Mumbai: India has seen a rash of pharma retail start-ups. It has also seen a rash of e-commerce start-ups. It stands to reason, then, that the country would have also seen its share of online pharma retail start-ups.

It has.

Interestingly, it hasn’t seen too many online start-ups focused on health and wellness, a gap Healthkart.com hopes to address.

“We realized that procuring high quality health products is a big pain point in India and it is a highly disorganized segment," said Prashant Tandon, co-founder and managing director, Healthkart.com.

“Growth through the bricks and mortar model is difficult due to real estate prices. E-commerce is just taking off in the country and there is a strong opportunity to create India’s largest e-health store," Tandon added.

The site offers nutrition products, testing devices, food and footwear for diabetics, weighing scales, devices to monitor blood pressure and sleep apnea, lenses, eye accessories, and personal care, beauty and baby products. It says customer numbers have been growing 15-20% on month-on-month terms since 2011. The firm says it has around 300,000 customers and an average ticket size of 1,500-2,000. The timing of Healthkart’s launch coincided with India’s e-commerce boom.

Today, e-commerce start-ups offer everything from electronic goods to lifestyle products, books to apparel, fashion goods to furnishings, and kitchen products to bathroom accessories. The e-commerce market in India is set to grow the fastest within the Asia-Pacific region at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 57% between 2012 and 2016, according to market research company Forrester. India’s e-tailing market in 2011 was about $600 million (about 3,000 crore) and it is expected to touch $9 billion by 2016 and $70 billion by 2020.

Riding this growth are entrepreneurs who want to tap far-flung parts of the country, where many products are not yet available, through the online route. For example, one-third of Healthkart.com’s customers are from relatively small cities such as Gwalior, Ranchi and Mysore. “We are (also) seeing consistent good orders from the northeastern region," said Tandon, citing the example of a customer in Tripura who is on a gluten-free diet and buys in bulk on the site to maintain this.

Healthkart.com’s highest selling products include protein supplements, pepper spray and devices such as blood pressure monitors, diabetes kits, and weighing scales. “70% of our customers cited authenticity as the major reason for buying from our site," said Tandon, adding that counterfeiting of healthcare products is rampant in India. The site stocks around 25,000 products, compared with 500-1,000 for offline retailers. The firm remains in growth mode and is yet to break even. “Across the world, in e-commerce businesses, it has been noted that companies need critical scale before breaking even," said Tandon. And following a trend that is becoming common among e-commerce firms, Aquamarine HealthCare has ventured offline, with HealthKart Fit, the first of several stores it plans, in Delhi.

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