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Pandemic and online pharmacies: a growing sector, sales +77%

Pharmaceutical e-commerce is a world that many are still wary of. Despite this, recent travel restrictions, the fear of being infected and the difficulties in finding certain products quickly, have pushed many users to prefer the way of the Web for the purchase of medicines and other pharmaceutical products. 

Today, online pharmacies are increasingly gaining the trust of customers, it is a sector that grows year by year dizzily: according to a survey by Iqvia, 2020 closed with 66% more (compared to the previous year) drugs purchased online in our country, reaching a total value of 400 million euros (in 2019 it stopped at 240 million). This important increase has allowed Italy to arrive on the podium of the turnover derived from the sale of medicines online, positioning itself behind Germany and France. And even 2021 continues in the wake of last year for which, according to the same study, the increase detected for the months of January and February is 60% compared to the same months but the previous year.

An overall increase of +76%: speaking in economic terms, in the first nine months of 2019, the market was worth 172 million euros and in 2020 it was worth an impressive 274 million euros, registering a +59%. The growth, to say the least, exponential, of sales made by online pharmacies underwent a sharp change to the positive in the second quarter of the year when the units sold went from 5.1 million recorded in 2019, to 9.7, in 2020. So, there was a 90% increase.

We can therefore say that 2020 and 2021 will also be remembered as the years of the definitive consecration of e-commerce in Italy. 

Spurred by the change of habits by the pandemic, Italians have had the opportunity to gain confidence and familiarize themselves with online purchases, continuing then in the vast majority of cases to prefer the virtual channel over the physical one.

Are online pharmacies safe?

Many people often question the safety and authenticity of online pharmacies and wonder if buying drugs or health care prescriptions online is safe. But healthcare e-commerce is also subject to regulation. To date, there are 612 entities authorized for online sales by the Ministry of Health. The list of authorized pharmacies can be consulted online, right on the Ministry of Health website. The sale of medicines online is not free. It is, in fact, regulated both by Article 112-quarter of Legislative Decree No. 219 of April 24, 2006, and by the circulars issued by the Ministry of Health in January and May 2016. The legislative decrees mentioned above and the various ministerial circulars regulate the procedure for requesting authorization and the methods of sale on the internet. First of all, the regulations specify the type of medicines allowed to be sold online. Nowadays, in Italy, there are about 1100 pharmacies and parapharmacies that have obtained authorization from the Ministry of Health to sell products on the internet.

How do you make sure?

In Italy, online pharmacies are obliged to affix an identifying logo on their web pages: a white cross on a green background, which confirms their legitimacy and represents the ministerial stamp.

Can medications be purchased online?

Is it possible to buy all types of medications online? That’s not quite right and we try to clarify for all users who are still unclear about the distinction between medications.

On the web in Italy it is possible to buy only over-the-counter (OTC) and non-prescription drugs. In fact, the Law of July 1, 2015, in accordance with the European Directive 2011/62/EU, liberalizes the online sale of non-prescription and OTC drugs to all e-commerce owned by a licensed business with a physical presence on the Italian territory (pharmacies, parapharmacies or other commercial activities authorized in the sale). Online pharmacies have the freedom to sell homeopathic and parapharmaceutical products, unless the manufacturer has specified that the drug can only be sold with a medical prescription.

What do users buy?

Users, on online pharmacies, buy different products: for personal care, (obviously) since March last year there has been a boom in purchases of surgical masks, many choose to buy online nutritional products whose sales rose 56% in the first nine months of the year compared to the same period last year.

On the web, therefore, it is not possible to sell all those drugs that require a medical prescription, for which it is possible to buy only in physical pharmacies.

A growth that won’t stop

The reopening is unlikely to lead to a decrease in online sales over the next few weeks, precisely because many Italians who were previously unaccustomed to digital purchasing now use it frequently. Many “traditional” retailers, therefore, have increased their online presence so as to offer an experience that complements the one already present in the area and that adapts to the new virtual shopping paths.

It is necessary for retailers to think about a new sales model, adding digital to the existing one, which is fundamental to a shopping experience in 2021, with the aim of creating a balance between the two experiences to meet the needs of all consumers.

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