The cannabis industry is evolving, and like seemingly every other industry, it is turning its focus toward online services. In a world that is dominated by the likes of Netflix and Amazon, the cannabis industry is gaining ground in the digital shopping sphere through eCommerce sites such as iheartjane.com—an end-to-end online cannabis marketplace that is compatible with any point-of-sale system (POS). iheartjane.com officially launched in early May 2017. In less than six months, iheartjane.com has partnered with nearly 200 dispensaries across California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Massachusetts. It will be expanding into the Los Angeles market next week. The software platform aims to help dispensaries drive business and gain access to critical insights and consumer data, while making shopping more convenient for the consumer.
Here, iheartjane.com CEO Socrates Rosenfeld shares with Cannabis Dispensary Senior Editor Scott Guthrie why he thinks dispensaries must embrace technology, and how technology can help improve the customer experience, average cart size and industry perception.
Scott Guthrie: What are your predictions for the 2018 California cannabis retail market?
Socrates Rosenfeld: We are very excited to see this industry reach beyond the early adopters of cannabis. You’re really going to see the early to late majority come onboard—people like my parents for instance, the baby boomer generation, who maybe experimented with cannabis 20, 30, 40 years ago and have yet to pick it back up until now. They are tired of taking the Advils and the Tylenols and these prescription drugs. They want a natural, holistic, gentle solution that promotes their well-being. I think that’s what you’re going to see as more entrants and customers move into the space, certainly here in California early next year. I think what you’ll also see is this beautiful plant continue to evolve and take place in the product offerings that exist in the space.
Guthrie: What was a massive cannabis retail trend in 2017 that you think will carry over into 2018?
Rosenfeld: The concentrates are quickly becoming a very, very popular product category. At the beginning of the year (2017), it was very heavy on flower and edibles. Now, I think the trend will continue with concentrates just based on [their] convenience and [their ability] to dose a lot more accurately and precisely. You’re going to see more and more of that adopted I think going into next year and continuing thereafter.
Guthrie: With online cannabis marketplaces, customers are still required to pay in cash at the store. In your opinion, what does the future of online cannabis payment processing look like?
Rosenfeld: It’s only a matter of time until we are able to shop online for our cannabis, our medicine, as simple and as easy as we shop for our burritos on Grubhub. In the next three to five years, we will be able to upload credit cards onto our platform and be able to pay for those products that we searched for just like we would on Amazon. We have to work some stuff out in the legal world, and trust that we are going to create a shopping experience that’s safe and that’s accountable. In order for that to happen, we have to have some type of accountability online for payments, so it’s just a matter of time. ..
Guthrie: Why are people shopping for cannabis online the same way they are shopping for everything else?
Rosenfeld: When you’re at a dispensary and you have your favorite product, do you ever wonder if you’re getting the best price? Or what other people are saying about that product? Or if there is a place that is more convenient for me to find this product? These are the questions that run through my mind, that I think run through a lot of minds of at least this generation of online shoppers.
I think it’s only logical to bring that same shopping experience for the consumer here in this industry. It certainly doesn’t make sense to me for us to go backwards. Could you imagine having to go to one individual website and then to another individual website to compare the same product? That doesn’t seem efficient to me, and certainly not for our consumers.
If I’m a dispensary operator, I [also] have to think about what’s going to come down the pipeline three to four years from now, and how can I use technology to protect my investment, protect my customer base and protect my staff.
"So now, when you search for a product, we’ll be able to know (before you do) what other products in your area you should be looking for and that you’ll ultimately be satisfied with."
Guthrie: Why should dispensaries be embracing technology?
Rosenfeld: When we were shaping our company, we understood and appreciated that the backbone of this industry falls on the shoulders of the dispensary operators. They actually carry the product. They [interact] with the consumer. They have a geographic footprint in their local communities. They really are the face of this industry. We believe if we allow dispensaries to be successful and reach more customers and serve their existing customers with a lot more efficiency—which technology can enable—then I think you’ll continue to see this industry progress—and progress in the right way.
It’s an absolute necessity for technology to be included in the shopping experience. ... If you think about what future generations are doing and how they find their movies or their songs or their retail items, very rarely is it through that analog shopping experience. It’s more and more [through] technology. ... Technology has to go hand-in-hand with the evolution of this industry in order for this industry to really legitimize itself and to really prove to the rest of the world that … we can operate efficiently, we can have these really insightful, data-driven business decisions, and that can only come from a partnership where the offline meets that online shopping experience.
Guthrie: What are some things that a dispensary owner should be asking or looking for when considering a technology partner or software solution?
Rosenfeld: If you look historically at tech companies that are best in class, they tend to do one thing and one thing very, very well. I would advise dispensary operators as they’re looking at the various tech solutions in this space to be very disciplined with how they analyze these companies. … Companies that focus on doing one thing the best in the world, not just the best in cannabis—that’s who I would want to partner with if I was a dispensary. I think that’s how you bring the best service offering to your customers.
Second, I think I’d be very wary of companies that are trying to just copy something that worked for the restaurant industry and trying to plug that into the cannabis industry. We know that the cannabis product is like no other product. We know that you can’t just take something technologically from one industry and plug it into another.
Guthrie: How can technology help improve a customer’s experience?
Rosenfeld: Netflix seems to always know exactly the documentary that you should be watching before you’ve even heard of it. That’s [done] with the beautiful data analysis that’s taking place in the form of machine learning.
We are bringing that sophistication and that level of customization to the consumer … and we are very excited about that. So now, when you search for a product, we’ll be able to know (before you do) what other products in your area you should be looking for and that you’ll ultimately be satisfied with.
On the flip side of that, imagine you’re a budtender. We present the exact same type of machine learning to you to say, “Scott is coming in for these items. Here are the other items that are sitting on your store shelf right now that Scott will really also enjoy.” It’s the best of both worlds: where you’re educating the consumer, but at the same time you’re educating the budtender. So, what you’re creating is this really intimate relationship between the store, the product and ultimately the consumer.
"...We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here, a once-in-a-generation opportunity at the very least, to prove to the rest of the world that the cannabis industry can police itself."
Guthrie: What should cannabis technology and software companies, along with dispensaries, be doing to ensure that customer data is safe?
Rosenfeld: The bottom line is this: If we hold ourselves to a different or lesser standard than other tech companies in other industries in terms of protecting the data of our users, that’s a huge problem. We are constantly testing our own security parameters to ensure that we have the most robust security measures in place.
I would challenge the rest of the industry to do the same because, in my opinion, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here, a once-in-a-generation opportunity at the very least, to prove to the rest of the world that the cannabis industry can police itself; that we hold ourselves to the highest of standards whether that’s offline or online; and that any new entrant into this industry—whether it’s a consumer or a dispensary—understands that were not lessening the standards because we are in the cannabis industry. In fact, we should hold ourselves to the highest of standards so that other industries look to us and look at our tech solutions and say, “Wow, if the cannabis industry is doing this, they are pushing us to do the very same.”
The companies that will earn the trust of the consumer and the dispensaries, at least in terms of technology, will be the ones that can prove they can protect the interest of their stakeholders as well as Amazon or Netflix does.
Guthrie: Your press release states you are helping Los Angeles dispensaries double their average customer shopping cart from $45 to $90 and reducing consumer purchasing cycles from 12 days to two. How are you accomplishing that?
Rosenfeld: What we were previously talking about: the ability to find the bath salts and the topical creams and the CBD tinctures and these microdose Petra mints. When you walk into a dispensary, very rarely are those products being requested by the consumer and being presented by the budtender. It’s usually the flower, the concentrates and the edibles.
But now, when you can peruse live menus and research these products, and compare other like products all from the safety and comfort of your home, now what we are seeing are these ancillary products being thrown into the cart because you don’t have to engage with a budtender for 20 minutes. … You can find it and get to it really quickly. That’s why carts are increasing.
The reason people are coming into the store a lot more frequently is [because] now it’s not such an arduous task to drive to the dispensary, find some parking and wait in line for 30 minutes only to get to the counter and find out that your favorite strain that you saw on one listing service is completely sold out. We can guarantee for the consumer that the products they are looking at are actually … sitting on a store shelf in real-time. We’re making shopping for your cannabis less of an errand and more built into your daily routine.
Editor’s note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Top image: Courtesy of iheartjane.com