Changing Habits: Cannabis Execs Explain How COVID-19 Has Changed Retail

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Retail has been consistently evolving for decades. The internet and our increasingly digitized world already were ushering in rapid change, but now, the COVID-19 pandemic has made many organizations rethink their retail approach from the ground up with little time to map out these new course corrections. In a testament to the resiliency of the cannabis industry, dispensaries have quickly shifted their operating procedures to remain open for customers and patients in need of safe access.

For this week’s Changing Habits installment, we spoke with executives at SPARC, Enlighten, Harborside, and Jane Technologies to learn more about the new retail landscape.


Enlighten Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Jacobs believes many of the new procedures cannabis companies have instituted will not simply go away after the coronavirus. “Retail has changed likely forever as a result of this pandemic,” he told mg.

Jeremy Jacobs, CEO, Enlighten

Although COVID-19 is forcing change, some of the issues Jacobs has addressed correct problems that started long before the pandemic.

“We shifted our marketing focus to a much more personalized outreach informing partners and clients of the launch of our new SMARTHUB platform,” he explained. “Online ordering systems are often a pain point for dispensaries and customers alike, due to disconnects between listed menu items and available products, often leading to customer frustration and cart abandonment. The inventory control in the modern-day dispensary must be centralized to ensure it is accurate and up to date across all of the consumer touchpoints.”

According to Jacobs, inventory management is more critical than ever. “Overnight, shelter-in-place orders created an urgent demand for dispensaries to enhance their delivery and online ordering capabilities,” he said. “As dispensaries turn more to third-party vendors to reach consumers, there is a greater need and demand for a single point of truth when it comes to product inventory.”

Robbie Rainin, vice president of retail at SPARC, quickly implemented key procedural changes to limit the chances his staff and customers could be exposed to the virus. 

“We have made several changes to our standard operations since the beginning of COVID-19,” Rainin said. “To reduce person-to-person contact, we have switched to an online ordering system across all SPARC retail locations, and we are practicing retail safety guidelines with the advice of health experts.”

Robbie Rainin, VP of retail, SPARC

Some of the changes SPARC instituted may also offer more convenient purchasing options that could stick around after COVID-19 fades. 

“SPARC customers can now submit online orders before their store opens, and orders are prepared as soon as we open,” Rainin said. “Ninety-five percent of our sales now occur in advance through our website. We are very close to launching touchless payments using your bank account, it’s like Venmo but approved for cannabis by a sponsoring bank.

“In-store, all transactions take place while wearing gloves and without any physical contact,” he continued. “Our staff is equipped with the appropriate [personal protective equipment] and safety education to ensure a safe customer journey. In addition, all facilities are equipped with commercial-grade air filtration and sanitation systems.”

Socrates Rosenfeld, chief executive officer for Jane Technologies, knew offering curbside pickup would be essential to keep his business operations running. Like Jacobs and Rainin, he believes some of the new procedures made necessary by the coronavirus may serve the industry well in the future. 

Socrates Rosenfeld Jane Technologies
Socrate Rosenfeld, CEO, Jane Technologies

“Within twenty-four hours of the ‘shelter in place’ orders rolling out, we unlocked Jane Curbside Pickup for our dispensary partners,” Rosenfeld said. “It allowed consumers to shop current inventory and pick up their orders without setting foot inside a dispensary.”

According to Rosenfeld, the curbside pickup service is “empowering dispensaries to customize pickup windows, dynamically price products, and set order limits per time slot. We partner with dispensaries to help them digitize the retail experience for their staff and customers.”

Rosenfeld believes dispensaries should work to offer cannabis consumers convenient options that they may find when shopping for everyday items. The key is efficient inventory management. Dispensary operators should “conduct analytics to understand exactly what SKUs should be on the store shelves or delivery vehicle,” he said. “Digital platforms are able to take things a step further. Jane enables dispensaries and brands to virtually ‘shift the shelves’ on their digital menus, allowing them to put the right product in front of the right customer at the right time.”

Harborside, one of the nation’s most iconic dispensaries, has deployed stringent new procedures to protect patients and staff during the pandemic. 

“We practice social distancing inside the store and the line outside,” said Pedro Fonseca, general manager at Harborside. “Customers and employees are required to wear masks at all times.”

Pedro Fonseca, GM, Harborside

Additional safety measures include administering employee temperature checks before they enter the building at the beginning of each shift and checkout areas protected by sneeze guards. The new procedures and the anxiety of COVID-19 present a lot of challenges for Harborside employees, but Fonseca is proud of how his team has responded.

“We have an amazing group of employees who have been able to adapt and adjust to all adversity and have welcomed all the changes that we have implemented to keep our customers and employees safe,” he said. “Cannabis is medicine, after all, and our employees reflect our values in taking health seriously.”