Three ways to RULe the Cannabis Retail experience

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By Ashley Csanady

Reports of the death of retail were greatly exaggerated.

Online retail sales may be growing rapidly, but don’t let the trend reports mislead you—brick-and-mortar retail still rules. As a recent study from PwC notes, “despite the rapid growth of online sales, that channel still represents only 8.1% of core retail sales in Canada.”

It’s not that physical retail is dying; it’s simply that it has adapted to a consumer looking for an experience and not just a store. Cannabis brands will initially draw customers through sheer novelty, but those that thrive in the long-term will build something worth returning to.

As we launch the Crowns Retail Council to advise those cannabis entrepreneurs who want to build legendary experiences, here are three key things all cannabis retailers should keep in mind as they look to rule this new marketplace:


1. Be more than a store

The best retail spaces in the age of online stores offer something more than products to peruse. They are destinations to be experienced or spaces for people to gather. Think of Tiffany’s in New York building a café to finally let people actually have breakfast or TopShop’s flagship store in London building a virtual reality water slide for its 2017 summer collection. Customers were able to fly through central London, over black cabs and double-decker buses, from inside the Oxford Street store. Dish&DUER’s Vancouver store includes an adult playground, where customers can literally test out the comfort and durability of their “performance denim” before purchasing.

Wellness brands routinely run free yoga classes or running groups; the cannabis equivalent could teach consumers about both the plant (what are terpenes) and the ritual (how to roll, how to choose a vape pen), as well as speak to a brand’s ethos. So a spiritual brand could offer meditation or tarot readings, a more fanciful one could run a board-games night (so long as it’s not promoting a “glamorous lifestyle”). These experiences turn traditional retail into a community space and build brand loyalty.

Taken too far, these tactics can come off as gimmicky; however, done right, they can tell a brand story that cements a retail experience in consumers’ memories. In turn, whether their next purchase is made online or off, the brand is foremost in their minds.


2. Be seamless

The best retail is painless. That means no waiting around for help — the caché of waiting hours for the latest iPhone is a rare exception — or long lines for checkouts. Cannabis retail has a unique opportunity to embody the new retail, where customer service representatives are friendly, informed, approachable but affable. They are a resource, not a pressure point.

A compliant check-out experience presents more challenges unique to cannabis: limits on purchase quantities and tracking of ID checks for age are just some ways the unique nature of the product adds steps to the check-out experience. Making these tedious tasks enjoyable consumer experiences requires imagination and the right technology. There are solutions out there — including those from Cova Software — targeted to cannabis retailers, but they need to be woven into a larger experience.


3. Design for Instagram

Charcoal ice cream doesn’t taste good or different. There is literally no reason for it to exist, except it looks good on Instagram.

The ubiquity of design — especially in the food industry — for social media has become a point of derision and irony. “Doing it for the ‘Gram” is uttered ironically but executed in earnest.

For cannabis companies in particular, given the regulatory constraints, organic social reach is crucial. That means building displays, as well as interior and exterior design that aligns with your  brands ethos will help tell your story online without violating the stringent federal regulations.

Becoming a destination for consumers looking to get the social shot of the moment is short-lived glory, but when paired with a full-service and enjoyable experience, it can keep customers coming back — and not just for another selfie.


Ashley Csanady