No matter what physical or mental ailment it is, when you are ill, you don’t want to leave your bed and certainly not your own four walls. The otherwise short and easy trip to the nearest pharmacy then quickly becomes an almost unmanageable effort. How convenient it is, on the other hand, to be able to order the medicines you need online at any time and from anywhere using your smartphone, tablet, or PC, and to be able to relax and expect them to be delivered from chemist marsden park to your door.
While until a few years ago local pharmacies were the first port of call when it came to medical care, online pharmacies, also known as internet pharmacies or mail-order pharmacies, have now increasingly become serious competitors. As in other online shops, customers select the products they want on the online pharmacy’s website around the clock, put them in the shopping basket, place their order and then receive them conveniently by mail order directly to their home.
Satisfied online pharmacy customers
In Germany, about 3000 pharmacies now have a mail-order license; that is about 7% of all stationary pharmacies. And the online version of the pharmacy seems to be going down well: According to an online survey commissioned by PricewaterhouseCoopers GmbH and published in February 2019, 66 percent of the 1000 people surveyed have already ordered medicines online, and 48 percent order more frequently from an online pharmacy.
According to a survey by the digital association Bitkom, 34 percent of online pharmacy customers regularly buy their medicines online. This is probably mainly due to the good price-performance ratio of online pharmacies: according to the survey, 75 percent of customers are very satisfied, and another 18 percent are somewhat satisfied. The quality of the medicines is similarly good, with just under 70 percent of the customers surveyed finding it very good.
In the following, we at Gesundheit-Service explain all the advantages of online pharmacies as well as the most important criteria you should consider when making your choice.
The advantages of the online pharmacy
Online pharmacies have now become a strong competitor to traditional local pharmacy. This is not really surprising, after all, ordering medicines from an online pharmacy has a whole range of advantages over shopping at an on-site pharmacy.
The online pharmacy in price comparison
The biggest advantage of online pharmacies is the lower prices. For example, some medicines are up to 50 percent cheaper online than in a stationary pharmacy. However, the price advantage is limited to over-the-counter medicines such as cold and flu remedies. Since the 2004 health reform, pharmacies have set their own prices for these medicines. On the other hand, prescription drugs are still subject to fixed prices in Germany.
What is the pharmacy retail price?
The pharmacy retail price is calculated from the pharmacy purchase price, i.e. the manufacturer’s price of the medicine plus delivery, and a pharmacy mark-up. VAT is also added. In Germany, the pharmacy retail price is the price at which a pharmacy settles a drug with statutory health insurance.
If you order over-the-counter medicines online, you can save a lot of money. However, when buying from an online pharmacy, shipping charges are usually added. At the online pharmacies in our test, however, they amount to a maximum of 3.95 euros and, depending on the provider, are waived completely from an order value of 10 to 20 euros. Consumers who not only want to order a pack of headache tablets but also want to stock up their entire medicine cabinet, for example, should compare prices, as you can save money when buying medicines from an online pharmacy. On our platform Gesundheit-Service we compare all conditions of a certain online pharmacy.
Although German mail-order pharmacies must adhere to the fixed prices for prescription medicines, this does not apply to online pharmacies from other European countries. In 2016, the European Court of Justice ruled that foreign mail-order pharmacies no longer have to comply with the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation when they ship prescription medicines to Germany. Therefore, some of these mail-order pharmacies offer their customers prescription bonuses on prescription drugs. Depending on the manufacturer, customers can save up to 10 euros per pack of medication.
Why is an online pharmacy so much cheaper?
As a consumer, saving money is always a good thing, but not when it comes to health. That’s why many people naturally wonder how the lower prices of online pharmacies come about.
Bulk discounts on purchases
Compared to small on-site pharmacies, online pharmacies buy their medicines in larger quantities. This way, they benefit from discounts offered by suppliers and can pass them on to their customers.
Larger catchment area and anonymity
On the one hand, an online pharmacy reaches more customers than a local branch and does so around the clock. On the other hand, an online shop offers more opportunities to browse and entices customers with numerous offers. In addition, the anonymity of the internet is more likely to tempt customers to make spontaneous purchases than the more difficult-to-see product range and the hustle and bustle of a local pharmacy.
Lower staff costs
Trained professionals cost money. An on-site pharmacy needs significantly more skilled staff to provide personalised customer service than an online pharmacy, which saves the latter money, which in turn is reflected in the cost of medicines.
Cheaper shop rent
A good location is extremely important for a local pharmacy. Accordingly, the shop rent is usually high. In contrast, online pharmacies do not depend on a good location, but on a convincing internet presence.
In summary: The advantages of online pharmacies and traditional pharmacies
Personal counselling and rapid supply in acute cases at traditional pharmacies are contrasted by more favourable prices, continuous opening hours and home delivery at online pharmacies. Basically, both types of pharmacy have their necessity and raison d’être. However, online pharmacies have more advantages and fewer disadvantages for broad user groups than traditional pharmacies. Especially for over-the-counter medicines, ordering from an online pharmacy is a good idea, as customers benefit from significantly lower prices without having to submit a prescription by post. For chronically ill patients with a high need for special medicines, a small price advantage already makes a big difference. In principle, however, online pharmacies should be regarded as a useful supplement to the retail pharmacy rather than a substitute for it.
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