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Pradeep Dadha, founder & CEO, Netmeds
Pradeep Dadha, founder & CEO, Netmeds

E-pharmacies have become lifeline of last resort: Pradeep Dadha

Many have discovered during the lockdown that shopping online is not only convenient and thrifty, it can also be enjoyable

The coronavirus-induced nationwide lockdown has led to a surge in demand for online pharmacies despite the initial delivery challenges. To address the urgent demand from consumers and diversify its business, Chennai-based online pharmacy Netmeds in April began selling groceries on its platform, in partnership with Reliance Smart. It also started to offer spectacles and baby and mother products.

The move was followed by reports that the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries is in talks to acquire a majority stake in Netmeds.

Founded in 2015, Netmeds sells medicines, wellness and personal care products, and also offers diagnostic packages.

Pradeep Dadha, founder and chief executive officer of Netmeds in an interview, as part of Mint’s ‘Pivot or Perish’ series, spoke about the impact of the crisis and changes in consumer buying habits. Edited excerpts:

Has the coronavirus crisis forced you to rethink business strategy/operations?

Covid-19 will affect businesses in much the same way it affects individuals. The weak are less likely to survive. Those that do make it through will emerge stronger. From a corporate standpoint, it has given us an opportunity to do some gap analysis under fire, to see what we could do differently in the future, and to recognize that our key strength is in our people.

Work-from-home has become a standard operating procedure for many of our team and they have risen to the challenge like champions and heroes, despite the fact that most are isolated from their peers and their natural daily support system.

We are selling groceries in partnership with Reliance Smart. We launched that initiative about a month ago and it was an instant hit. Others categories are likely to follow.

What changes will online medicine delivery firms witness in a post-covid world?

Revolutionary paradigm shifts like e-pharmacy specifically, and e-medicine in general, tend to go through stages of customer acceptance, from ‘0’ to ‘early adoption’ to ‘widespread acceptance’. The pandemic has accelerated the speed to widespread acceptance. What was once conceived as a convenience has now been recognized as ‘lifeline of last resort’. In fact, we have exceeded the “acceptance" phase and have entered a new level, the “appreciation" stage.

One of the greatest rewards of meeting the challenge of supplying medicine under lockdown conditions is that we receive outpourings of approvals, heartfelt offerings of gratitude for services rendered and orders delivered.

How will consumer behaviour patterns change?

Consumer buying habits will be forever altered towards online shopping for a number of reasons. It will be months, maybe more, before people feel good about gathering en masse in places like malls and big marketplaces.

In addition to that, being under lockdown has given consumers an opportunity to hone their online shopping prowess and many have discovered that shopping online is not only convenient and thrifty, it can also be enjoyable. Also, post-lockdown, consumers and in fact people in general are going to become more tolerant and far less demanding in terms of their expectations. Everyone seems to have acquired a new-found sense of patience.

How will fund-raising be impacted and will it affect your growth?

Current conditions will make it more difficult for anyone to raise funds, but difficult does not mean impossible. Startups with an innovative approach and a clear path to profitability will always be attractive to groups with an appetite for investment.

What changes is Netmeds making to its warehouses and supply chain processes to protect operations and logistics staff?

All the staff are trained in social distancing within the same facility, they are masked and gloved. Protection and sanitization are the new normal, and I don’t expect these conditions to be relaxed for a long time, and I think it’s in everyone’s best interests to follow the protection and sanitation protocols even when ‘normal’ functioning resumes.

How are you planning to keep costs under control?

I don’t think we really have implemented any new cost controls. Our philosophy has always been to hire really smart, skilled and dedicated people and train them well. This will keep mistakes to a minimum, reduce breakage, improve returns, and maintain the customer base while controlling cost.

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