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PART III: Safely Enhancing The Customer Experience In-Store And Online

This is the third installment of our three-part blog series on COVID-19 for cannabis retailers. 

Aside from the irony that cannabis has been deemed necessary to society in more than half of the states but could land you in federal prison in others, this rightfully earned recognition of “essential” has already introduced some new challenges and opportunities for dispensary operators and staff. From social distancing, ordering online and express order pick-up to sanitation practices and customer flow modifications, there are many new practices to get comfortable with if you want to keep your customers happy, your staff healthy, and your business afloat. We hope these tips and resources help keep your store running smoothly and your patrons smiling during this unique time in our lives and during this year’s 4/20 events.

Above photo courtesy of Proven Media


Fortunately, licensed cannabis businesses in 29 states are still open and serving medical patients and adult-use customers. However, it is not exactly business as usual. For the health and safety of staff and customers, dispensaries have made drastic changes to their retail operations to accommodate social distancing, heightened sanitary practices, and continued demand for cannabis products. 

In Part II of this series we shared how The Healing Center – San Diego (THCSD) and Phoenix-based TruMed are managing daily operations, and like other mainstream retailers leveraging BOPIS and curbside pick-up practices. One of the downfalls of these expedited measures that retailers like THCSD and TruMed are having to implement is that, simply put, there isn’t a lot of actual shopping taking place at this time. There are few or no samples, product displays or educating and upselling opportunities when your customers are only coming by to pick up pre-placed orders. As well, the need to deter physical touching of as many things as possible makes holding a sample jar close to your face a definite no-no. 

So, what is an essential dispensary to do to help alleviate these pitfalls? We reached out to our network of retail experts for their advice on how to maintain the shopping experience with creative visual merchandising and marketing solutions.

Contributor Portraits

From highlighting featured products to educating new and inexperienced customers, what can retailers do to support the customer journey throughout the unique COVID-19 circumstances?

Lauren Phillips
Founder and Visual Merchandising Consulting | Surfridge, Inc.

In-store Merchandising Solutions

For those who can still have customers pick up from inside their dispensaries, Lauren suggests promoting social distancing by defining your physical check-out lines with tables and fixtures. 

“Within those fixtures, at this point, what makes the most sense for retailers is to highlight the products that solve problems that customers are facing, i.e. sleep, anxiety, and maybe even appetite. Then within those categories, they should leave a display unit with some marketing around how it can treat the symptoms. That way when customers are waiting, they may see a product that can help with one of their ailments.” 

Even if there is no line in store, customers will still walk by the product displays offering one last opportunity to grab customers’ attention. 

Sephora check-out lines

Sephora merchandises a variety of products at their check-out lines for customers to shop while they wait to check-out.

“This is a retail strategy that many businesses use– think Sephora (shown above)–  but because customers can’t touch the product [in dispensaries right now], using just a display is the next best thing. Of course, the dispensary will want to add in six-foot distancing markers on the floor to ensure they’re following CDC protocols, and to keep customers feeling safe and comfortable.”

Enhanced Marketing for Curbside Pick-up

When it comes to dispensaries that aren’t able to allow customers to come into the store, Lauren suggests adding marketing materials into customers’ order bags. The literature options can be tailored to each customer based on their purchases or needs, such as recommending products to help with common ailments, i.e. sleep, anxiety, and appetite. While this won’t add-on to the current sale, it can be very helpful if they come back to purchase again in the near future. 

Joe Baer
Owner | ZenGenius, Inc.

In-store Opportunities to Streamline & Simplify

“This is actually a really good time for dispensaries to refresh and simplify in-store displays. They help customers self-educate and learn about items that are available on that day without actually having to touch the products. Graphics and signage can be effective silent salespeople helping customers make decisions by quickly learning features, benefits and price. Take this time to evaluate your dispensary experience and your visual merchandising strategy, including signage. Areas that normally house products can use visual merchandising techniques to tell stories that enhance the dispensary experience and create connections to important on-line messages to maintain a consistent brand experience.”

Enhance the Experience

In-store and online education – Offer as many opportunities for customers to learn more and understand what is available. Stores should continue to ramp up and improve both in-store displays and on-line merchandising to inform and educate customers no matter their shopping scenario. 

Clean & Safe – Stores should also make necessary adjustments to reinforce a safe and sanitary environment for the customer. This includes proper distancing, cleaning methods, safety barriers and cashless options, if available.

House Calls – I’ve heard that some retailers are offering at home or virtual consulting services where a representative can visit a customer at home or online to educate them. Home visits would require representatives to adhere to social distancing and sanitary practices while visiting a customer. 

Stay clever –  A final piece of advice is for retailers to be ingenious and flexible with your ideas.  Don’t be afraid to try something new. We are learning and evolving.

Elise Castelaz, Chelsea Bernardo, and Katelyn Coskey
Point Seven Group

The cannabis consultants at Point Seven Group weigh in on ways that dispensaries can keep their customers engaged with their retail brand while keeping both their shoppers and valued employees safe. 

Live Video 

Facebook and Instagram both have the option of going “live.” We suggest you take advantage of this option by having one of your employees share an update with your audience each morning. A quick walkthrough of the sales floor while highlighting favorite products or daily specials is a fast and easy way to connect with your audience, show off your displays, and promote sales. 

Daily Product Posts 

What do you do when people can no longer wander across the sales floor and peruse the displays you’ve worked so hard to layout? Cue the “flat lay.”

The flat lay is a visually appealing, creative way to draw your viewers’ eyes to an image, encouraging your audience to take in and appreciate each and every design detail. This is a great way to highlight your curated inventory and to display specific products, or categories of products, together. Consider grouping products by design theme or effect–it is time to get creative! 

Images like this make beautiful permanent additions to your business’ Instagram feed or Facebook page, and are an effective way to display products you want to highlight temporarily on Instagram stories, email blasts, etc. 

Customer Service via Zoom, Phone and Online 

For customers who are new, either to your business or to cannabis in general, they may need some personal assistance when it comes to selecting the right product for them and learning about product use and effect. Setting up a video chat line, such as Zoom or Google Hangouts, is an amazing way to connect face-to-face, without being in the same physical location. The educational and personal side of the sales process can be completed virtually, and the product can then be set aside for delivery or curbside pickup, depending on your company’s business model and local regulations. Having one dedicated salesperson to field video calls for these one-on-one transactions is similar to traditional dispensary sales and will provide the much needed (and appreciated) attention to your customers. Establishing a dedicated phone line or encouraging customers to send questions through a website chat feature, or social media platform, are also great ways to reach your customers during this challenging time.

Personal Touches

While cannabis retail stores have been deemed essential in many states, prioritizing customer and employee safety must remain your top priority. It is so important to adopt and follow social distancing guidelines. The responsibility of remaining operational during these times is serious, but at the same time, provides a unique opportunity to truly connect with your loyal customers. Writing a thoughtful thank you note or including a mini bottle of hand sanitizer (if you can get your hands on some!) with each purchase will carry a lot of weight, and will build greater, sustaining customer loyalty. To encourage curbside pickup or delivery purchases, you may also want to include a coupon.

High Road thanks our talented network of visual merchandising and retail experts for these savvy ways to tackle the ever-changing COVID-19 challenges. We are always here to support our cannabis community, and we are ready to help you through these unique circumstances too. Whether for COVID-19 or for FOUR-20, our team of dope designers and retail gurus can provide you with clever ways to keep your customers happy and your brand top of mind. We are ready and able to provide the retail design support you need during these hectic and ever-changing times. Contact us today to learn more about our design and consultation services to help you implement helpful practices today and every day.

Take care of yourselves and keep taking the High Road!