Pandemic Online Markets Development

Health Care Products Online Sales: Unprecedented Surge During the Pandemic 

Not only digital health services, but also the distribution of health products experienced significant growth during the Covid-19 pandemic. For this reason, the following insight examines CAGRs of health-related products in five core eCommerce markets.

Article by Nadine Koutsou-Wehling | September 28, 2023


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The Covid-19 pandemic was a driving force behind the growth of eCommerce around the world. In addition to the need to comply with social distancing recommendations, supply shortages occurred as consumers purchased products in bulk in anticipation of an impending crisis. We suggested that for Health Care Products in particular, an interplay between national healthcare systems, digital maturity, and different approaches to enforcing lockdowns drove each national development. 

In this article, we take a closer look at how the product groups that make up the Health Care Products category grew during the pandemic period from 2019 to 2021. To do this, we examine the CAGR of each product category in five countries and point out national differences.

Hand Sanitizers Show the Largest Increase Across All Countries

Across all countries we observed in our analysis, the exceptionally high compound annual growth rate in online sales of hand sanitizers stands out. Public health agencies around the world identified hand sanitizers as a necessary precaution to reduce infections by keeping hands clean.

The COVID-19 pandemic also drastically shifted the landscape of healthcare systems. Telehealth services became more prevalent as in-person visits plummeted due to the public health emergency. The transition was most notable in rural areas where access to healthcare services is generally limited. The pandemic necessitated an urgent need to adopt new technologies, including remote patient monitoring and electronic medical record systems, to keep track of patients' health status.

Online Services to Circumvent Store Shortages

Hand sanitizers and other disinfectants played a leading role in the early days of the pandemic, when shoppers flocked to supermarkets and drugstores to prepare for store closures. As consumers encountered empty shelves in brick-and-mortar stores, online channels became a viable alternative for many seeking to stock up on products they deemed essential to face the health crisis. 

Health Care Product Categories CAGR (2019-2022) in the United Kingdom

In the above chart on the evolution of online sales of Health Care Products in the UK from 2019 to 2021, we can clearly see the leading role played by hand sanitizers during this period. While incontinence products had a slow CAGR (2019-2021) of only 12%, all other product categories grew annually at an average rate for this market, which was around 45%.

Digital Health Products More Advanced in the U.S. and the UK in 2020

The data suggest that different healthcare systems, including the prevalence of telehealth services and whether consumers were accustomed to making in-person visits or whether there was already high consumer adoption of online channels in the pre-pandemic period, had an impact on the distribution of telehealth products.

The U.S. market represents a prime example for this thesis. See the CAGRs for respective Health Care Products below.

Health Care Products CAGR (2019-2022) in the United States

The U.S. market performed similar to the UK, with the market average being one percentage point above the UK figure, at 46%.

This means that all Health Care Products online sales grew at a yearly rate of 46% between 2019 and 2021. The U.S. and UK were the two of the few countries that had already established online pharmaceutical sales channels at the onset of the pandemic, something that not many other countries had done to the same extent at such an early stage.

Telehealth Product Distribution in the U.S. More Pronounced Than in the UK

Most Health Care Products in the U.S. had CAGRs around the average, ranging from 43% for vitamins & minerals to 48% for cold & cough remedies. However, the annual growth of the fringe product groups was more extreme in the U.S. than in the UK. For instance, hand sanitizers grew at a whopping 143% CAGR from 2019 to 2021, while incontinence products grew annually at a little slower rate in the U.S. than in the UK, at 10% versus 12%, respectively.

Different Healthcare Systems: Japan Lags Behind U.S. and UK Online Sales

Turning to Japan, we see a slower development of the online market for Health Care Products during the pandemic that are about 10 percentage points lower than the U.S. and UK average values. 

Health Care Product Categories CAGR (2019-2022) in Japan

Nevertheless, the same patterns emerge as for the previous two markets, implying that hand sanitizers grew significantly faster than the other product groups with a CAGR of 116%, and incontinence products online sales rose slower than the others with a CAGR of 17%. As with the other two markets, all other categories performed around the market average, with a maximum difference of two percentage points.

Pandemic Online Health Care Product Sales Less Pronounced in France

France had a CAGR (2019-2021) of 26% for all Health Care Products, while the “Other” category grew at a slightly above-average rate of 27% per year. Other health care includes products such as nutritional foods, dietary supplements, bandages, first aid, condoms, feminine hygiene, and biometric monitors.

Health Care Product Categories CAGR (2019-2022) in France

Analgesics, or pain relievers, had the same growth rate as the average market, while all other products had percentages slightly below the average. While hand sanitizers grew at a much higher CAGR of 109%, incontinence products were somewhat less affected than in the previous countries. With a CAGR of 16%, incontinence products are only 10 percentage points below the market average.

While Germany's Online Sales Are Lowest, Different Patterns Emerge

In Germany, we observe an average market development for Health Care Products that is significantly below the other four countries. While most of the other categories at this level are around average, this time it is analgesics, digestive & intestinal remedies, and skin treatment that had the lowest CAGR between 2019 and 2021 at 10%.

Health Care Product Categories CAGR (2019-2022) in Germany

Incontinence products were sold online at an above-average rate of 25% per year, while hand sanitizers stand out at 112%.

Health Care Products: Growth Aligns With Market, but...

A detailed analysis of online sales growth data for Health Care Products in the U.S., UK, France, Germany, and Japan shows that hand sanitizers are the clear winners in all countries, with annual growth rates averaging around 100%. Given that hand sanitizing was encouraged institutionally in all countries, and that disrupted supply chains have met increased demand, which resulted in depleted shelves, the surge in online sales of hand sanitizers should not come as too much of a surprise. 

For all other categories, growth rates are roughly in line with the respective overall national health care online market. Incontinence products showed an overall lower CAGR in all countries observed, except Germany, which may be due to various reasons related to a change in the typical customer base for incontinence products or an overall lower willingness of consumers to buy these products online, let alone stock up on them. As we can only make assumptions at this point, other causalities cannot be ruled out. 

Overall, the U.S. market for Health Care Products saw the steepest growth between 2019 and 2021, closely followed by the UK. Analyses pinpoint the reason for this in the developed infrastructure and substantial provider base of online pharmacies in both countries. 

Thereafter, Japan and France had moderate development in online sales of Health Care Products, while Germany had the lowest growth rates. Compared to the total online market, only the U.S. and the UK saw respectable growth of Health Care Products, but overall, online sales were positive in all countries observed during the pandemic period.

As we explored in recent insights, the pandemic has kicked off a subsequent growth of the global market for online pharmacies, which is why the online sales of Health Care Products are likely to grow further in the years ahead.

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Health Care Products Online Sales: Key Takeaways

Surge in Online Sales of Hand Sanitizers: The Covid-19 pandemic significantly boosted online sales of health care products, with hand sanitizers showing the largest increase across all countries. This increase was driven by public health agencies globally recognizing the importance of hand sanitizers in reducing infections. This trend was especially noticeable during the early days of the pandemic when store shortages made online services a crucial alternative for consumers.

Impact of National Healthcare Systems and Digital Maturity: The growth in online sales of health care products varied between countries based on the maturity of their healthcare systems and digital infrastructure. The U.S. and UK, for example, had established online pharmaceutical sales channels prior to the pandemic, leading to higher compound annual growth rates (CAGR) for online health care products between 2019 and 2021 compared to countries like Japan and Germany.

Varied Growth in Other Health Care Product Categories: While hand sanitizers led the way, other health care product categories showed growth patterns aligned more closely with their national online health care markets. Incontinence products generally had a lower CAGR in most countries, except for Germany. The data suggests that the consumer adoption of online channels for these types of products was less enthusiastic, potentially due to changes in the typical customer base or other unspecified reasons. Overall, the U.S. and UK markets witnessed the highest growth rates, attributed to their developed online healthcare services and telehealth infrastructure.

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FAQ: Health Care Products Online

How has telemedicine impacted care during the pandemic?

The use of telehealth expanded significantly, and early data suggest it's not just a temporary change. The increase in telehealth use has been statistically significant, indicating long-term patterns could be changing for care delivery. Health care providers had to adapt to these new modes of service delivery in a timely manner.

Did telehealth increase with COVID?

Online services became more than just a convenience; they became a necessity. Insurance coverage policies also adapted to cover telehealth services, benefiting Medicare beneficiaries and those under Medicaid services. This has been a significant shift in how we think about healthcare services, consumer adoption, and healthcare technology. The pandemic also caused a surge in online health care products, such as hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment, being purchased by a large portion of the population.

How is telemedicine changing healthcare?

In the context of chronic and infectious diseases, virtual care can sometimes be as effective as in-person care, though physical exams are irreplaceable for some conditions. In these disruptive times, digital health solutions offer a way to improve access to care while also maintaining the quality of care. Research, including systematic reviews and open access articles, has started focusing on these changes to gain insights into their actual usage and effectiveness.