From artificial intelligence to augmented reality, it’s a new frontier for cannabis retail. Here, four experts chime in on your burning questions.
In what ways is artificial intelligence affecting retail?
AI applications center primarily around marketing, inventory management, and predictive analytics. Hundreds of companies are offering AI services and consulting to retailers and operators in the industry, but perhaps those that are leading the charge are cloud computing operators including Amazon and Google. By integrating cloud computing and on-demand access with AI capabilities, applications are now within reach of virtually any operator big or small.
In the near future, as more applications for and capabilities around AI and [virtual reality] emerge, cannabis operators who prioritize the adoption of these technologies are going to enjoy a competitive advantage over those who are slower to adapt. Many capabilities already exist today to customize customer communications and drive loyalty as well as to optimize inventory and ordering. In the next five to ten years, the sophistication of those capabilities and ease of use are going to improve and costs are going to come down. In fact, much like CBD, we increasingly can expect to find AI baked into everything. —Greg Shoenfeld, VP of Operations, BDS Analytics
How is augmented reality changing the retail experience?
I believe AR is going to be the biggest game-changer in the industry. Although Google Glass appeared to come and go, the technology isn’t going anywhere and will get better fast. AR is already in a smattering of shops through apps, but what will really change the industry is when 3D spatial computing becomes more readily available. Much better eyewear, like Microsoft’s mixed-reality HoloLens, is about to be released. The devices will provide an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory, and olfactory.
In fact, I can see a day when dispensaries won’t need budtenders. Consumers will be able to go in with AR specs and have up-to-date information, all the reviews, education, and original content available to them through spatial computing. I know it sounds very advanced, but the technology is here now and just needs to find its way to the marketplace. You will be able to have a fully 3D in-store cannabis retail experience that will blow minds. —Neil Mandt, CEO, Mandt Media
What kinds of technology are most beneficial for dispensaries?
Investing in a system to communicate directly with consumers and capture consumer data, as well as loyalty programs, are key. Many consumers don’t want to miss a deal and/or a fresh drop, but they might not care about the other 70 percent of content you send them. So, rather than annoy them, invest in smart software and communications strategy. We use SMS [text alerts] via Baker Technologies right now, but we’re switching to springbig because integration is key. springbig integrates with I Heart Jane, while Baker does not. We use Mailchimp for e-blasts and have iPads in-store with our fabulous staff, who ask our shoppers if they want to sign up for SMS with us.
We went away from smart menus in the store, as we’re heavily focused on the customer experience. Eco is for people who want to see and smell the flower, browse and ask questions of our team, and not feel rushed. However, our menu is online, and we have the iPads. Express shoppers who know what they want can preorder online or self-serve in store. On our TVs, we like to play original content and videos we’ve created that feature our team and experience, as well as cool concepts we’ve dreamed up. We mix it up with cannabis-related TV—other cutting-edge shows that feature nature, sports, art, music, and cult-classic movies. —Elise McRoberts, chief of brand strategy, Eco Cannabis
What should dispensaries look for in point-of-sale and inventory software?
Today, being a dispensary owner is no different than owning a shoe or clothing store. Customers expect a superior, tailored experience and the highest quality products for the best prices. However, more often than not dispensary owners have neither the time nor experience to manage their POS and inventory-management systems. That’s why having the right partner that understands the individual needs of dispensaries and can offer around-the-clock support is essential to both boutique and enterprise cannabis retailers.
Sadly, many of today’s existing POS solutions deliver a jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none approach by providing the tooling and technology for the entire cannabis supply chain. However, you want to look for a platform that integrates and partners with some of the industry’s best niche tech players across the supply chain from cultivation, payments, and customer loyalty to delivery, [human resources], advertising, and analytics. This approach empowers retailers to modernize their shops without having to cut corners or make sacrifices. –Kyle Sherman, CEO, Flowhub LLC