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Retail Best Practices

Retail best practices for cannabis stores mirror typical storefront retail experiences. With a continuously evolving industry, three key factors will help retailers deliver the quality storefront experience cannabis consumers demand. Applying these best practices allows for brand differentiation, but even more so, customer retention and loyalty in a market that restricts direct advertising and craves authentic engagement.

Customer Experience, Designed

Conversations around customer experience are often based on interactions, perceptions, and overall relationships a consumer has with a business or brand. In any other retail sector, customer service can be a differentiator and attractor. In cannabis, the competitive landscape is wrought with legal and illegal online and storefront locations, so customer care is key.

Photo courtesy of Tokyo Smoke

Since so many elements that are necessary for delivering a quality end-to-end customer experience are outside of the retailer’s control, such as product packaging dates or cannabinoid content, the portrayal of the retailer’s brand reflects customer loyalty and retention. Using consistent and clear language in online and offline communications helps to build a strong understanding of your brand, through the people and platforms that represent it. As a cannabis retailer, you’re not only looking to define and deliver quality customer experience, but to design it with care, catered to your target audience.

Customizing Experiences

The in-store consumer experience is more than just knowing the customer sales journey and being able to deliver on and exceed expectations–it’s catering to your customers, personally. We know that, in general, 80% of a company’s revenue comes from about 20% of its customers. By finding and engaging with those top consumers, and offering unique, customized experiences for them, you build long-term relationships that will transfer to their wider networks, encouraging repeat purchases. The Cannabis Act limits the potential of loyalty programs, but retailers are thinking outside of the box for ways to boost their sales.

You build long-term relationships that will transfer to their wider networks, encouraging repeat purchases.

Clienteling in Cannabis

Clienteling refers to a practice of collecting useful information on your customer interactions, allowing you to use that information to deliver a personally-relevant version of the sales experience. In order to bring cannabis consumers in from the illicit market, retailers must emulate the personalized experience of pre-legalization dispensary days. Creating an intimate, tailored purchasing environment requires not only understanding consumers needs, but being able to access cannabis as well as accurate information on available products and personal preferences. This could mean applying the new Leafly cultivar classification system in-store, or utilizing an online platform where consumers can communicate about their experiences, which gives retailers a chance to access, and help interpret, that data. Personalization is rewarded with loyalty.

Messaging with Meaning

For retail success, messaging must be authentic, timely, and contextual, and be delivered with meaning both inside the store and in all external and internal communications. When considering messaging, we’re not only evaluating the language of sales reps and marketing, but the experience of messages throughout the store and translated across the brand.

Remember, the medium is the message, so delivering communication through the appropriate channels can have a major impact. In store retailers have to be prepared with accurate, quality information to translate and interact with consumers. Messaging with meaning is a matter of delivering communications based on social listening and developing behaviour-triggered events that are catered to the customer experience. Some retailers don’t regularly update product availability on all their online platforms. Others opt to display their products on a rotating screen in-store, showing only a portion of their selection at a time. Allowing customers to be able to access and track product prices and availability means ensuring that the messaging is accessible throughout the buying process.

The Value of Accessibility

Accessibility remains critically important for cannabis retailers–access to information, to products, and to storefronts. With the provincial cannabis retail system in Ontario finally evolving to allow for new locations, delivery and engagement will play a bigger role as accessibility increases. In the core of downtown Toronto, The Hunny Pot retail staff sport shirts that say, ‘I run on weed & gangsta rap,’ speaking to a more stigmatized version of cannabis consumers. NOVA Cannabis caters to a similar clientele reflective in their ‘Black Market Busters’ in-store promotions. As it now stands, most marketing remains within the retail locations, and hardly engages outside storefronts, with strict adherence to the regulations. As more cannabis retail stores are licensed, earned media will remain one of the only available avenues for brand awareness. This means that in-store accessibility to education and information will become even more key to attracting regular cannabis users to the legal market.

Earned media will remain one of the only available avenues for brand awareness.

The main focus throughout the retail experience should always be to add value, and this comes through delivering information and products catered to consumers. By focusing on ensuring access to information first, buying cannabis becomes experiential, and can be translated into messaging across platforms. Cannabis retailers are only beginning to gain a foothold in the industry, and as consumer tastes become more discerning, retail stores will have to refine their approach to delivering a quality cannabis retail experience.

Dessy Pavlova is associate, marketing and communications at HK Strategies.