Share of online pharmacy sales around 1.5 percent, but growing

A pharmacy in Tallinn.
A pharmacy in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Online pharmacy managers say the use of e-pharmacies has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, also among older people. The sales of online pharmacies made up 1.5 percent of all pharmacy sales in the third quarter of 2021.

"Five pharmacies have a license in Estonia currently. The oldest of them, Apotheka Netiapteek, has operated for years, others have begun operating recently," Agency of Medicines pharmacovigilance department head Ott Laius said.

"Based on data from the third quarter of 2021, the total revenue of online pharmacies was 1.5 percent of the total pharmacy revenue and the turnover from dispensed medicines made up 0.5 percent of the total turnover of medicines," Laius said. The total pharmacy turnover was €435 million.

The five pharmacies that have a license for online pharmacy sales are Apotheka's Mustamäe pharmacy, the Südameapteek Veerenni pharmacy, Azeta's PharmaMint, Benu's Nordic Pharmacy and Aptev's Mai Apteek.

Benu online pharmacy manager Inge Mesek said the current market situation is difficult to compare with earlier situations, since their e-pharmacy has been open since the start of this year. "Online pharmacies have more work during flu season, as do regular pharmacies, as people want to buy products to prevent and treat illnesses for themselves and their loved ones," Mesek said.

The e-pharmacy manager said it is noticeable that online customers tend to be younger than customers of regular pharmacies. "This stems from the technical side of the e-pharmacy purchasing process, which requires some previous technology awareness," she explained.

Older people starting to use online pharmacies too

Purchasing prescription medicines from online pharmacies requires the customer to identify themselves with either an ID-card or a mobile solution, such as Smart-ID or Mobiil-ID. They also need to know how to shop online.

"At the same time, we have had very positive examples with older clients that have been able to buy their prescription drugs after getting some chatroom or phone help from a pharmacist," Mesek noted.

The e-pharmacy manager said there are people who prefer online pharmacies because of comfort. Others, however, want to receive face-to-face advice. "Since the consumption of medicines is an important and private topic, many people have found a pharmacist they trust who they go to and listen to" Mesek said.

Südameapteek pharmacist Kerli Vahar said interest in e-pharmacies is growing. "While it may have been feared a little at first or people did not know they could buy prescription drugs from e-pharmacies, we can now see that clients have become more aware and experienced," Vahar said.

She also said the average age of customers tends to skew younger, but more and more older clients also make it to the online pharmacies. "The epidemiological situation in spring likely became decisive for the latter, they wanted to reduce contacts as much as possible. Many would not have began using the service otherwise," Vahar noted.

She added that experience has shown that customers mainly want to buy medicines for their underage children or parents and grandparents.

Apotheka e-pharmacy manager Jürgen Jänese said online sales are similar to sales in regular pharmacies, but people buy more delicate health goods from e-pharmacies, such as pregnancy tests. "Pharmacy cosmetics are also purchased a little more from e-pharmacies," he noted, adding that sales of prescription drugs have also gone up.

"Our typical e-pharmacy client is a 25-34-year old woman in Tallinn, but we cover the entire spectrum of the Estonian population," Jänese said. "Looking at the future, it seems likely that pharmacies go along with other trade trends - the e-pharmacy share of the market will grow."

There are a total of 506 licensed pharmacies in Estonia, the total revenue of over-the-counter medicines in 2020 was €61 million.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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