Amazon launches online pharmacy in India

Amazon has launched an online pharmacy in Bangalore, the capital of India’s southern Karnataka state, as the e-commerce group looks to spread its tentacles in more categories in one of its key overseas markets.

The company said on Friday its new service, called Amazon Pharmacy, has started accepting orders for both over-the-counter and prescription-based medicines in Bangalore. (In India, antibiotics and several other drugs can often be purchased from pharmacies without prescriptions.)

Amazon Pharmacy is also selling traditional herbal medicines and some health devices such as glucose meters, nebulisers, and handheld massagers.

“This is particularly relevant in present times as it will help customers meet their essential needs while staying safe at home,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

Online sales of medicine in India, for which New Delhi currently does not have clear regulations, presents yet another major opportunity for Amazon that has invested more than $6.5 billion to date into its India operations and where it competes with Walmart-owned Flipkart.

For Amazon, pharmacy is not a new idea. The company, which has hired several health experts in recent years, acquired online pharmacy startup PillPack for nearly $1 billion in 2018.

Scores of startups such as 1mg, Netmeds, Medlife, and PharmEasy currently sell medicines in India online and deliver to most parts of the country. 1mg, which has raised more than $170 million, today delivers orders in more than a 1,000 cities in the country, for instance.

These startups, as with any e-commerce player, offer enticing discounts to customers on each order to increase their market share. On that front, Amazon says it is also offering up to 20% discount on all orders.

In recent months, Amazon has expanded into a handful of new categories in India. It launched its food delivery service in parts of Bangalore in May and received approval to sell and deliver alcohol in the state of West Bengal a month later.

Last month, the company started to sell auto-insurance in India and said it planned to expand its insurance service to offer coverage on health, flight and cabs in the future.

Its expansion into more categories comes as Flipkart is also entering new spaces including hyperlocal delivery that it piloted in Bangalore late last month.

Both the firms are now facing an emerging challenger: India’s richest man. Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail, the largest retail chain in India, began testing e-commerce venture JioMart late last year.

The service, which is now operational in over 200 cities and towns across India, reported selling over 400,000 orders a day last month, surpassing daily peak figures of grocery delivery startups BigBasket and Grofers.

Local media has reported that Amazon is eyeing a multi-billion dollar stake in Reliance Retail. Ambani’s other venture, telecoms giant Jio Platforms, has raised about $20 billion from Facebook, Google, and 11 other high-profile investors in recent months. Ambani said last month that the company had concluded fundraise for Jio Platforms and is looking forward to “induct global partners and investors in Reliance Retail in the next few quarters.”

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