Up until a few months ago, the cannabis industry was primarily fueled by brick-and-mortar retail sales. Although relying on physical foot traffic was arguably not the most modern approach to drive sales, retailers and brands were often encumbered by strict delivery or online marketing regulations and needed physical storefronts to educate customers about their products and services. These industry idiosyncrasies were upended nearly overnight when COVID-19 forced dispensaries across the country to move their operations online. By now, most retailers have successfully transitioned to e-commerce platforms and are embracing new tech-driven solutions to engage with potential customers. By forcing retailers and brands to move online, the pandemic has fortuitously pressured the industry to face key obstacles to growth head-on and find inventive ways to boost sales.

In recent months, cannabis tech companies including Jane Technologies and Enlighten have bolstered this digital boom by unveiling new tools to streamline the retail industry and help both brands and dispensaries maximize their resources. This week, Jane Technologies launched its Brand Portal and Digital Merchandising modules designed to deepen brand relationships with consumers while promoting local dispensary sales.

Marketing and retail regulations currently bar brands from selling their products directly to consumers, creating unnecessary barriers for both companies and customers in the retail space. Jane’s Brand Portal aims to alleviate this critical pain point by integrating the platform’s vast network of 1,300 dispensaries with brand websites and directing consumers to local retailers that carry the brand’s products. Consumers are then able to complete their purchases online with the dispensary without leaving the brand’s website.

This “indirect-to-consumer” approach pioneered by Jane is one of the many ways cannabis companies are circumventing archaic regulations and retrofitting solutions to meet industry demands. Brands including PAX Labs, Wana Brands and Papa & Barkley are some of the first in the space to adopt the new “indirect-to-consumer” model.

“By using existing infrastructure and supply, we’re able to promote local sales while unlocking brand websites providing consumers better convenience and choice,” said Jane Co-founder and CEO Socrates Rosenfeld.

Jane is also on a mission to mitigate excessive digital marketing expenditures through its Digital Merchandising module, an e-commerce service that only advertises a brand’s products on dispensary websites currently carrying their inventory. The technology further drives brand marketing ROI by using algorithms to generate curated promotions based on consumer tastes, preferences and purchase history.

Kentucky-based dispensary solutions provider Enlighten is also tackling fundamental inefficiencies in inventory management through its SMARTHUB platform. Despite recent digital advances in the industry, many dispensaries are using multiple POS systems at once and spending countless hours on manually updating their inventory. SMARTHUB is the first platform in the industry to seamlessly integrate information across multiple providers and give dispensaries the ability to automatically push standardized inventory updates to customer touchpoints.

Enlighten’s technology is especially beneficial for dispensaries selling on multiple e-commerce outlets. For instance, if a dispensary is using Weedmaps and another online site to sell products, SMARTHUB will automatically update both digital menus in real-time to let customers and budtenders know what is currently in stock. While this platform is commonplace for mainstream e-commerce companies, cannabis retailers have been largely shut out of this critical inventory management tool, which is not only costing them business opportunities but also valuable resources.

“Enlighten SMARTHUB is the culmination of the retail technology ecosystem we have built since the inception of the company,” said Jeremy Jacobs, Chairman and CEO of Enlighten. “This platform addresses critical pain points that our clients have been facing for the past six years, and we hope retailers across the industry will take advantage of this technology to better serve their customers and maximize internal resources.”

Solutions like Enlighten’s SMARTHUB, Jane’s Brand Portal and Digital Merchandising module are all pushing cannabis closer into the mainstream. As consumers become more accepting of cannabis consumption and legalization, one of the main barriers to accessing products is the cumbersome retail experience. Cannabis is now an essential service in society and the demand for products will only increase in the next few years. These e-commerce innovations will play a vital role in connecting consumers with the brands and products they are specifically looking for and may even push lawmakers to adopt more industry-friendly regulations.

The retail advancements unveiled in the past few months reflect a deep-seated desire for dispensaries, brands and consumers to meaningfully engage with each other. It is clear that these long-awaited changes are here to stay and that these tech platforms signal only the beginning of the digital revolution within the cannabis retail space.


By Warren Bobrow for Forbes