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Mail order retail selling medications and health products from pharmacies is flourishing and is currently experiencing a definite upward trend. Although sales (1.3 billion Euro) are only about 3 percent compared to overall pharmacy business sales, the trend – in contrast to the stagnating community pharmacy business – is growing.

This is especially applicable to the OTC-segment ("Over-the-Counter"), where mail-order retail has established itself as a distribution channel. Their turnover has now reached 11 percent compared to sales in pharmacies. OTC products account for more than half of mail-order revenue generated, which means that in future they might – literally speaking – be sold increasingly via the assembly lines of mail-order pharmacies rather than over the counter of local pharmacies. Other product areas like cosmetics and body care or so-called medical materials (equipment for testing, medicinal substances and therapeutic appliances) are also of increasing interest for pharmacy mail-order retail.

In other sectors the trend to sell using electronic ordering has already taken a strong foothold. In these sectors, mail-order sales account for about 8 percent of retail sales. Customers are increasingly ordering books, CDs, DVDs, jewelery, perfume, toys, but also consumer electronics and valuable household appliances online. For example, the percentage of mail-order book retail has risen to about 12 percent of total book sales in Germany. Online retailers like Amazon, Weltbild or buch.de have been serious competitors for traditional retail book shops for some time now.

Although pharmacy mail-order retail is still a long way away from this sort of magnitude, the market share of mail-order pharmacies has already increased by 8.4 percent in 2011. Mail-order retail is continuing to upgrade and has already responded to the lack of personal sales consultation by implementing specialist consultations with pharmaceutical staff by phone or email. The much-discussed model trials to establish pick-up points at drugstores or discounters demonstrate the growing importance of an alternative distribution channel.

It remains to be seen whether other market players in the health system also identify this sales channel as being lucrative. This distribution channel, however, has not yet established itself in the medical aids market. But maybe it is worth considering?