6 Must-Have Technology Solutions for Dispensaries
As the cannabis industry matures, dispensaries are starting to mirror traditional retailers.
Whether it’s online, delivery, or in-store, customers expect superior, tailored shopping experiences. And experiences are created through technology.
Do you have the tools to compete?
The cannabis technology space, dubbed "cannatech," has exploded in recent years, following growth throughout the rest of the industry. These tools allow you to create best-in-class experiences on par with traditional retail.
Harry Brelsford, in the January 2021 issue of Marijuana Venture magazine, appears to be the first to visualize the Cannatech Ecosystem Stack:
Some of these dispensary software solutions are necessary to run your business. Others are nice-to-haves that help accomplish specific business goals.
How do you know which are necessary?
This guide is designed to help dispensary owners, IT directors, and managers identify the top cannabis technology tools available. Read on for the must-haves and nice-to-haves in cannabis tech, plus some best practices for choosing your next software.
What is a cannabis software tech stack?
“Tech stack” is a term borrowed from other industries and describes every tool, technology, and integration that your dispensary uses. Perhaps we should call it your “cannatech stack".
Every cannabis business will have a slightly different tech stack, but the idea is that integrations allow for a cohesive ecosystem. The tools should all “talk” to each other to create seamless experiences.
Each tool has a specific purpose. For example, when your point of sale integrates with online menus, you’ll have up-to-date inventory control without the need for manual data entry.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to cannabis retail software. Supported by the right software — and hardware — you can create a store layout and customer experience that sets your dispensary apart.
It all starts with your POS.
Once you've determined your dispensary point-of-sale system, there are options to integrate and modernize every aspect of your operations, from cannabis cultivation to customer loyalty programs, delivery, CRM, payments, ERP software, HR, and so much more. And don't forget about the hardware this all will run on!
How to choose dispensary hardware
6 must-have cannabis software tools
Here are the software tools considered mandatory to ensure compliance and a positive customer experience at your dispensary.
1. Point of sale
Your dispensary point-of-sale software is the center of your technology stack. Cannabis POS software doesn’t just handle the transaction process, but also includes check in, inventory management, features to help ensure compliance, and connectivity with your state track-and-trace system.
An open API that other technology providers can access, or native built-in integrations, is a requirement so that you can integrate the rest of your tools.
Key cannabis POS features
- Facilitates customer check in
- Verifies customer ID and age
- Manages customer queue
- Stores customer profile data
- Simplifies the sales process
- Tracks customer purchase limits
- Removes sold products from inventory
- Auto-applies specials and deals
- Processes payments, including debit cards
- Centralizes reporting and analytics
- Ensures state reporting compliance, including Metrc
- Streamlines inventory auditing
- Manages inventory discrepancies
- Monitors employee activity
- Maintains employee permissions
- Simplifies inventory moves/transfers
- Facilitates company management and growth
- Often includes basic loyalty programs
Popular cannabis point of sale options
- Flowhub (obviously, that’s us!)
- Cova Software
- Green Bits
Dispensary POS pricing
Monthly fees: Expect to pay between $350-$750+ per month per store location depending on terminals, users, and integrations
Onboarding: Most charge $500-$1,000 to get started on the platform
Hardware costs are generally additional
Note: Other dispensary point-of-sale solutions, including MJ Freeway, BioTrackTHC, Flourish, Viridian Sciences, and LeafLogix, fit into the category of seed-to-sale software. Seed-to-sale tracking means their software was designed to serve the entire cannabis supply chain.
Why you should rethink seed-to-sale platforms
Many consumers are shifting their cannabis purchasing behaviors to match how they buy everything else: online. Dispensary ecommerce includes online menus, online ordering (for in-store or curbside pickup), and delivery (in markets where allowed).
Key ecommerce features
- Real-time inventory sync
- Accurate product information and description
- High-quality product images
- Up-to-date price information for cannabis products
- Robust search, sort, and filter capabilities
- Increases dispensary visibility
- Improves customer satisfaction
- Includes pre-scheduled specials and deals
- Offers convenience to customers
- Facilitates a modern, online shopping experience
- Allows for a more contactless transaction
- Maximizes in-store efficiency
- Decreases long wait lines
E-commerce software pricing
Varies: Each provider offers different pricing structures and benefits, and typically charge a monthly subscription fee. Ecommerce providers like Weedmaps and Leafly also offer advertising opportunities.
3. HR and payroll
If you have employees, you have to pay them and pay taxes. Employee benefits are another part of this equation.
While some mainstream vendors may work for your business, we recommend choosing software platforms that are overtly cannabis-friendly so you don’t have trouble down the road.
Key HR and payroll features
- Human resource management
- Employee scheduling
- Tax compliance, including 280E guidance
- Time-off requests
- Track employee costs
- Benefits management
- Tax documents
- File federal, state, and local payroll taxes
- Post job openings
- Recruit employees
- Manage hiring and applicant tracking
- Manage employee onboarding
Popular HR and payroll options
HR/payroll software pricing
Varies: Generally start at less than $100/month for basic HR/payroll processing. Pricing increases as features are added.
4. Cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution
If you are a vertically integrated business, you’ll also need management software for growers, cultivators, extractors, testers, and distributors.
- Integrates hardware like scanners and scales
- Streamlines full-scale operations
- Manages employees and reduces labor costs
- Tracks plants across all stages
- Logs cannabis seeds, plants, and packages
- Scans RFID tags
- Manages all stages of supply chain management
- Manages vendors, partners, purchase orders, manifests, and invoices
- Visualizes data, like crop yields, clone forecasting, and costs
- Tracks activities for the full supply chain
- Increases efficiency
- Reports to track and trace systems, like Metrc
Varies: Based on state, licensing structure, and facility size.
5. Security systems
Protecting your business isn’t just a smart move; strong security is required by many states in legal cannabis markets.
Any conventional security provider should work to protect your cannabis business, but be sure to ask if they will work with you.
Key dispensary security features
- Monitors building exterior
- Monitors building interior
- Protects employees and customers
- Protects cannabis products and inventory
- Keeps a log to review at any time
- Allows secure access to keep unauthorized people out
- Allows for easy notification to police of an issue
- Keeps your business compliant
- Deters theft and other unwanted behavior
Popular dispensary security options
Check local listings for security providers in your area.
Depends on the system, but expect at least:
$1,500 - $3,000 for setup (hardware and installation)
$100/month for monitoring
Managing expenses, revenue, and capital assets is a must for all businesses, regardless of size, and it doesn't have to be complicated.
Accounting software for cannabis businesses allows you to manage your cash flow, create P&Ls and balance sheets, pay bills, and track outstanding invoices, without relying on spreadsheets.
Key accounting software features
- Automates financial management
- Allows for invoicing vendors and clients (accounts receivable)
- Allows for tracking payments to vendors (accounts payable)
- Streamlines expense tracking, often with mobile apps
- Streamlines expense reconciliation
- Integrates with bank accounts
- Simplifies financial reporting, P&L’s, and balance sheets
- Often includes payroll functionality
- Saves your accountant and tax professionals time
- Helps control cash flow
- Sends purchase orders
- Ensures tax compliance
Accounting software pricing
Varies: From $0/month to $100+/month, depending on business complexity and needed features.
Bonus must-have: State reporting
For states with mandated traceability requirements, like Metrc, BiotrackTHC, or Leaf Data Systems, this is also a must-have. Your dispensary POS must integrate with the state trace-and-trace system.
Nice-to-have dispensary software tools
Here are the dispensary software tools that help run your business more efficiently or increase customer satisfaction, but aren’t required to stay compliant.
CRM and loyalty
A customer relationship management tool allows you to know who your customers are and effectively communicate with them for marketing, loyalty, or other purposes.
Managing customer data is necessary, but an additional system may not be necessary depending on your business goals.
Similarly, loyalty programs are common in retail to build brand affinity, but most cannabis POS systems will include basic loyalty functionality.
Digital signage and menus
Digital signage and menus create better customer experiences inside your store.
Often used to showcase current inventory, feature products, highlight current specials, or build brand awareness, some displays allow personalization for customers to explore products on their own.
Data is available from your point-of-sale system and other tools, but large brands, and those looking to grow exponentially, may want to invest in a comprehensive data solution.
These tools often also include competitive market and consumer analytics beyond your business.
In today’s digital landscape, many cannabis brands use digital channels like websites and social media pages as a way to be found by customers. They also empower communication with customers in real time.
Some brands are even exploring new channels, like mobile apps, as a way to further engage, build loyalty, and enhance ecommerce opportunities.
Note: Some states have very strict regulations on how you promote your cannabis business. Consult your state’s requirements before investing in digital channels.
Best practices for choosing marijuana retail software
Now that you have the full view of what your dispensary tool stack could look like, it's time to make some choices.
A best-in-class dispensary experience is yours to build, and luckily, there are many cannabis tech companies ready to help.