Choice and convenience are two immutable drivers of consumer behavior. Customer-centric brands like Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb have trained consumers to expect this. But the cannabis industry is still falling short on this count.
Why? Many states require cannabis operators to be vertical from cultivation to the retail dispensary. The result of this dispensary-centric model is that 70 to 90 percent of the products available to customers are private label. Add to this the lingering stigma of cannabis and marketing constrained by IRS 280E, and we have an industry that’s expected to scale but can’t get past servicing existing walk-in customers.
What are Dark Stores?
There are lessons to be learned from innovative consumer brands that can (and should) be applied to the cannabis industry. The non-retail storefront, more affectionately known as a Dark Store, acts as micro-warehouses to fulfill online orders via delivery to customers.
This strategy has been so effective for Amazon that Walmart has converted former retail stores to dark stores as e-commerce growth exceeds store traffic.
What does this mean for cannabis? Dark stores enable a more customer-centric model by making the consumer journey more approachable to people who feel alienated by the dispensary experience, who want greater product options, or who don’t want to run into co-workers, their boss, or their kid’s second-grade teacher while shopping.