Cannabis companies use UX design to boost online sales, compete with in-store shopping

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Image of a shopping cart sitting on a laptop keyboard

Cannabis businesses are increasingly tapping into the field of user-experience (UX) design to ensure online customers have a smooth, enjoyable experience when shopping and ordering products through company websites.

“This is shopping for cannabis,” said Socrates Rosenfeld, CEO of Santa Cruz, California-based cannabis technology platform Jane Technologies.

“It should be fun. It shouldn’t be like doing your taxes.”

Marijuana consumers traditionally have shopped in brick-and-mortar stores, but the coronavirus pandemic changed that.

More cannabis shoppers turned to online ordering and delivery to avoid COVID-19, making UX design increasingly important in attracting and retaining customers.

In response, many companies have sought to fortify their online presence – if they haven’t already done so.

“When you’re an e-commerce business in a brick-and-mortar industry you have to create an experience that’s even better than coming into a store,” said Meredith Mahoney CEO of Lantern, a Boston-based cannabis delivery platform.

UX key to brand success

Forward-thinking cannabis business executives have, for years, been turning to professionals with UX design know-how to ensure customers have an effort-free, or “frictionless,” experience when encountering their company and its products in the online world.

Good UX design can also customize the interaction with the customer, leading to a better experience in the future and, potentially, more sales for the business.

“Both the cannabis client and the cannabis consumer are more tech savvy than in most other industries,” said Sam Harris, co-founder and head of product of Springbig, a Florida-based cannabis marketing and loyalty software company.

“That makes them more critical of UX and more in tune with what a good versus bad UX is.”

Many cannabis companies are taking UX design seriously and making it part of the growth of the business, said Andreas Neumann, chief creative director for Florida-based multistate operator Jushi Holdings.

“UX is the new branding,” he said. “The brand equals the experience and vice versa.”

Neumann was brought on board to apply his background in what he calls “design thinking” to improve Jushi from a UX standpoint.

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The entire business now runs on that philosophy, and employees are hired based on how they will fit into that company culture of design thinking, he said.

Neumann’s objective is to make processes, both for customers and for employees, “frictionless.”

As a result, Jushi hired software architects that streamlined its retail software as well as its point-of-sale system, according to Neumann.

He wants customers to go to Jushi’s website and, for example, find the flower products as soon as possible.

To do that, Neumann doesn’t worry about telling shoppers about the potential benefits of cannabis.

“The consumer doesn’t want to be educated. He wants to go to the flower,” he said. The education comes once the user clicks on the product.

When that user has shopped on Jushi’s site, Neumann can track their behavior and IP address and offer other products and upsell the user.

“We observe, then build the funnel exactly for what the people want,” he added.

Neumann emphasized the importance of focusing on UX not only for consumers but also for employees.

He mentioned how programs such as Slack and Monday.com are useful for reducing the amount of “friction” within a staff by making online communication even easier.

“You have to make sure you build in UX as well for your employees,” Neumann said. “Have easy-to-use systems and applications for them to use.”

Competing with brick and mortar

At Lantern, Mahoney said UX is a “critical part” of any consumer-facing marijuana company.

“We have a huge focus on UX because we’re a consumer-focused business,” she added.

The key to successful UX, according to Mahoney, is understanding customers, what they need and what their obstacles are when interacting with the business online.

As delivery e-commerce apps such as DoorDash become more widespread in mainstream culture, cannabis companies are required to keep up with modern UX design, Mahoney said.

The average consumer is used to just opening an app and making an order in 30 seconds, she added.

“People don’t care that it’s cannabis. They want the same experience as Uber Eats,” Mahoney said.

Lantern devotes a handful of employees solely to UX.

Many of those staffers were hired from the tech sector. But Mahoney recommends making sure those employees have deep professional or personal experience with cannabis.

For a UX designer, she’s looking to hire someone with consumer-facing experience, not just B2B, because Lantern is a marketplace.

“Any time we can get all of that plus cannabis, we’re going to jump on that,” Mahoney said.

A feel-good experience

At Jane Technologies, Rosenfeld employs a dedicated design team whose members come from consumer-facing brands and focus solely on UX.

When it comes to UX, Rosenfeld is interested in what he calls “the art of delight,” meaning: Does the experience feel good for the user and does it instill trust in the brand?

Jane recruited from businesses such as e-commerce company Square because it uses complex back-end infrastructure for businesses – but the user experience is simple.

His team also draws inspiration from other mainstream e-commerce platforms. Take Yelp, for example, and its reviews function.

“When was the last time you purchased something online when you didn’t read a review?” Rosenfeld asked.

To take that a step further, the company added a verified-reviews function similar to what Amazon and Airbnb offer.

As another example: The music-streaming platform Spotify will curate a playlist for a user with recommendations based on previous likes and dislikes.

Jane can create that same recommendation engine for a cannabis shopper.

To compete with that experience of walking into a marijuana retailer and shopping in-person, Jane also tries to make each dispensary client’s e-commerce site unique to the individual business.

“You don’t want every online menu to look the same, because that’s not fair to the retailer,” Rosenfeld said.

Bart Schaneman can be reached at bart.schaneman@mjbizdaily.com.