India has been one of the major drivers of global OTC growth, with sales up 8.8% in the MAT Q3 2018 period, but there is now uncertainty over the country’s e-commerce sector after the government moved ahead with new rules that took effect last Friday (1st February 2019). The rules prohibit online retailers from selling products via companies or distributors in which they have an equity stake, so e-commerce giants like Amazon and Flipkart (owned by Walmart) have been most affected.
Amazon has now pulled various products from its Indian website, including some of its Amazon Basics line, while Walmart said it was “disappointed” at the government’s haste in implementing the new rules, which will create “significant work” for the company in overhauling its supply chains and systems. Political commentators see Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to stand firm as a move intended to appease smaller Indian retailers ahead of a general election expected in May.
Amazon saw its shares dip 4% on the day the rules were implemented and it has lowered its sales guidance for India in Q1 2019. Walmart shares also fell, down 2.4%. In the short-term, there will be huge disruption to supply chains and increasing compliance costs, which will inevitably affect the availability and price of products online, while also giving a boost to bricks & mortar retailers. Long-term, however, Amazon and Flipkart have invested huge sums in India’s e-commerce market and will no doubt recover share.
In the meantime, more disruption to the e-commerce sector might be on its way. India issued draft regulations on the sale of medicines by e-pharmacies in September 2018, including a requirement to register for a licence with the country’s pharma regulator, CDSCO, which should be renewed every 3 years. However, the move has drawn protests and petitions from pharmacists, and opposing views in different regions of India, making the future implementation of these regulations highly uncertain.
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