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Trends in retail pharma for 2020 and beyond

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Arushi Jain, Executive Director, StayHappi Pharmacy explains how technological advancements would play a crucial role in the overall progression of the retail pharma industry

What is retail pharmacy? Though it might not seem distinctively different, retail pharmacy is unique from the hospital pharmacy. The retail pharmacy is an independent avenue that provides branded or generic medicines to the public with or without prescriptions that they already carried while coming. These entities can be a solo shop or be a part of a major corporation. The concept of retail pharmacy has existed ever since 2000 BE. There are mentions about the notions in Sumerian cuneiform tablets. There has been a significant development in the segment today. Governments and medical bodies have levied multiple regulations to ensure proper and secure functioning of retail pharmacy. Though entrepreneurs and pharmacists initially established the units, major corporations have shown interest in the segment. They are in the process of building its network across the country. They implement a corporatised way of positioning their brand in an attempt to grab the attention of the consumers. The pharmacies associated with the hospital follow a different path. They usually sell drugs that were prescribed by some doctor in the hospital, and hence processes are more clinically stringent. The line separating both the pharmacy stereotypes might be thin in India.

This is mainly due to the traditional consumer purchase style and specific practices in the system. The retail segment is booming in the country owing to the excessive population and increase in the per capita income. The consumer demands in these avenues are quite permanent as most of the essential items fall into this category. With the advent of
e-commerce, the segment is widely classified into the online and offline categories. The pharmacy industry has undergone an exciting development in the country. Medicine and healthcare services are some of the essential services required for the proper functioning of society. The drug sales are closely associated with this segment making it a popular and in-demand industry. Like every other industry, the retail pharmacy avenue strives hard to adapt to the evolving consumer perception. The trends that determine the sustenance and growth of the channel are continually updated. Here are some of the leading trends that can make a significant difference in the retail pharma industry for 2020.

Trend towards generic medicines
What are generic medicines? The drugs are developed with the exact formulation of the prescribed medicines but are not associated with any brand. All leading pharmaceutical companies develop their unique version of the medication and market them under their brand name. This system has led to increased competition among companies. This forces the brands to undertake innovative promotion techniques to capture the attention of the end-user or consumer. This also leads to a steady and gradual increase in the price of the product that forces the patients to spend more to procure the medicine. This makes the drugs unattainable to the people from lower economic backgrounds. The generic medication breaks all these stereotypes and focusses on providing medicines to consumers at affordable prices. The consumers have become aware of these drugs and are choosing them instead of branded versions. This market is predicted to grow in the coming year, and the importance of generic medicine is bound to increase.

Prevention is key
Research institutions and healthcare organisation are currently focussing on the development of prevention medications. This would be supplied to the consumers in the form of vaccines and wellness capsules. The enhanced awareness has motivated the public to take adequate measures to prevent the diseases. This includes making appropriate lifestyle changes, along with a small dose of health supplements. The past decade saw a considerable increment in the number of patients suffering from chronic lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, etc. The increasing numbers provided the much-needed wake up call to the present generation. This has also motivated the healthcare organizations to provide adequate concentration on prevention of diseases. Preventive medicine has become a recognized speciality that creates awareness through counselling and consultation. Major corporations have undertaken the responsibility to allot funds to this division. The institutions focussing on this segment are expected to attain measurable results in the upcoming year.

Infusion of technological advancements
It has become highly improbable to survive without technology in today’s world. Every business in the retail segment uses some form of technology to reduce their production cost and enhance their consumer experience. The retail pharmacy segment utilises IT in every aspect, right from inventory management to customer support. It minimises the risk of error and establishes a robust system in place. Newer technological advancements is invented and upgraded regularly, and this would play a crucial role in the overall progression of the retail pharma industry in 2020.

Contribution of Ecommerce segment
The term E-commerce has reached every nook and corner of the earth. The segment has attained popularity in a few years. The internet and digital medium play a critical role in the lives of people irrespective of their age, gender and geographical presence. A study states that India has over 451 million internet users. A fair percentage of these consumer utilize online shopping due to their convenient presence, range of collections and exorbitant deals. The retail pharmacy segment has been relatively late to join the eCommerce wagon. This is primarily due to the hesitation of the consumers to adopt this system. However, the younger generation has shown support to this channel, and the consumer base of the portals is steadily increasing. There were some issues connected with this avenue owing to Government regulations and privacy concerns. However, the companies are taking the necessary steps to resolve these problems with the support of the authorities. 2020 is expected to increase the sales of medicines through eCommerce portals largely.

Introduction of AI
Artificial Intelligence is gradually introduced in various segments of the retail industry and other segments. This is expected to be the next most significant trend change in the technology avenue. What is Artificial Intelligence? How can AI be utilised to uplift the retail pharmacy segment? Like the name suggests, AI is the technique through with the machines are upgraded to make informed choices through a string of instructions. This would empower the systems to analyse the gathered information and decide the next course of action. This technological progression would be a boon to the retail pharma industry that contains information of patients and medicines. The application can analyse the formulation and specification of the specific drugs and provide suggestion to the pharmacist on the ideal type of medications based on the patient profile. Leading companies are testing the system, and some organisations have even begun their testing phase with Artificial Intelligence.

Streamlining the Supply Chain
The supply chain process plays a crucial role in the success of the retail market. The proper functioning of the system ensures the timely delivery of the goods to the end-users. The cost factor has indirect implications on the cost of the product. The retail pharma industry has seen its share of discrepancies in the supply chain structure. Various external and internal factors contributed to this lag. The primary reason is the lack of planning and organization of some companies. This led to issues in the shelf life of the product and storage irregularities of certain items. The recent tax complications led to increase in prices affecting the vendors and the consumer.
Nowadays, technology has a huge role to play in streamlining and organising it. With increased tech-support, planning inventory and its management has become easier, has also resulted in cost-savings and reduced manpower intervention.

Launch of speciality drugs
The advancement in the medical segment has led to the development of diagnostic tools to identify the cause and source of illness. This has also inspired the way for the progression of the segment into speciality and super speciality divisions. The pharma industry has surged to the challenge of meeting the demands of its counterpart. They are in the process of speciality drugs to rectify these issues. This is a booming market, and newer medications are expected to be launched in the upcoming years. The stem-cells based medication is also booming and in future will help in recovering earlier and better.

Focus on customised support
Consumers are no longer willing to admit the standard approach. Every patient is unique and so is their requirement of medicines and drugs. The pharmacist should be well versed and educated with the differential formulation to provide customized support to the clients. Companies have incorporated various methodologies to achieve this goal. The primary step would be to understand the patient history. This could be a tedious task as India has a highly unorganized retail pharmacy segment. A fair percentage of the customers attempt to self-medicate and refuse to seek proper medical attention for minor illnesses. This enhances the responsibility of the pharmacist and the retail pharmacy outlets to analyze the condition and provide the ideal medications. These shops are gradually utilizing technology to incorporate these changes and provide customized support. Major pharmaceutical chains and hospitals have also deployed dedicated customer assistance teams to support patients across the country.

Restructuring of unorganised sector
Over 12 lacs medical shops and units belong to the unorganised sector of the Indian retail pharmacy industry. Also, there are more than 10 thousand distributors and stockists in the Indian scenario. Recently, a lot of consolidation has started happening. Many mergers, buyouts, acquisitions have taken place, and the retail industry is consolidating.

Impact of China units closedown
A lot of API units in China were under pollution control radar this year. India as a country is highly dependent on China for procurement of raw materials and hence, this affected the raw material availability and the prices of medicines. Many medicines were short due and a few prices increased due to demand supply gap in the country. The pharma segment has attained significant growth in terms of sales and revenue generation. However, the research and development aspect of the medical world is yet to catch with the growth. Newer threats force companies to increase their speed in this avenue. The consumers are in the lookout for instant relief that could pose a significant threat to the process. The differences in regulations across the globe prevent the pharmaceutical industry from achieving standardization. Various external factors also threaten to tamper with the overall growth of the segment. The trade war between United States and China has caused a substantial dent in the industry. Companies and organisations dependent on these countries are forced to seek alternative measures that initiate a rift in the entire supply chain process. Ultimately, the end-user or the consumer is most affected due to fluctuating prices and inconsistencies in the products.

The Indian Government has taken numerous actions to normalise and maintain the standards of the retail pharmacy industry. The steps aid to minimalise the impact created by the fluctuations in the global market. The Drug Price Control Order (DPCO) monitored by FDA ensures the regularity in the price of the medicines and drugs in the Indian Market. The companies have also identified unique strategies to increase their brand visibility and provide customised services for consumer retention. Major corporations have shown considerable interest and are planning to venture into the retail pharmacy segment in the near future. Some organisations have already opened their outlets across the country and have garnered considerable customer attention. They have utilised the advancements of technology to upgrade their service levels in all divisions. The impact of this development is seen in production, distribution, marketing, sales and maintenance of consumer information. The evolving trends and progression focus on uplifting not only the sales but also the overall retail pharma industry.

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