Rethinking What Motivates Cannabis Customers
Ben Hartman
June 15, 2020

Dispensary customers know what they like and what works for them, and packaging alone is probably not enough to be a deciding factor, judging by a recent survey.

The online survey polled 817 adult cannabis users in seven states and found that the top factors affecting the decision to buy a product in a dispensary were quality, strain type, price, THC, and pesticides.

Quality and price shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the survey also found that almost all of the respondents — be they medical consumers, recreational users, or combined users — rated packaging as the least important factor. Another recent study found similar results, namely that brand awareness for consumers remains low and branding by companies is not having a major impact.

What Can We Learn From This Study?

  • Customers know what they're looking for
  • Ingredients and effectiveness - not packaging - set products apart
  • Better transparency and labeling could boost sales

What can cannabis brands and marketers draw from these results? One big takeaway is that customers know the specific attributes they’re looking for in cannabis products, and this is what sets one product apart from another in their eyes. It could also indicate that a new approach to marketing may be a good idea.

The industry has put a lot of time and thought into creating eye-catching packaging that’s light years away from the plastic baggies or film canisters that passed for cannabis packaging in the days before legal adult use dispensaries. These can vary from amber-hued glass jars fit for a designer skin care product, to containers for flowers that evoke french perfume, to THC chocolates that look straight out of a luxury confectioner’s workshop. Packaging like this is eye-catching, appealing, and sends a very clear message of quality and attention to detail.

But is this what motivates the customer purchase?

If we go purely by the survey’s results, then the packaging and the vibe given off by the company branding would appear to be of limited importance. And this may be especially true for medical cannabis customers, who, according to the survey, rated the amount of CBD and pesticides in their products as more important than quality, THC level, or price.

During the coronavirus lockdown, a number of legal cannabis states made the decision to temporarily allow online ordering and pick-up services. This has led to a major shift towards online ordering by consumers, which may remain in the years to come well after the pandemic is over.

Online, the need for packaging that jumps off the shelf is even less important. Online customers are more likely to go for products that they already know, and if they do comparison shop, it is more likely to be based on pricing and the ingredients of the products and how these are highlighted by brands.

This study could indicate that when brands want to set themselves apart from competitors, they should make a point of highlighting their ingredients above all else, as opposed to storytelling, imagery, and celebrity or influencer spokespersons.

Design is important, but transparency may be more important than ever before.

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