The pandemic generated an unprecedented increase in the sale of medical products online: Latin America registered an 80% increase in visits to online pharmacies. This was the third-largest regional increase, according to a report prepared by Convert Group, a data and marketing analytics company. In addition, the Latin American Association of Responsible Self-Care (“ILAR”) revealed that 82% of the population in the region now favoured purchasing medicines online.
User satisfaction is corroborated by an increase in digital sales which has placed two Mexican companies, Farmacias del Ahorro and Farmacias San Pablo, among the top ten fastest growing on-line pharmacies in the world. The net sales of the former amounted to USD 302 million in 2021, ranking eighth among the biggest on-line stores in Mexico. In Brazil, Mevo, raised BRL 40 million from regional funds and local hospitals, including the renowned Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Sao Paulo.
The founder of a digital pharmacy explained the key to his success, “The demand for digital pharmacies is incredible. We established a digital pharmacy in Ecuador two years ago where consumers can buy prescription and non-prescription medicines through our app or through WhatsApp. We are already expanding across Latin America. Some countries are easier to enter than others, for example, in Mexico we found the easiest way to enter the market was to buy a small physical pharmacy because digital pharmacies are not regulated in Mexico.”
“The demand for digital pharmacies is incredible. We established a digital pharmacy in Ecuador two years ago [.. and ..] we are already expanding across Latin America.”
Founder, digital pharmacy, Ecuador
Consumers are shifting to digital pharmacies for speed, agility, and the customer-centric platforms. However, other stakeholders in the industry such as pharmaceutical companies still need to adapt to these new trends. By establishing partnerships with other stakeholders, they have the chance to create a more coordinated healthcare ecosystem with a direct-to-consumer pharmacy platform that has the potential to lower the cost of certain products for consumers.
An executive at a regional digital pharmacy explained that they were working with both Pfizer and GSK, “We carry Pfizer and GSK products in our portfolio. GSK are heavily reliant on their digital channel to position their brand and have developed an advertising and communications plan with us, for example, they advertise their priority products with logos on our riders.”
“Pricing is very important for digital pharmacies in Latin America. To win market share from physical pharmacies there must be discounts on offer.”
Head of sales, digital pharmacy, Brazil
The head of sales at a second digital pharmacy outlined some of the nuances of the Latin American market, “Pricing is very important for digital pharmacies in Latin America. To win market share from physical pharmacies there must be discounts on offer. These discounts are usually around 20% and they are usually passed on to the pharmaceutical company. The risk with this is that consumers are caring less about quality and more about price, particularly as medicine prices have risen dramatically in recent years.”
Globally, the digital pharmacy market is expected to reach USD 211.9 billion by 2027. Despite these forecasts, there are still significant challenges including a lack of clear regulations for the online sale and purchase of medicines in many countries and the proliferation of illegal pharmacies that could hinder consumer trust.