During a tumultuous year that sent thousands of traditional retailers and brands reeling, legal cannabis emerged as a dark horse in the U.S. consumer market. Cannabis’s “essential business” status, coupled with unprecedented levels of stress, economic uncertainty, and unemployment, drove demand for products to record highs. As legal cannabis becomes more widely embraced by consumers and policymakers, retailers and brands must seize this long-awaited opportunity to forge lasting relationships with the full spectrum of consumers.
Unfortunately, current cannabis retail platforms are not designed to welcome new or “canna-curious” consumers to engage with the industry. The majority of online cannabis dispensary menus or delivery services feel cold and transactional, operating under the assumption customers already have a baseline understanding of the plant. These practices end up excluding millions of potential users.
Industry analysts project cannabis sales will increase by 40 percent in 2021 and surge to $37 billion by 2024. Industry leaders must take this opportunity to embrace the growing audience. Despite cannabis’s increasingly mainstream standing, less than a quarter of Millennials consume marijuana, and usage drops off even more among older demographics. The onus is now on cannabis brands and retailers to recalibrate their platforms in a way that prioritizes new consumer groups and makes the purchasing experience as seamless and engaging as possible.
Three strategic moves can help attract new consumers.
1. Create a trustworthy experience
There is no such thing as a typical cannabis consumer anymore, and a massive market of new customers is still untapped by the industry. To better understand the distinct shopping habits and lifestyles of each emerging demographic, cannabis companies must establish a reliable line of communication to solicit customer feedback. This facilitates a more authentic and transparent shopping experience that is tailored to their preferences.
A lack of familiarity with brands and products ultimately impedes consumer purchasing confidence, especially among those who are new to cannabis. The first step to addressing this barrier is understanding what key pieces of information consumers need to know before making a purchase and presenting this information in clear ways that are well-integrated into the shopping experience. Examples include dosage, testing results, detailed descriptions of effects, ingredients, and flavor profiles.
When I was president at one of the fastest-growing clean beauty brands in the country, my team recognized customers often report higher levels of product satisfaction when they are able to experience the results promised on the packaging. Cannabis brands and retailers should be as descriptive as possible about a product’s effects and overall experience, letting consumers know what to expect. This allows customers to feel confident in their purchases and assures them each product is safe, effective, and legal.
2. Make cannabis as accessible as possible
Consumers expect their cannabis shopping experience to be as convenient and reliable as ordering takeout or groceries. Since the beginning of the pandemic, retail platforms have reported triple-digit increases in delivery demand. Lantern’s internal data showed a 78-percent increase in order size on Green Wednesday alone, and this growth trend likely will continue for the foreseeable future. Delivery is no longer a nice-to-have feature but a service consumers expect—and one that is critical to the industry’s survival.
Whether or not the country is in lockdown mode, cannabis retailers must provide accessible delivery services to ensure patients and recreational users can access their desired products safely and efficiently from the comfort of their homes. Our team has learned to prioritize consistency and speed of delivery, the two most important factors that yield repeat customers and long-term loyalty.
While offering delivery is important to attracting all cannabis consumers, providing user-friendly delivery platforms is especially imperative for retailers aiming to reach new audiences. Consumers from emerging demographics or markets who still are intimidated by cannabis culture may not want to visit a dispensary in person. To cater to these individuals, online ecommerce platforms must be able to replicate a dispensary’s welcoming atmosphere and provide resources online to keep consumers informed and engaged.
3. Expand internal diversity
One of the most effective steps companies can take to enhance customer experiences is to intentionally build diverse workforces. Inviting employees from a range of backgrounds, age groups, and gender identities into the decision-making process ultimately benefits consumers.
When key corporate figures accurately represent the wider population, they can make informed decisions that allow major retail experiences, including store design, brand messaging, flavor formulations, and product design, to reflect the voice and preferences of their target market.
With new adult-use and delivery markets launching this year, retail platforms must ensure their employees on the ground have the capability to discern the specific needs of each demographic. Colorado and Massachusetts, two of the most exciting adult-use delivery markets, have completely different consumer lifestyles, demographics, and cultural idiosyncrasies for which retailers must account. Multistate businesses expanding to new markets must have diverse teams with local representation to bridge any cultural gaps in each region.
Without a doubt, increasing political and social acceptance of cannabis will encourage new consumer groups to embrace the benefits of the plant. In order to reach our collective goal of earning full mainstream acceptance, it is imperative retailers and retail platforms do everything in their power to embrace and support potential customers. The industry has cleared its most daunting challenge of fully transitioning to ecommerce, but retailers that want to stand out in 2021 must provide new consumer groups with transparent and constructive tools to help them engage with this burgeoning industry.
Meredith Mahoney is president at cannabis home-delivery platform Lantern. Previously, she served as president at Follain, a clean beauty retailer, where she oversaw strategy and operations across digital, brick- and-mortar, and wholesale channels. Mahoney also served as a vice president at Wayfair. Combining creative talent and analytical chops, she is skilled in leading organizations with strong creative and product DNA.