficiently deliver them to homes. Moreover, many people only get prescription drugs when they are sick and need medication immediately. For these customers, even next-day delivery is too slow. 

There are several challenges that stem directly from the complex nature of the healthcare industry. One of the main challenges faced by online pharmacies has been getting approval as an authorized supplier of prescription drugs. 

One of the challenges of online pharmacies is the risk of healthcare fraud and abuse. Customers remain skeptical of e-commerce platforms owing to various bad experiences in the recent past. In order for the online pharmacy market to be successful in Bangladesh, consumers need to trust that they will receive high-quality, safe products. If consumers do not trust online pharmacies, they may be reluctant to purchase medicines online. Online pharmacies in Bangladesh also face competition from traditional pharmacies, which are moving to omnichannel, complicating the competitive landscape in the industry. 

Note: If you would like to discuss or learn more or share your feedback about any of the points discussed in this post, please reach out to the team at [email protected]

Ayrin Saleha Ria is an undergrad student currently studying Applied Sociology at ASA University Bangladesh. She takes a deep interest in human society and behavioral science and loves reading. She works at FS as a Community Management Fellow and writes about interesting companies.

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