Cannabis Ecommerce: 5 Tips for Setting Up Dispensary Online Ordering

Cannabis online ordering tips

If your business isn’t accessible online, it can’t compete with those who are.

2020 brought a demand for online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery services on par with traditional retail, even though cannabis retail is far from traditional.

Cannabis was headed toward online and ecommerce, but it's now essential that your dispensary offer online ordering not only to keep your business relevant, but to stay alive.

Read on for three reasons why you should offer online ordering, then 5 tips to get started.

Why your dispensary should offer online ordering

Your dispensary needs to be online because that’s where your customers are.

In the US, ecommerce grew 44% in 2020 compared to 2019.

During the height of the pandemic, dispensaries with order ahead enabled sold 22% more on average than stores without order ahead.

The State of the Cannabis Industry 2020 Report

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Those online shopping trends are expected to continue, which is why it’s critical your dispensary offers online order ahead options. That can be delivery (if your state allows it), pickup (including curbside where available), or a combination of the two.

Being online provides flexibility, creates more revenue, and cultivates customer loyalty.

Online ordering provides flexibility

Having a cannabis ecommerce site not only gives your business flexibility (easy to transition should a pandemic hit!), it also gives your customers flexibility by offering them alternative ways to shop.

  1. Offering your marijuana products online lets your customers bypass long lines at the dispensary that can deter shoppers pressed for time.
  2. Health-sensitive shoppers appreciate not having to spend as much time in store.
  3. Online ordering allows consumers to research CBD or THC products on their own time, eliminating pressure from other customers or budtenders to get in and out.
  4. Online creates an option for shoppers who might feel too intimidated to ask questions while they’re in the dispensary.

Remember, many customers want in-store interaction and will continue to shop that way, but many others would prefer to place orders online on their own time.

Flexibility means you can effectively serve both.

dispensary online ordering pickup

Online ordering creates more revenue

By giving your customers multiple ways to buy from you, you’re creating room for more customers and more sales.

Not only does having an online ordering system keep your dispensary clear for customers who want the brick-and-mortar experience, it also allows you to sell your products 24/7.

With an order-ahead online system, customers can shop your dispensary anytime they want as opposed to only during business hours. Your money-making hours go from 12 to 24.

On top of that, a cannabis ecommerce site gives you the opportunity to bring in new customers who maybe wouldn’t find you otherwise.

Between February and December 2020, the move to online brought an increase in new customers by 142%.

Legalization is booming and people are curious about cannabis, but not everyone is comfortable going into a dispensary, especially while we’re still dealing with COVID-19. Online ordering gives them the option to pursue that curiosity safely.

Online ordering cultivates loyalty

Online ordering at dispensaries is now an expectation for customers. Having an easy-to-use online ordering system not only brings you new customers but can build loyalty with those you already have.

If you don’t offer online ordering, your competitors will.

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But just having order ahead isn’t enough, you need to nurture the relationship between your customers and your brand.

You want them to leave your website feeling the same as if they were leaving your marijuana dispensary. Consider offering extra loyalty points, small freebies, or even discounts for pre-ordering.

Plus, you now have their email and phone number (in states where data collection is allowed), so you can keep the conversation going with promo emails, texts, or inclusion in a loyalty program.

Always be encouraging your next sale!

Tips for creating a cannabis ecommerce site that sells

Getting started with online ordering at your dispensary may seem overwhelming, but it’s totally achievable. Here are 5 tips to help you get started and some best practices for maximizing your success.

1. Use high-quality product images

Humans are visual creatures. 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and a cannabis ecommerce site is a great opportunity to take advantage of that science.

When shopping online, customers don’t have the chance to see, touch, or smell your products. To create a dispensary-like customer experience, use high-quality images to help customers understand what they’re buying.

1906 cannabis chocolates

And make sure the photos represent what the customer actually gets, including size, packaging, and other items that come with the purchase.

Pixelated, blurry, generic, or out-of-date photos are not appealing to customers and can lead to poorer performance than no photos at all.

2. Ensure your online inventory is accurate

    Nothing frustrates customers more than placing an order online, arriving to pick it up, and learning the retailer is sold out of what they ordered. This can cause customers to lose trust in your business, ultimately affecting future sales.

    To avoid this, make sure your in-store point-of-sale (POS) software has an open API so it can be integrated with ecommerce platforms like Jane, Dutchie, Weedmaps, Leafly, Olla, and other cannabis online ordering platforms.

    Once you have an online menu on one of those platforms, you can embed that menu into your website. Often it’s as simple as adding one line of code to your site.

    Roots RX online menu
    Roots RX (CO) has their menu embedded on their site and integrated with their inventory and Flowhub.

    Integrating your cannabis POS system with your menu embedded on your site allows you to sync your in-store sales with your online sales, so you don’t have to worry about selling product you don't have.

    3. Set up SOPs for handling online orders

      Before diving into cannabis ecommerce, make sure you have standard operating procedures (SOPs) outlined for how you and your staff will handle orders.

      Ecommerce SOPs help to standardize the order fulfillment process, create consistency for staff and customers, increase efficiency, and maintain compliance.

      Things to consider when creating your cannabis ecommerce SOP:

      • Roles: who’s expected to fulfill online orders?

      • Timing: when should the orders be fulfilled?

      • Necessary equipment: what tools are needed to fulfill orders?

      • Steps: what are the detailed order of operations for fulfilling online orders?

      If it’s an option for you, retail best practices call for a separate online-order-only terminal within your dispensary. This gives your online-order staff space to complete orders without interrupting budtenders dealing with in-store customers.

      Free SOP Template

      Dispensary Delivery and Order Ahead Processes

      4. Make your online menu easy to find

        The average time a user spends on a website is 62 seconds, though some stats go as low as 15-20 seconds. This means you don’t have a lot of time to capture their attention and get them to buy, so make sure your online cannabis menu is easy to find.

        A good rule of thumb is to embed your online menu into your website and link to it from your main site navigation or as a banner on your site.

        Putting it at the top of your site ensures it’s the first thing customers notice when they land on your page, and embedding it means they won’t have to click out of your site to shop.

        Common Citizen online presence
        Common Citizen (MI) uses their header navigation and a pop-up to promote online ordering.

        Apart from embedding your menu into your website, consider having a presence on other channels like Weedmaps, Leafly, and PotGuide to increase awareness around your brand and reach more people.

        Much like restaurants use both UberEats and DoorDash, dispensaries have the most success with a presence on multiple online marketplaces.

        What to include in your online cannabis menu:

        • Category organization: Make browsing easy for customers by putting your products into categories like flower, concentrates, topicals, edibles, etc.

        • Lab results: Customers want to know they’re getting quality cannabis products. Including lab results not only gives them an opportunity to learn more about the product, it elevates your brand by showing you’re trustworthy and transparent.

        • Product descriptions: Since your customers aren’t working with budtenders when ordering online, informative product descriptions are essential for them to understand what they’re buying and how it’s going to help them.

        • Reviews: Giving your customers the option to leave product reviews provides future buyers more information about the product and what it can do for them. Plus, if any negative feedback comes through, it gives you the chance to review your product offerings and adjust.

        Bonus: Having a real-time, easy-to-find cannabis menu online gives in-store shoppers a chance to check out your available products before swinging by. This builds trust with your customers and helps to reduce long or wasted visits.

        5. Plan payment options and communication processes

          One of the main reasons ecommerce is becoming more popular is because of convenience — add to cart, enter credit card number, wait for package.

          Unfortunately, cannabis dispensaries can’t yet offer that level of convenience because we have banking challenges and can’t ship products. The way traditional retail does ecommerce just isn’t an option for cannabis businesses yet.

          What we can do is take the order, notify the customer what their estimated cost will be (more on that in a second), and communicate to them about the status of their order via text/SMS.

          Some options allow customers to pay by debit, but this isn't used across the board yet. The process for getting the products to the customer depends on whether the customer is picking up at the dispensary or using your delivery services.

          The 2020 Guide to Cannabis Payments

          Common payment options:

          Banking is still a challenge, and will be for some time. While cash is still the primary payment method, other options are emerging.

          • Cash - Cash is the most common payment method for dispensaries, even for online orders. Make sure this payment method is clearly communicated online so customers know to have cash ready when they arrive for pickup or receive their cannabis delivery. Many dispensaries have an ATM to make cash payments easy.
          • Debit cards - Some dispensaries (depending on which platforms or technology they use) allow you to pay online via debit card. Others don’t take online debit card payment but do allow you to pay via debit at the time of pick up or delivery.
          • Cryptocurrencies - This method is gaining traction because it doesn’t involve banks and it allows customers to make secure purchases. (There’s no statement tracing their cannabis purchases back to them.) However, cryptocurrencies are volatile and lack regulation, so there's some risk.

          Communication processes:

          The biggest challenge with online orders is maintaining effective communication with customers about their orders.

          • Estimated cost: Online ordering may not integrate with your loyalty program or any specials you’re running, so the order total your customer sees may not be the total amount they owe at time of pick up or delivery.

            Be sure to communicate the difference between the estimated total and the final total with your customers. One easy option to do so is via text/SMS.

          • Text updates: Most third-party ecommerce platforms, like Dutchie, offer an option to text your customers updates about their orders. This is particularly important for pick-up orders because it’s an easy way to notify your customers when their order is ready.

            SMS or texting also gives you a way to communicate with your customers about estimated costs, delivery updates, and more.

          Can your customers make online orders?

          Whether you offer in-store pickup, curbside pickup, delivery, or some combination of the three, your dispensary needs to be online to keep up with consumer shopping habits.

          And while it can take a little bit of time to get online ordering set up, once you do you’ll gain flexibility in your business, increase your revenue, and build loyalty with your customers. All from the ease and convenience of your dispensary website!

          How to Create a Best-in-Class Dispensary Website

          If you're interested in learning more about how Flowhub can help you create an efficient online ordering process for your cannabis dispensary, please request a demo.

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          Angela Schweers

          Cannabis Advocate and Flowhub Blog Contributor

          Angela Schweers is a freelance copywriter in the cannabis industry. With almost 10 years of writing and marketing experience, she’s spent the last two focused solely on cannabis in an effort to debunk propaganda and inform the canna-curious. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her work at highstandardcopy.com.