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Many e-pharmacy customers took to Twitter to complain about delayed and cancelled orders (Pradeep Gaur/Mint )
Many e-pharmacy customers took to Twitter to complain about delayed and cancelled orders (Pradeep Gaur/Mint )

Online medicine delivery firms stare at impending shortage in many cities

  • Some online pharmacies have started rationing supplies since many customers are ordering in bulk, beyond prescription limits
  • Many e-pharmacy customers took to Twitter to complain about delayed and cancelled orders.

Online medicine vendors, including market leaders 1MG, MedLife, NetMeds, Practo and myUpchar, are still facing shortage of delivery personnel, as they stare at supply chain disruptions across India. E-pharmacies that have resumed limited operations are rationing critical medicine supplies, as users resort to panic-buying.

Industry executives and founders said the police and administrative authorities in many states have stepped in to ensure a smooth flow of medicine and critical care supplies. They, however, warned that supply chain disruptions continue across many cities, hampering operations.

Many e-pharmacy customers took to Twitter to complain about delayed and cancelled orders. Twitter users were also seen appealing to the ministry of health and welfare, and respective police commissioners across cities to allow online platforms to operate during the lockdown. Many of them are awaiting medicine deliveries for conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiac ailments.

1MG’s co-founder Vikas Chauhan said it was working at 50% operational capacity with a slim workforce. “There are still perceived restrictions in interstate and intercity movements, which are being worked out for essential services on priority and we hope to get to 70-80% of our capacity in a week," he said.

“Around 20-30% of our delivery workforce is present. Some 50% of deliveries are happening on time, even though our orders have increased 2x. We are currently operational only in main (metro) cities. We are waiting for our delivery partners to resume so we can restart non-metros," said Ananth Narayanan, chief executive, Medlife, in an emailed response.

MyUpchar, which operates in Delhi and Lucknow, said due to the initial days of harassment by cops, its staff are scared. However, after receiving curfew passes, and upon request from senior management, many showed up for work. “Still, a bunch of them have left for their native villages, and are not readily available. In Delhi, 75% of the staff is back and, in Lucknow, it is 30%," Rajat Garg, co-founder and CEO, MyUpchar, said in an emailed response.

E-pharmacies are also staring at an impending supply shortage of essential medicines. “On the back-end supply of medicines, most distributors are not able to function due to the lack of staff and working capital. And even if they open, it’s for a short duration with large queues to cater to. This is particularly true for smaller tier-2 cities such as Indore," said Chauhan.

“The situation in tier-2 and tier-3 cities are much worse than Delhi. Recommended medicines like Hydroxychloroquine, Vitamin C for covid are all out of stock. Also, due to price control for hand sanitizers and masks, while appreciated, is too low, and thus, has become unavailable in the market," said Garg.

MyUphar has started rationing supplies since many customers are ordering in bulk, beyond prescription limits, especially those with chronic illnesses.

“To ensure availability to a wider base, we have limited the quantity that a user can buy from us," said Garg.

Pharma distributors and manufacturers that feed the e-pharmacy supply chain have also flagged an impending shortage. Distributors, who supply generic medicines and critical devices to ICUs, are also facing disruptions, according to at least three wholesalers and distributors that Mint spoke with.

A Haryana-based drug manufacturer-cum-distributor, requesting anonymity, said the company was forced to shut operations after the lockdown was announced. The distributor stocks more than 100 stock keeping units (SKUs), but hasn’t been able to meet inbound orders ever since the police imposed a strict curfew.

“We tried approaching the police for an essential licence, but we weren’t able to get one. So, we shut down the store and stayed back home," he added.

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