The impact of COVID-19 on shopping behaviors is a matter of great concern not only to retailers but economists, city planners, public health officials and a whole slew of other interested parties. A 2020 survey of online consumers in nine different countries produced by The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and titled “Covid-19 and E-Commerce”, found that the pandemic has accelerated a shift towards online shopping.
The survey also suggests that the shift towards a digital retail world may be permanent. This news has sparked some intriguing innovations in the cannabis retail space, including the rise of “immersion retailing”, which seeks to create all-inclusive, multi-sensory shopping experiences that lure customers off of their couches and back into stores.
Planet 13‘s (OTC: PLNHF) flagship store in Las Vegas recently added a new 80-foot wide LED wall in the expanded dispensary showcasing immersive entertainment (like lions breaking through the wall, vines growing up to the ceiling, and much more creating an incredible visual experience for customers).
The dispensary also has a Willie Wonka style production window where customers watch edibles and beverages being produced and interact with products on flat screens. There is a choreographed Orb drone show over the dispensary floor, an interactive floor in the grand hallway, and a giant laser graffiti wall.
Planet 13’s Santa Ana, California store is the largest cannabis store in the world at 112,000 square feet, is not actually a store in the conventional sense but more of an “entertainment concept”. This concept includes Budtender greeter/concierges, beautifully merchandised products, and a sensory bar that invites customers to indulge in a cannabis experience reminiscent of a tour of wine country. Future plans for the as-yet-unmaximized space include a coffee shop, pizzeria, event space, and a customer-facing production facility that provides a real-time look at the manufacturing process behind Planet 13’s products.
Toronto-based Alchemy an independent retailer offering an immersive and experiential shopping alternative. It is the brainchild of former triathlete Richard Browne, who envisioned Alchemy as “a museum where you can touch, feel, and interact with the elements.” This is accomplished, in part, through a playful approach to interior design which eschews the conventions of dispensary aesthetics and focuses instead on what Alchemy’s multidisciplinary designer Paolo Ferrari refers to as “a cerebral experience infused with artistry, nature, and technology.” From the kaleidoscopic visuals on display for waiting guests to flower showcased in custom “smelling-globes”, Alchemy’s creators leave no stone unturned when it comes to enticing the senses and giving the in-person shopping experience an edge over the convenience of click-and-pay.
Cannafornia, one of the newest immersion retail experiences to make the scene, offers two of California’s largest consumption lounges at 5,000 square feet each, situated on a 100-acre campus in southern California’s Imperial Valley. The location is strategic in its attempt to capture travelers transiting through Arizona, California, and Mexico. Cannafornia boasts two large retails stores, Queen of Dragons and The Other Guys, which stock top brands and invite consumers to sample the goods in one of their spacious lounges before committing to a purchase.
Global management firm McKinsey & Company attributes the shift towards digital retail in the COVID era to three change forces — economic downturn, preference shifts, and digital acceleration. With consumers sticking to trusted brands, spending less, shopping less often and sticking closer to home, the cannabis industry’s gamble on immersion retailing faces some significant obstacles. Some industry innovators are turning those obstacles into opportunities to change the retail landscape.