In the first of this two-part series, we looked at Dingdang Health and the unique advantages that have helped it establish itself in the pharmaceutical O2O industry. In this second part, we examine the interdependence of the seemingly different business models in the industry. It seems that no single company can do it all on its own. What factors are emerging in this evolving landscape?
Sharing of delivery resources
When it comes to items of a sensitive nature like medicine, delivery speed is key. The pharmaceutical O2O businesses know this and advertise this aspect accordingly.
However, it’s expensive to hire one’s own delivery fleet, especially when the demand for medicines is relatively unpredictable. This is where the sharing economy comes into play. For these businesses, sharing delivery services may help to lower costs while still meeting demands.
Taking Dingdang Health, for example. Its prospectus shows that as of March 2022, its express medicine delivery service is mainly provided by 2,600 riders who are commissioned according to outsourcing arrangements with delivery partners. These appointed riders currently provide exclusive delivery services for Dingdang Health.
However, whenever a surge in orders requires additional staff on hand, Dingdang Health will deploy other riders, which are from a third-party delivery service that has a non-exclusive agreement with Dingdang Health.
It’s not the only company to do so. Pharmacy chain enterprises are also hopping on the bandwagon. For example, LBX Pharmacies has an ongoing collaboration with instant delivery platform Dada Express to provide quick citywide delivery of its products. Other Chinese pharmacy chains like China Nepstar, Quanyuantang, Shuyu Pingmin, and Yifeng Pharmacy, as well as providers like JD Health, have also engaged Dada Express or other similar carriers.
This sharing of delivery services significantly lowers costs for O2O companies, while carriers can ensure efficiency of scale when they integrate orders from different platforms.
Merging different streams of traffic
There are three main categories of O2O businesses at the moment:
- Platforms that have the advantage of existing online traffic on a large scale, such as Meituan
- Pharmaceutical chain enterprises that mainly have offline traffic, such as LBX Pharmacies
- Self-operated companies that have access to both online and offline traffic, such as Dingdang Health
Are they mutually exclusive? Not necessarily, as there is an evolving trend of collaboration between large online platforms and smaller companies. Getting on the online platforms would mean maximizing their reach, enabling them to potentially earn more from the existing audience on these platforms.
Shuyu Pingmin, a pharmaceutical chain, revealed in its financial report for Q1 and Q2 2022 that its online business revenue exceeded RMB 360 million (USD 50 million), of which revenue from third-party O2O platforms accounted for 53%, and revenue from the company’s platform accounted for a mere 8%.
Dingdang Health also mentioned in its prospectus that the proportion of revenue from third-party platforms hit 72.6% in Q1 2022.
It’s an interdependent relationship since these large platforms need a large number of different pharmacies to meet the variety in demand.
JD Health, for instance, built a grid-based operational ecosystem with over 60,000 merchants, enabling it to provide omnichannel 24/7 drug delivery services to users in more than 400 cities. And as of March 2022, Meituan is collaborating with some 200,000 pharmaceutical chains, which are an important part of Meituan’s O2O ecosystem.
This interdependent relationship works in the consumer’s favor as well, since they can access a greater variety of services from the same applications.
However, this doesn’t mean smaller platforms owned by pharmaceutical chains and self-operated enterprises will gradually shut down. They simply cater to a different type of consumer. For instance, in its 2022 financial report, pharmaceutical chain Yixintang disclosed that the UPT (the average number of items purchased in a single transaction) revenue of its own platform was 4.17 times higher than that of third-party partner platforms.
Integrating technology for the improvement of physical stores
Even with an increasing online presence, it has to be acknowledged that brick-and-mortar pharmacies are still one of the main channels of pharmaceutical retail. These are widely distributed and close to local communities, which has helped foster a high level of loyalty among users.
It’s possible to apply technology to help improve the effectiveness of these brick-and-mortar stories. Self-operated O2O enterprises like Dingdang Health, for instance, can choose a location for a new smart pharmacy based on big data, ensuring coverage efficiency of its pharmacy network. A smart drug selection system seamlessly connects user orders, drug retrieval, and drug delivery.
Logistics can be improved with tech as well. For example, a smart order splitting system can be used to record order levels and labor, schedule orders based on cost and delivery time, and consider complex factors such as weather conditions to ensure that drugs are delivered on time and at a lower cost.
The large online platforms can play a part in helping with the expansion of physical stores into the online space, too. Since 2021, programs such as Ele.me’s “Little Blue Light” and Meituan’s “Little Yellow Light” have been in place to establish 24-hour pharmacy services.
Some of these include the integration of smart pharmacies into the network. Using technologies such as visual recognition and automation control, Meituan has managed to automate the management of the entire process, from sorting, order closing, and packing to handover. The sorting and dispatch process is monitored, and drug safety is ensured through systematic calibration.
These smart pharmacies can serve customers in person or send drugs through O2O delivery. They solve the problem of high labor costs for night operations, while ensuring a more comprehensive 24-hour delivery network.
These integrations herald a bright future for the pharmaceutical O2O industry, which is estimated to reach RMB 144.4 billion by 2030 according to MENET.
What will happen to the industry in the future?
The pharmaceutical O2O industry is already moving towards an integrated approach. The next natural step is to expand into providing a wider variety of health services, such as medical checkups and vaccinations. Dingdang Health is already looking into this, disclosing plans in its prospectus for the acquisition of pharmacy chains, testing centers, and other medical service providers.
Longer-term patient management is also on the books. In order to encourage repeat business, current O2O services will need to consider how they manage their customer relationships and patient records to deliver better services while navigating privacy protection guidelines.
Finally, as the industry evolves, the demand for O2O may niche down into specific types of medicine. After all, the primary purpose of O2O is to meet urgent medical needs while ensuring discretion. With enough transaction data, pharmaceutical chains can use O2O platforms to carry out effective digital marketing.
Compared with the uncertainty it faced in its early years, the pharmaceutical O2O industry is now entering a more stable phase with integrations across platforms. With collaboration among different industry partners, there’s potential to expand the market and serve a wider range of people with better digital healthcare products.
This article was adapted based on a feature originally written by Zhang Xiaoxu and published on Artertial Network (WeChat ID: vcbeat). KrASIA is authorized to translate, adapt, and publish its contents.