Online ordering. Personalized recommendations based on shopping habits. Contactless shopping and payment. Familiar self-checkout options.
And that’s just a straightforward visit to the grocery store. Could you have imagined that level of convenience and predictability twenty years ago? Ten years ago?
Modern consumers are tech-savvy, and they’ve demanded more personalized and convenient shopping experiences for years. In 2020, in response to a life-altering pandemic, they now seek safe, contactless self-checkout and shopping experiences on top of everything else. Retail verticals everywhere are taking notice—including cannabis.
Dispensaries are extremely different from grocery stores, mostly because of their relative novelty (and, of course, their age-gated product selection). Nevertheless, cannabis consumers are beginning to expect the same level of convenience and personalization from dispensaries that is offered to them at so many other touchpoints in their lives.
The cannabis industry is full of revolutionary thinkers and early adopters, but it’s past time to meet customers where they are and keep stride with technological developments in other sectors. If they don’t, dispensaries risk losing business and playing catch-up for years to come.
Cannabis deliveries and curbside pickup spiked in legal markets at the beginning of the pandemic, but research conducted by Akerna indicated customers eagerly returned to dispensary sales floors once they reopened—even with rules spanning mask use, physical distancing, and limits on the number of in-store shoppers. Why? It’s all in the experience. Delivery and curbside pickup are sanitized, less-personal versions of the budtender interactions and product discovery that make dispensary visits such pleasant experiences.
Even though sales leveled off from panic-shopping peaks in March and May, we’re still seeing an average basket size—that is, average purchase amount—that is higher than before the pandemic shutdown. The difference is, consumers just aren’t visiting dispensaries as often as they were before. Now, the keys to customers’ hearts are tied to in-store safety measures and adequate product inventory to help consumers minimize trips, maximize efficiency, and feel empowered in their shopping experience.
Loyal cannabis consumers generally know what they’re looking for when they visit a dispensary, but even new or less-experienced consumers probably have educated themselves a little online before they step through the doors. Today’s consumers are heavily reliant on online content to understand products and services, so it is in dispensaries’ best interest to provide real-time stock availability, helpful product information, and expectations for the service encounter.
Consumers also are looking for dispensary websites that are easy to navigate—especially on the mobile side. Look for places you can improve the user experience, like in readability and ease of navigation. A visit to a cannabis dispensary, in many cases, starts with the first interaction consumers have with the brand online—not necessarily the moment they step through the physical doors.
“Today’s customers may still love the in-person experience but, generally, they’re interested in efficiency above all else.”
And then there’s the cash issue. Legislation like the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow cannabis businesses to freely work with banks, continues to be a topic of discussion in Washington, D.C. This could solve one of the biggest headaches for retailers by allowing customers to pay easily via cards rather than cash. But until then, dispensary owners and budtenders should be as clear as possible about payment types accepted and how consumers can best prepare themselves for a visit.
Today’s customers may still love the in-person experience but, generally, they’re interested in efficiency above all else. Minimizing exposure or time spent indoors is key in many minds, and any place they can expedite processes, they will. According to research conducted by McKinsey in August 2020, of the many new shopping habits consumers have adopted in recent months they’re most likely to stick with in-store self-checkout.
The same survey also explored spending habits and found consumers are becoming more mindful of where they spend their money. They’re also researching brand and product choices more thoroughly before making a purchase, and they’re trying out new shopping behaviors—like online ordering and self-checkout—in huge numbers.
In these trends lie huge opportunities for the cannabis industry. By adopting technologies like self-checkout kiosks that improve not only transaction efficiency but also in-stock inventory accuracy, dispensaries can meet consumers’ newfound needs.
With rapid changes in buying habits and interactions, consumers are hungry for predictability and agency. Think how easy it is to click a button and have a new frying pan, Bluetooth speaker, or set of sheets drop into your lap within the week. Or to see a specific grill is available at a store close to you, then jump in your car to go pick it up.
There’s comfort in that predictability, and we’ll start to see both educated and novice cannabis consumers expect that same kind of predictability and ease of interaction from every area of their lives—including (and maybe especially) from their neighborhood dispensary.
Matt Frost is founder and chief executive officer at anna, a streamlined self-checkout solution for cannabis and CBD retailers. His expertise in data analytics and software programming for some of New England’s largest healthcare operators inspired and informed his creation of a fully compliant model for frictionless retail automation that maximizes revenue per square foot.