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Cannabis Retailers Need Answers to These 6 Questions Before Choosing an Ecommerce Partner

Ecommerce is important, so put providers to the test.

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Ecommerce is becoming a vital component of the cannabis customer journey. Letting people shop for cannabis like they shop for everything else just makes good business sense. Customers (or patients, depending on which state you’re talking about) want to peruse your menu, place orders for pickup or delivery, and do everything they are accustomed to when ordering detergent, shoes or a California burrito.

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There are several ecommerce providers in the space, all with vastly different core competencies and value propositions. Here are some key questions to ask your prospective provider to ensure you can acquire and retain loyal online shoppers -- and crush the competition.

Question 1: Do you integrate with any and all POS systems?

The point of sale game in cannabis is crowded and retailers switch a lot. Be absolutely certain that your ecommerce provider can connect with any of them, seamlessly. The provider should be able to populate your online menus based on your POS inventory. You should never have to manually set up these connections -- that’s just more lost hours, and more payroll down the drain.

Some POS companies offer a bare bones ecommerce widget, which comes as a feature when a retailer signs up. Dig into the functionality of these offerings, and you’ll find that “good enough” generally isn’t.

Pro tip: ask prospective ecommerce providers for active examples of each POS integration – real stores with real integrations. False promises will abound as you seek out a provider. Protect yourself by getting concrete and representative samples.

Related: Pay Attention to These 6 Cannabis Industry Trends

Question 2: Do you provide the content (images / descriptions)?

A sophisticated cannabis retail inventory will require updates to approximately 15% of their items throughout the course of a day – if you have 500 items in inventory, that means 75 items will need updating of some sort (images, descriptions, quantities, etc.). That takes time away from the real task at hand – selling as much cannabis as possible.

Your eCommerce provider should be able to populate your menus automatically, meaning the only thing you have to do is keep your POS updated. You should never be updating images or writing descriptions.

Pro tip: ask if they use stock images, or if they have actually put in the work to track down the true images. Stock photos are misleading, and customers will be turned off if they choose an item and receive something that looks entirely different.

Question 3: Is your interface mobile optimized?

At least 75 percent of cannabis shopping traffic comes from that trusty smartphone. If the ecommerce platform wasn’t built with mobile in mind, you’re dead in the water.

Pro tip: navigate to an existing customer’s website on your phone – did it crash? Can you still search? How does it look?

Related: Business Lessons from the Former President of Red Bull

Question 4: Do you facilitate delivery?

Delivery is key to the sales equation in cannabis, and will continue to drive the industry. Rather than outsourcing delivery to a third party company, most states allow you to run your own delivery platform -- and you should. It keeps your shop top of mind and allows you to continuously build brand equity across multiple channels.

Ask if the ecommerce provider can facilitate delivery -- and dig into its fulfillment process.

Pro tip: make sure your ecommerce provider can integrate to delivery-specific third party logistics software. Once you get the ball rolling with delivery, you’ll likely need one of these to get things organized.

Question 5: Do you put my brand first?

Good online menus look native to the retailer -- which is to say, they look like you built them yourself. Ask if the ecommerce provider is going to splash their own branding across your page, or if they will truly sit in the background and make sure everything just works.

Related: Move Aside, CBD: New Data Finds THC Is the Real Medicine in Medical Marijuana

Question 6: Do you make it easy for new cannabis users to find what they’re looking for?

New entrants into the cannabis market represent a huge opportunity for cannabis retailers, but these newbies don’t know a thing about strains, terpenes or shatter. An effective ecommerce service allows everyone from the highly-experienced dab master to the geriatric first-timer find what they’re looking for. Ask if they have a robust search functionality, and if users can submit queries based on potential effect (e.g. “sleep” or “anxiety”).