4 Smart Ways Cannabis Retailers Can Adapt To The Coronavirus Crisis

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Cannabis is essential during a pandemic.

Over the last seven days, that’s the message perpetuated by several state- and county-level governing bodies: The plant is not some nice-to-have perk, but rather a mission-critical medicine.

For example, in San Francisco government officials reversed a decision to close down dispensaries and allowed them to remain open deeming cannabis "an essential medicine." In that vein, cannabis retailers across multiple state markets have been granted the right to keep their doors open and continue serving patients.

This a tremendous step in the right direction. Cannabis is a “need,” not a “want.” The recent news has been a great reminder to everyone that dabbles in the business of cannabis—although the trajectory of this industry is informed by consumer packaged goods dynamics, cannabis is not soda. Or cereal. Or even liquor. Rather, it is necessary for the baseline health of millions of individuals.

Retailers must adapt

Retailers (or dispensaries, or provisioning centers, etc.) must adapt to this new normal—and quickly. News of COVID-19 and the number of new cases has grown exponentially over the last couple of weeks, so operators were caught flat-footed. Now, we are faced with an unprecedented level of restrictions, in an industry already defined by unprecedented restrictions.

There are, however, a number of changes – to process and to technology – that sellers can make that will have an immediate impact.

1. Go online

The obvious byproduct of a pandemic virus is that people don’t want to spend a lot of time around groups of other people. If patients and adult-use customers are advised to stay six feet away from others, how can they visit a store and peruse products? They can’t.

For this reason, retailers should shift resources to eCommerce and online ordering. If you choose the right tech, you can automate your menu and provide a best-in-class shopping experience —complete with beautiful images, descriptions, effect tags, etc.— similar to consulting with a budtender, but without the germs.

Patients can place pickup orders and vastly reduce their exposure in the store.

2. Go curbside

Some governing bodies, in California, Illinois, Michigan, Washington, have loosened restrictions on cannabis retail licenses, extending the licensed space all the way out to a customer’s vehicle on the street. This means that retailers can implement “curbside pickup” in which customers don’t even have to leave their vehicles.

Again, this is a phenomenal vote of confidence by historically-strict regulators. People need their medicine, and we’re going to figure out a way to get it to them.

Retailers that weren’t granted this leeway have developed even more creative approaches: one store in Washington deployed their online menu on touchscreens right outside the shop; customers can place orders outside the store and receive a text message when their order is ready.

3. Deliver

Delivery is the ultimate solution to COVID-19. It limits not only the exposure of the customer but of your staff as well. If you have a delivery license, use it. It requires a bit of infrastructure (the technology to support delivery orders, as well as drivers and cars), but the number of delivery shoppers is quickly surpassing that of in-store shoppers and pick-up shoppers.

Meet your customer where they are. And right now, they’re at home.

4. Be prepared for the long haul

The whole industry wants to believe this is a two-week quarantine period. Unfortunately, this exercise may last a bit longer than that. So retailers will need to flex and be nimble around operations to service an evolving customer base.

It’s easy to underestimate the long-term implications of this changing shopping behavior – yes, we are reacting to the current state of affairs and trying to make do as quickly as possible. But these changes will likely change shopping behavior forever. Once a customer base is trained on online ordering, curbside pickup, or delivery, they may not go back to “traditional” behavior.

This is an unprecedented time in our history. Be ready.

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