Health / Medical E-commerce
Health E-commerce is the online buying and selling of healthcare products such as medical devices and drugs. The advent of COVID-19 pandemic increased the demand for medical supplies online as people preferred to purchase medicinal drugs, surgical masks, gloves and other products staying indoors. According to Healthcare E-Commerce Global Market Report 2020-30, the medical / health e-commerce market is expected to reach $382.8 billion at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.6% through 2023.
In Pakistan, there is not enough research on the medical e-commerce market or telehealth platforms and their adoption. However their presence/adoption in the market could be attributed to an increase in the number of internet users, application of e-prescriptions in hospitals, access to web-based and online health services and the emergence of many doctors’ consultation platforms like Oladoc and marham.pk etc.
One example of medical e-commerce stores in Pakistan is Medical Bazar founded by Sana Fawad who is a contestant of Accelerator Program for Women Entrepreneurs (APWE). APWE is an initiative for women who are operating a business or partnership, a social enterprise or indigenous enterprise, supported by the US Embassy in Pakistan in collaboration with TiE Islamabad, Change Mechanics and Ejad Labs.
Medical Bazar provides products in medical, pharmaceutical, healthcare and allied fields. These include Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API), Excipients, Packaging Material, Veterinary, Industrial Chemicals, Medical Devices and Equipment. “The idea of Medical Bazar is to provide all the possible medical products and services to the people under one umbrella. These include medical devices, hospital equipment, medicines, pharmaceutical raw materials, doctor consultations and life style/ fitness coaching.” says Sana. “All this is being managed through a unified single e-commerce platform, which helps keep the time and cost competitive.” added her.
Entrepreneurial Journey & Opportunities in the Health E-commerce Market of Pakistan
Sana has done Doctor of Pharmacy. She spent most of her life moving around with her kids and husband hence could not manage a full-time job. Yet she always knew she wanted to do something in her field without compromising on her family life. Her family and Sana lived in America and Mauritius for quite some time. “When I moved back to Karachi I could not help but notice the meagre customer servicing of Pakistani pharmacies and hospitals. I just wanted to do something about it and my husband really pushed me into actually considering it.” says Sana.
Medical Bazar started in 2019 as an e-commerce store on a B2B model providing medical devices to a vast array of businesses all across Pakistan. In the beginning the platform was making enough sales to stay in running but it was not that profitable. “Our sales surged when Pakistan was hit by the pandemic,” says Sana. “It was then when we identified that there was a huge customer base that was looking for an online marketplace to meet their healthcare needs which included medical devices, drugs and pharmaceutical consultation.” added her.
Having a personal dissatisfaction with the customer servicing of the healthcare sector, Sana started to give free consultations to customers around the usage of medical equipment. She got a very positive response in the form of an increase in her returning customers. “I did not want my platform to be an addition to an already customer-servicing negligent market.” mentioned Sana. “Initially we were just providing consultations around medical equipment which was our only product at the time. Later we included medicines and third-party medical consultations having been able to identify the pressing need.” she added.
Sana is of the opinion that females in Pakistan are more comfortable in sharing their health problems with their own gender. “Most of my returning customers are females because they are very comfortable with me,” she said. “There was this old woman who was from a far flung area in Pakistan. She could not find some medicines she needed urgently. Our platform was the only one which had those. When we were able to deliver those medicines to her, I cannot even tell what sort of satisfaction that brought to us.” said Sana while talking about her customers’ experiences.
Medical Bazar has third party’s involvement on its platform in the form of consultations. It refers patients to clinics/doctors. Although the platform takes pride in its consultations that are rooted in its customer servicing values, they act as a help for customers in choosing the right equipment. They are an attempt to make sure that the customer is satisfied with the service. Paid consultations are solely done by third parties. “To keep the market edge, the Medical Bazar believes in service delivery and price promise. There is no other online platform offering such a range of medical supplies and services.” claims Sana.
Medical Bazar aims to become a one-stop solution for all medical requirements from equipment to drugs to fitness material by making it an online medical mall. Currently it provides emergency medicines only in Karachi but it aims to expand to every city. The platform imports material from the outside and claims that its products are authentic and have cheap prices as compared to others in the market. It also imports material on customer demand and has its own inventory. “Medical e-commerce is a very lucrative field and there is still a huge room in the field as it is not saturated yet.” Sana said. Medical Bazar has a B2C as well as a B2B model and neither has an edge over the other as both are very much profitable.
Medical Bazar has very limited competitors in Pakistan for example Dvago which is an online retail store for medical/health supplies. Through Medical Bazar, people from all over Pakistan can order products that they do not have access to in their cities/villages. Sana shared many of her customers’ experiences who were from areas like Gilgit Baltistan and Kashmir and hence could not access medical equipment as well as medicines. Such a customer base proves how effective ecommerce is in the medical field. “There is a promise of scalability in the healthcare sector. Even if you take a small chunk, like the government-run hospitals, think of how many people you can benefit through an online purchasing service such as this.” says Sana.
There is a general trend across customers of physically examining medical equipment before buying it. said Sana. Sana says that the customers in Karachi sometimes even visit her inventory in order to ensure what their buying is authentic. She believes mistrust is a huge challenge that her platform has to cater to.
Sana has a male confounder who has a decade long experience in procurement but majority shares lie with her. Sana says that being a female entrepreneur in the medical/health/pharmaceutical industry is challenging as she faces much reluctance from male buyers as well as customers. She has been able to overcome this reluctance by providing the best customer experience in her capacity. She also says that the satisfaction and comfort of her female customers overshadows the bad experiences along the road.
Medical Bazar and APWE
Sana believes that the future of the healthcare industry is very bright and for ventures like hers, training programs like APWE help a lot in streamlining things like pitch deck and business model. Sana wishes to expand her reach to every city by scaling her startup. She is looking forward to securing an investment in order to first provide the facility of emergency medicine in every corner of Pakistan. Her long term goal is to make Medical Bazar synonymous with one-stop solution for all medical needs.