Tools of the Dispensary Trade: Tips & Tricks for Selling Marijuana Online

Among so many other radical shifts of the last year, the way we shop has changed. Even before COVID-19 drove us all into our homes and apartments, online sales were on the rise, with the first quarter of 2021 up a banging 7.7% from Q4 of 2020. And if you’re in the dispensary business, the signs are even clearer. As we reported earlier this year, the legal cannabis market—on top of a year of phenomenal growth—saw even greater gains when it came to selling marijuana online. Our current data indicate that those dispensaries with an online ordering component saw an astonishing 22% leap in sales compared with those who didn’t. 

We really can’t make it any plainer: Dispensaries need to get in the game of selling cannabis online. And we want to help them. We’ve spent years guiding our clients to define and refine their techniques. Today’s article has collected some of the most essential tips and tricks for selling marijuana online. They include:

  • Ensuring your menu is as clean, clear, and usable as it can be
  • Giving consumers the best online experience with cannabis delivery options
  • Leveraging the power of marketing to share your offerings with the greatest possible impact

With that said, let’s dive into some specifics about how you can increase your online sales.

Selling Cannabis Online: Would You Like to See a Menu?

As with all aspects of retail, understanding the finer points of selling marijuana online involve putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. Just as you wouldn’t visit a restaurant with an out-of-date or hard-to-read menu, you probably wouldn’t visit a dispensary without knowing—in crystal-clear and explicit detail—what its offerings were. Similarly, if you visited a restaurant, took the time to study the menu, and placed your order only to find that the dish wasn’t available, you might think twice about ever visiting again.

You get the point. In a retail environment in which competition for cannabis consumers’ attention is only tightening, keeping a continually updating, legible and easy-to-navigate online menu is an absolute must. And because a high proportion of cannabis sales are made by consumers on the go, that means it has to display and function perfectly on mobile devices, too. Where do you begin? Let’s start with what you choose to say about your products.

If you think writing fewer words is easier than writing more of them, let us set you straight. Especially when it comes to the clear, impactful realm of a high-converting menu, the copy needs to be sharp, descriptive, and actionable. Describe products fully but concisely, and make sure you’re providing visitors with all the necessary guideposts they need, including:

  • Compelling product descriptions
  • Purchase and age limits
  • State-specific tax collection or other state-mandated information
  • Payment methods
  • Identification required

For delivery services, the information should include:

  • Minimum order 
  • Delivery area
  • Delivery timetable
  • Payment methods
  • Identification required
  • Delivery tracking

What’s more, a well-designed dispensary menu will include intuitive search and filter functionality, clear and sharp product photos, and detailed information including packaging and weight for each and every product.


Selling Marijuana Online: Essentials of POS Systems

How does instant menu updating work? Let’s start on the ground floor: With a dedicated and custom-built point of sale (POS) system. If you’re a seasoned retail veteran, you already know what these systems do: Communicate seamlessly between your online menu and in-person terminals so that your menu always stays accurate.

Of course, when it comes to selling cannabis there are other considerations. Your POS system must also integrate with your specific state’s cannabis reporting requirements and regulations to ensure you’re always in compliance. Incidentally, if your current POS system is letting you down, we should talk. We’ve built countless custom software packages for businesses ranging from individual “mom-and-pop” dispensaries to large multi-state operators.

Of course, a well-designed POS system should—make that must—do more. On top of ensuring your online and in-person sales are seamless and fast, POS systems gather essential customer data, provide essential business insights, and help you develop more effective customer personas and segmentation strategies that will support your digital marketing efforts (more on that in a moment).

Needless to say, these processes are invisible to the consumer. When they study your menu, all they should see is a clear, legible, and well-designed list of your offerings. That’s a great segue into the topic of user experience—better known as “UX”—and all the behind-the-scenes steps you can take to maximize conversions and deliver truly a superior customer experience.

Selling Cannabis Online: Fundamentals of High-Functioning Websites

Here’s one way to think about what UX means in the cannabis realm: Above and beyond what your website looks like—all those close-up shots of glistening trichomes and energized, sparkly-eyed consumers—it’s essential that your digital property embodies an intuitive, highly useable design. This isn’t some lofty aesthetic goal, either. According to marketing analysts Hubspot

  • 90% of people have left a website because it was badly designed.
  • 93% of people have left because a website didn’t load quickly enough.
  • 93% of people have left a website because it didn’t display properly on their mobile device

Trust us: We don’t want you to be the one getting left out in the cold. If your online sales aren’t where you think they should be, here are a few action items you can take to get your menu into shape:

Make It Fast: Web page loading times have a very real impact on customer satisfaction. One source suggests almost half of website visitors simply don’t bother to revisit poorly performing websites. The same report attributes a 1-second delay in load time with a 16% drop in customer satisfaction. And guess what: Those stats get even worse when we’re talking about mobile devices.

These are all basic tenets of good website UX. Want to know more? Start here


Selling Marijuana Online: Delivering the Goods

One crucial aspect of online shopping is the convenience of door-to-door delivery service, something that—until fairly recently—has been missing from the cannabis realm. But it’s an idea whose time has come: With the pandemic fading but not quite over, customers have flocked to the idea, and state legislators are paying attention. In New Jersey, which recently voted to legalize adult-use cannabis, even municipalities that have decided to ban cannabis sales cannot bar cannabis deliveries within their jurisdictions.

Another development pushing the business of selling cannabis ahead is the option for cashless payments. As cash alternatives such as CanPay gain traction, delivery customers will be able to partake of an experience that more closely resembles the established standards of any regular e-commerce transaction.

Make no mistake: Launching a cannabis delivery service is a big undertaking. But as the industry as whole moves closer to an online model, we predict that a greater proportion of sales will take place online and be fulfilled via delivery service. In fact, some enterprising dispensaries—taking a page from the restaurant business—are even moving to an online-only model. If you’re curious, start with our recent article on the steps needed to launch a cannabis delivery service.

Selling Cannabis Online: The Role of Marketing

Okay, we’ve talked a little about how tweaking and optimizing your online menu—and offering customers the convenience of cannabis delivery—can have a real and measurable impact on your bottom line. But what about the tools that bring people to your website in the first place? We’re talking, of course, about the cutting-edge marketing tools the folks at MediaJel use every day to help dispensaries meet and then exceed their expectations.

Needless to say, the topic of marketing is a big one. So let’s focus on a few subjects as they relate to selling marijuana online:

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising: This is a big one. PPC ads are digital ads hosted on search engines, websites, or apps that offer such advertising space. Unlike traditional ads—whose fees are tabulated based on the number of expected impressions—the cost of PPC ads is determined by the actual number of consumers who click on them. That’s a major refinement, and when properly executed, it can lead to some impressive clickthrough rates and return on ad spend (ROAS).

Social Media Advertising: Though some dispensary owners/operators are still under the misconception that they can’t market on social media, they can (and it can be a remarkably effective strategy). Especially emerging from COVID, social media has become a hugely important arena for businesses to interface with potential consumers.

That said, it takes finesse. For one thing, there’s no actual selling marijuana on social media. For another, most platforms disallow product and consumption shots. But by harnessing the power of imagery and association, many cannabis brands succeed by demonstrating their associations with self-care, wellness, and leisure.

This leads to influencer marketing, another strong focus for us here at MediaJel. Simply put, influencer marketing harnesses the power of third-party “influencers” who have the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of their authority, their knowledge, or some other relation to their audience. Especially in the cannabis realm, it’s a powerful approach to leveraging social media. 
If you want to learn more about the core principles of social media marketing for dispensaries, begin here.

Text It To Me!: Looping back to the topic of dispensary menus, a well-designed platform will integrate with your SMS / text marketing database—the one your robust POS system helps keep populated with customer data. This allows you to share brief menu links with those customers who’ve signed up for offers and updates, among other handy integrations.

Why lean on SMS, instead of a platform capable of sharing more robust or image-heavy updates? Sometimes it’s good to be quick and dirty. Text message marketing often boasts a remarkably high open and response rate. It’s a simple and easy-to-implement way to share content you’ve already generated—your menu—with maximum impact. If you’d like to learn more about how we leverage SMS marketing at MediaJel, click here to begin.

If you’re ready to take your sales to the next level, we believe we can help. Reach out; we’d love to talk.