According to Kintu Patel, a contributor with Green Entrepreneur:
“Retail companies across the country have been forced to adapt to the abrupt changes in consumer habits and business regulations caused by the outbreak of COVID-19.
“While many industries feel encumbered by this new retail environment, legal cannabis has risen to the occasion and found inventive ways to operate as an essential business while keeping surrounding communities safe.
“Dispensaries are leading by example in the retail space by embracing proactive solutions in order to engage with customers, protect the safety of their employees, and give back to local communities.
“As a business executive who has worked in the legal space for nearly a decade, I believe that these recent disruptions can highlight the industry’s resilient and inclusive spirit. In this time of unprecedented uncertainty, savvy cannabis retailers have redefined best practices in the industry that will likely persist even after The Great Lockdown ends.
“Here are three key takeaways of the best practices cannabis companies can lean in to.
Embracing the modernization of cannabis retail
“In many ways, the pandemic has served as a much-needed catalyst for modernization in the industry.
“Unlike mainstream retailers, most dispensaries were operating in brick and mortar stores and only a select group of retailers were offering delivery services up until last month. Due to social distancing guidelines, many of these practices have changed almost overnight. Retailers must now have a streamlined e-commerce platform and offer delivery or pickup services in order to survive this crisis.
“Although this adjustment period was cumbersome for several dispensaries at the beginning, most are now hitting their stride and utilizing digital tools to elevate cannabis consumer experiences. Since the legal industry is still in its infancy, most customers have not yet established a sense of brand familiarity as they have for mainstream products such as beverages or activewear.
“This is where budtenders have traditionally bridged the gap by providing customized product recommendations and consumption guidelines in person. In an effort to preserve this vital consumer education and engagement channel, many dispensaries have opted to live stream budtender product demonstrations and Q&A sessions on platforms like Instagram and Zoom. Employing social media solutions not only provides additional accessibility for current customers but also creates an opportunity to reach new customers who previously were not able to physically visit the dispensary.
“Retailers are also embracing digital platforms to create a safe and compliant environment for consumers who either choose to shop in-store or cannot get products delivered. Several dispensaries have rolled out virtual queueing services that allow recreational and medical customers to safely wait inside their cars while their pickup orders are being fulfilled. Medical dispensaries have also taken a cue from healthcare providers by offering telemedicine consultations to patients who have inquiries about dosage or consumption.
“Fully integrating services like e-commerce and social media seminars and telemedicine into retail operations will not only streamline the experience for consumers but also allow the industry to stay competitive against mainstream product companies once cannabis is federally decriminalized.
Prioritizing employee safety and well-being
“Recent headlines have highlighted how several national corporations were slow to provide adequate protective gear and compensation to essential workers during this pandemic, drawing ire from workers and lawmakers alike. Cannabis retailers have a unique opportunity to proactively demonstrate the industry’s genuine regard for dedication to health and well-being by making sure all retail staff has the resources they need to stay protected.
“Many retailers have already taken safeguards like providing temperature checks, masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to every employee interacting with customers and implementing stringent hygiene and social distancing protocols. Prioritizing the physical and mental well-being of staff is often the first step to ensuring a safe and positive retail experience for all.
“Cannabis’ essential business status allows the industry to act as one of the few job creators during a period of staggering unemployment. Dispensaries that are expanding their delivery and pickup services should recruit within their surrounding communities to help local residents find gainful employment. Taking measures to actively contribute to local economies will set a positive example for corporate stewardship in mainstream industries.
Integrating community outreach in retail business models
“The cannabis industry has been a community-driven business since the very beginning of the legalization movement, and several companies are now exemplifying the industry’s values by contributing financial and medical resources to local relief efforts. In recent weeks, vertically-integrated operations began manufacturing and distributing hand sanitizer, retailers partnered with cannabis brands to donate a portion of sales to food banks and community centers, and several cultivators donated their own personal protective equipment to medical workers.
“For the majority of cannabis companies, these outreach efforts are not merely charitable gestures. They reflect a deep-seated sense of responsibility to serve and benefit surrounding communities. Retailers that integrate these principles into their corporate business models will not only be able to cultivate genuine and lasting relationships with their customers but can also play a critical role in normalizing the role of cannabis in modern society.
“In all of my years working in the industry, I would have never expected to be warmly welcomed at police stations and children’s hospitals with a hand sanitizer delivery. In these challenging times, it is important for cannabis businesses to support any organization in need of help, even if they have not historically been allies on the legalization front. Underscoring the industry’s inclusive attitude and tangible contributions to society can help dismantle existing stigmas and start constructive conversations about the benefits and applications of the plant.
“As the industry navigates through these extraordinary circumstances, retailers should allow their best practices to reflect the best aspects of legal cannabis as a whole. Cannabis companies have a momentous opportunity to show the country how we can lead as productive members of our business and social communities. Our actions during this crisis will likely determine how we are perceived for decades to come, and it is time to demonstrate how truly essential our services are.”