Editor’s note: The following is adapted from Breaking the Stigma.
There’s no question: in-store shopping is being replaced by online purchasing. In 2020, for example, the number of online-only shoppers over Black Friday weekend increased by 44%. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic likely influenced this increase, but it’s part of a larger trend.
This trend has made the implementation of omnichannel strategies a necessity for retailers. Omnichannel is about providing a seamless, excellent customer experience across all the possible shopping channels, whether a customer goes into a store or orders online for delivery or pickup. For cannabis retailers in particular, doing omnichannel well is a great way to stand out from the competition.
Take Black Friday, for example. While many people enjoy the thrill of waiting in line on Black Friday, there are plenty of shoppers who just want great deals and have become accustomed to finding those deals from the luxury of their home computer or mobile device. If they can go online, get the deal and do pickup without having to fight through the crowds, it’s an incredibly delightful experience and created the equally as well-known shopping holiday, Cyber Monday.
This is what omnichannel is all about—providing a consistently great customer experience across all channels of your stores. As important as omnichannel is, it can also be a challenge. Below are five strategies to help you align your retail store with your online presence.
1. Convey Your Brand
When someone visits your website, they should immediately get an impression of your brand. The colors, the font and the images should all support your brand identity. Whether a customer walks into your physical location or opens up your home page online, you want to evoke the same feelings.
Part of conveying your brand means making your purpose clear. You should have an ‘about’ page that explains your mission and values as well as your company story. To find your story, ask yourself some questions: “What problem does your company seek to solve?” “What challenges have you faced and overcome?” “What do you hope to accomplish in the future?” That’s your story.
Also consider including photos of your store and staff somewhere on your website. This will give customers a feel for your in-store experience and put a face to the business. Especially for customers who are nervous about buying cannabis, a friendly, smiling face on your website can go a long way. To feel authentic, these images should be real photos, not stock images.
If you run separate medical and adult-use stores, I recommend having distinct websites for each, though they can be linked to each other. Medical and recreational users typically have different needs, questions and concerns, and having separate websites allows you to speak very specifically to each and develop a dual brand identity.
2. Educate Customers
A key component of the in-store customer experience is the education sales associates can provide. To have a seamless omnichannel experience, you need to offer a similar level of education on your website. Many customers, particularly novice users, prefer to get information about cannabis online from the comfort of their own homes, where no one can judge them for their questions or lack of knowledge.
You can start with an FAQ page, most likely divided into two sections: questions about cannabis (like “What are THC and CBD?”) and store-specific questions (like “Do you have a loyalty program?” and “What forms of payment do you accept?”). If you’re not sure what questions to include, ask your sales associates what questions they get the most.
I highly suggest having a blog as well. At the minimum, I recommend creating blog posts for all the basics. Once you’ve been in the cannabis industry for a while, you spend so much time surrounded by knowledgeable people that you may forget about the outsiders—the people who haven’t used cannabis and don’t have any baseline knowledge. Our job is to pull those outsiders along with us, and we can do that through education.
It might feel silly to write a blog post explaining the difference between cannabis and hemp, but there may be someone out there who still needs to hear that. As an added benefit, blog posts can drive traffic to your website. Plus, after going through the basics, you can use your blog to highlight new products or promotions. Build your blog library over time so you don’t burn yourself out, and ensure customers can easily search for and find the specific topics they’re interested in.
3. Consider the User Experience
Your website also needs to function flawlessly and be enjoyable to use. Your website user experience (UX) is often the start of the customer journey, so you want to make a good impression. If the UX is poor, users may leave the website, and you’ll lose the chance to convert them into customers.
Start by assessing your website’s functionality. Functionality is critical not only to the UX but also to your search engine optimization (SEO), which is the process of designing your site so that it appears high in search results, improving the quality and quantity of your web traffic.
Before you launch your website and anytime you make substantial updates, check for broken links, review the site’s appearance in multiple browsers and from different devices (computer, smartphone, tablet, etc.), and ensure images are clear and not grainy. Make sure that navigation is clear and straightforward and consider the aesthetics of your website.
Also make sure your pages load fast, including on mobile devices. A Google study found that 70% of mobile landing pages took seven or more seconds to fully load, with an average load time of fifteen seconds. Google’s best practice recommendation is a load time under three seconds.
4. Improve Your Online Ordering Experience
Once you have your site set up properly, it’s time to consider the online ordering experience.
Unfortunately, in some states, cannabis delivery and pickup is not legal. Not only does this harm your customer experience and business, but I would argue that it also deprives your community of a public service.
Imagine an immunocompromised individual using cannabis for pain management. If your state does not allow pickup or delivery, that person has to either risk contracting an illness that could kill them or suffer through their pain. If you cannot currently offer pickup and delivery, (1) try to change that and (2) have an omnichannel plan ready so you’re prepared once/if the laws change.
For those retailers who are currently allowed to do pickup or delivery, your online ordering experience should replicate your in-store experience as much as possible. That means including product descriptions and images, creating filters for easy sorting and setting up a customer review system.
5. Do Pickup and Delivery Right
If a customer places an order and you’ve made a sale, the customer experience is far from over. You now need to fulfill that order efficiently and accurately, in alignment with your brand and expected level of service.
Pickup and delivery will only have a positive impact on your customer experience if you do them well. That’s why it’s so important to have a clear, reliable process in place for how every order will be fulfilled.
Once a customer places a pickup order, who inside the store will be responsible for preparing the order, and how will they be notified of the order? How will you ensure order accuracy? Will the sales associate double-check the order when the customer comes in to pick it up? Will you have a separate pickup line so customers don’t have to wait? How will that line be marked?
For delivery, will you offer a pizza delivery model where you deliver as soon as possible, or will you offer appointment slots? How will you measure whether your drivers are making their deliveries on time? What training will you give delivery drivers to ensure they provide excellent service aligned with your brand when they drop the order off?
Alignment is Key
Ultimately, omnichannel is the skill and art of aligning your retail store experience and your online web presence. From the customer perspective, your website is not any different from your brick-and-mortar location—it’s all the same store and same brand.
However, from a staffing perspective, the teams who manage the online experience and the in-store experience are often different. Therefore, a concerted effort is required to make sure those teams are working together.
Ultimately, your job as a retailer is to create a seamless customer experience, whether a customer is shopping at your physical store, online or both—and omnichannel is the key to doing that.
For more advice on how to do omnichannel well, you can find Breaking the Stigma on Amazon. Charlena Berry is the author of Breaking the Stigma: Racism, Lies, the Opioid Endemic, and Inviting Grandma to the Dispensary. In this book, she exposes lies that created the stigmas associated with cannabis, and how these stigmas must be addressed to see continued growth in the marketplace. She then outlines a framework that provides key strategies for retailers to implement to improve the customer experience and increase profitability.
Writing from her experiences in the industry, Berry is a global cannabis business executive and the founder of Cannabis Business Growth, a premier cannabis business consulting firm. Prior to that, she spent more than a decade in Supply Chain and Retail Operations for Fortune 500 companies like Whirlpool and Office Depot/Office Max. She also serves as the Chief Operating Officer for The Cake House, a chain of dispensaries in Southern California.