Kristina Etter   |   May 14, 2021

The Full UX of Cannabis

The user experience of cannabis starts long before the sale and lasts well beyond the high.
Kristina Etter spent 20 years in corporate IT with a niche in mobile technology and IoT in agriculture. Today, she combines her love of technology with a passion for cannabis as the Editorial Director for Cannabis Tech.

People who shop for cannabis aren’t just shopping for a product; they are shopping for an experience. But the effects they get from the products are only part of their expectation. The full user experience of cannabis starts the moment they begin their search for the nearest dispensary.

During the pandemic, the rules changed, laws were updated, and dispensaries shifted toward a more virtual marketplace. Dozens of new online ordering systems helped the essential cannabis industry continue to conduct business safely – allowing curbside pick-up and delivery options.

But as restrictions lift and in-store shopping rebounds, architect and renowned designer Johnnie Rush, Head of Innovation at The McBride Company, suggests not every dispensary should “look like an Apple Store.”

Cannabis Tech spoke with Rush about innovations in dispensary design to build an immersive cannabis experience and differentiate your brand.

Dispensary Technology Reimagined

Communication is at the heart of the technology revolution for dispensaries. “Consumers want to be communicated with, but they don’t want an email every day. They want an email when something interesting comes up, or something they’ve asked about becomes available,” Rush clarified. Clearly, having the proper CRM and POS system can go a long way in tracking your customers’ interests.

However, Rush also reminded that buyers want to be entertained. “Shopping is entertainment, and I’m not just talking about putting a video screen on the wall,” he said. In fact, Rush suggests that everything from font style to packaging should have a dialogue with the consumer.

Innovations in Dispensary Design

Bringing years of experience as the VP of Imagineering for Disney, Rush explains how he learned to incorporate a “suspension of disbelief” to create a unique retail experience, regardless of the industry. “This idea of consumer engagement really started to take over traditional retail. Now it’s less about the product and more about what the product means to the consumer,” he stated.

Now working with McBride, Rush said he enjoys the freedom of no design constraints, as well as the prospect presented by the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a brand-new industry. Renowned for their work with Nickelodeon, Universal Studios, and even Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, the Vermont-based firm is well-versed in elaborate, immersive designs.

“We look at the experience, from start to finish, and for us, that experience begins when they walk in the door,” he elaborated.

While modern and streamlined, the appeal of the Apple Store experience isn’t necessarily because of aesthetics; it’s the simple yet personalized nature of their shopping process. “It’s all about the experience, how I’m treated in that environment as well as digitally,” Rush stated.

Time for the Industry to Mature

Rush believes that the problems of long lines and running out of product by noon are short-term problems for the industry. “As the industry becomes more homogenized, more like your packaged liquor stores, demand based on availability disappears, and all that you have left is brand affinity,” he explained.

The consumer, or advocates, as they call them, want an experience that “transcends the cost of the product,” he continued. “If I’m comfortable, and the store has an idea, or brand essence, that speaks to me, I’m going to shop there regardless of the price.”

But for that to happen, Rush believes it’s time for the industry to explore new shopping models. “How awful is it? Most dispensary shopping includes a half-mile of tape, where you get queued up to a counter, only to tell someone what you want, and they go get it,” he observed.

He believes the model should include a more personalized experience where budtenders, or guides, provide a more intimate, one-on-one experience with a digital device, where the buyer can pay with a card and pick up their order at the end of the process. But, Rush added, “the process needs to help create an environment.”

The Environment Tells a Story

Speaking of creating an environment, Rush described working on one of his upcoming projects with Root’d, a dispensary and lounge in Oakland, California. A repurposed industrial building from the 40s or 50s, he had 10,000 sq. ft. of floor space, along with “an incredible airplane hangar-like ceiling.”

“Their brand essence is that cannabis should be inclusive, for the community, and celebrated together, and with so much space, we were able to do things we’ve never done before,” he eluded.

Having received their consumption license, Rush and his team designed a consumption lounge for Root’d that immerses the consumer into an underground atmosphere with giant roots emerging from the walls and ceiling. While the professional performance stage and mocktail mixology bar are impressive, it’s the munchies wall made with vintage vending machines and hidden surprises – like a refrigerator door that opens to an infinite vortex – that takes this space to the next level.

The door to the dispensary is discreet for access control, but as the consumer transitions from one space to the next, they find unique features at every turn, such as cannabis silhouettes against frosted glass, an elegant Victorian-inspired contemporary store, and an immersive experience for everyone.

Cannabis Should Be Fun for Everyone

Rush also reminded that the benefit of building out a unique store is that it doesn’t just improve the experience for the consumer. A beautifully designed, efficiently running dispensary is also fun for the workers – and happy employees lead to happy guests and repeat customers.

 

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