Cannabis producers and retailers alike have a stake in improving their product selection, and acting on customer feedback can be a powerful tool for boosting loyalty.
New technologies offer new ways to get that feedback, rewarding marijuana businesses with rich insights into exactly what consumers like and dislike.
Three regulated U.S. and Canadian companies told MJBizDaily that they get feedback straight from consumers by:
Linking a loyalty program with a digital feedback platform for post-shopping questionnaires.
Analyzing social media, including message boards maintained by enthusiastic legal cannabis consumers.
Using product packaging with scannable QR codes that link to surveys and encourage the end consumer to weigh in.
Vertically integrated Colorado cannabis producer and retailer Native Roots has integrated its loyalty program, administered via Alpine IQ, with a digital feedback platform called Tattle to enable customers to give feedback via post-transaction surveys.
Tattle was originally designed for restaurants to get feedback from diners, but Native Roots’ senior director of IT, Alex Bitz, said the service works well in the marijuana space.
“We needed a way to create a better understanding of our customers and to ensure we’re satisfying their needs,” he said.
“We needed to create a touch point for, and to, our customers outside the actual retail stores, so when they go home and they actually try the product, (we can) understand what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking.”
Customers targeted for feedback are sent short digital surveys where they can share their thoughts on anything from products they bought to specific budtenders they interacted with at a store.
“It’s one way to retain customers, for sure, and also to improve our store experience.”
Bitz said customers have been taking advantage of the surveys since the program launched in the first quarter of this year, giving insights into the quality, pricing and perceived value of Native Roots’ offerings.
“We’re getting a lot of direct feedback, which is really helpful,” Bitz said. “It closes the loop between retail and our production facility and our grow facilities.”
Bitz said customers can also rate products from third-party producers purchased at Native Roots stores, which lets Native Roots make better purchasing decisions.
“As we’re purchasing, they can understand why we’re purchasing more or why we’re purchasing less, based upon what we’re hearing from the customer,” Bitz said.
Scanning social media communities
Using technology to get customer feedback doesn’t necessarily require investing in a new platform: Existing third-party online services such as message boards and other social media can also be mined for consumer insights – at no cost except the time it takes to analyze them.
In Ontario, Canada, the government-owned Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) is an online-only retailer. But without physical stores, the OCS lacks the opportunity to get in-person feedback from shoppers.
The OCS doesn’t have an in-house system for shoppers to leave reviews, but that doesn’t stop people from reviewing the retailer’s products elsewhere: The Reddit message board r/TheOCS has more than 30,000 members who read and share reviews and photos of OCS purchases.
Although the Ontario Cannabis Store pays attention to the Reddit chatter, the forum itself is completely independent of the OCS, said Abi Roach, the online retailer’s senior category manager for concentrates, accessories and pre-rolls.
“To read the community’s feedback on bag appeal, on brand, on everything that has to do with product that I may not have had a chance to physically experience, and also to have someone else’s opinion be available to me, makes a huge difference,” Roach said.
The OCS’ virtual storefront even maintains a “Hot on Reddit” collection of cannabis products popular with Redditors.
“You can look at data all day long,” Roach said.
“But, really, it’s the consumer that makes a final decision. And if the consumers aren’t having a relationship with a brand or a product, I do pay attention to it.”
Roach added that the OCS’ consumer insights team also gleans feedback from other social media, including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Taken together, that qualitative feedback fills holes in the online retailer’s quantitative sales data.
“The numbers don’t tell you everything,” Roach explained.
“Especially when it comes to products that are new, brands that are new, and things that are gaps in the assortment – you won’t be able to get that data because it just literally doesn’t exist.”
Roach acknowledged that Reddit product reviews can be manipulated by bad actors but said it’s possible to weed out contrived posts.
“Authenticity is there, and you can see it when you read it.”
QR code questionnaires
Vancouver, Washington-based marijuana product manufacturer Fairwinds includes scannable quick response (QR) codes on its product packaging, which link consumers to surveys.
Fairwinds CEO Wendy Hull said the surveys are “a great way to be able to reach consumers, which has really been a void of ours for many years.”
Each survey is specific to a particular Fairwinds product.
“We’re asking the consumers to provide us with direct input on everything from efficacy to flavor to smell, (and) ways that we can improve,” Hull said.
“Because most of our products are very solution-based products … They have very specific effects.”
The surveys take less than five minutes to complete, Hull said.
“We try and keep it very simple, very quick, so that people can easily respond right as they’re trying the product,” she said.
“The way that we phrase it on our packaging is, ‘Be a part of the experience.'”
On top of providing feedback about Fairwinds products, Hull said the questionnaires also provide demographic information about the users themselves.
Hull said Washington state regulations prevent Fairwinds from offering incentives for consumer reviews of marijuana products that contain THC, but no such restrictions exist for its hemp-derived CBD products.
Otherwise, Fairwinds’ feedback system relies on consumers’ willingness to provide input on their own, Hull added.
“What we’re trying to get to,” she said, “is kind of like an Amazon (feedback system) where people just voluntarily go in and provide input for other people, to help other people out.”