Can Cannabis Commerce Go Online?

Though cannabis and its consumption can be a contentious topic, particularly between the U.S. Congress and the sitting attorney general, it is not terribly controversial to note that marijuana and its consumption has gotten much, much more mainstream.

As of the most recent surveys, 60 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization. And that support’s breakdown by age cohort might surprise you some.

Millennials heavily favor legalization at 77 percent — no big shock there — but their baby boomer parents favor it even more heavily, at 81 percent. (Gen-Xers who were dared to stay off drugs during the 1980s still favor legalization in the majority, though less heavily than their parents and younger siblings — and members of the silent and greatest generations remain majority-opposed.)

And as marijuana becomes less the exciting and elicit provenance of hardcore Grateful Dead fans and everyone’s burnout cousin and becomes more the provenance of mainstream customers, a problem is beginning to surface in the cannabis market, according to Socrates Rosenfeld, co-founder and CEO of Jane.

Or at least a lacking for customers looking to have a mainstream shopping experience.

“We came up with the idea of an online marketplace for cannabis because we were really looking at how people shop for everything. Customers want to shop online — but if you think about the last thing you purchased online, you probably did it in a very particular way.”

Said simply, Rosenfeld noted, customers have the ability to search when they shop online — and search somewhat flexibly. Sometimes a customer knows exactly what they want, with a specific brand name, down to the serial number. But a lot of other shopping is something of a collaborative discovery effort, where the consumer knows the shape of what they want and the marketplace helps bridge the gap to a specific good.

The cannabis industry by and large didn’t have that; instead it has a fragmented experience for consumers and a rather piecemeal effort for merchants looking to digitize their stock. Jane is designed to take out that heavy lifting by plugging directly into the dispensary POS and using the data to populate the the shelves of its digital storefront.

The Unique Complexities Of The Market

Marijuana’s legal status is complex even where it is legal — some states favor full legalization for all uses, while others limit it to medial applications. Layered on top of that is the fact that federal laws list marihuana as a Schedule I narcotic, which means any national bank that touches a marijuana-related transaction risks losing its charter and facing RICO charges.

Payments is a complex topic.

And one that Jane is most avoiding. Customers can browse and place orders in the marketplace — but transactions can  be finalized only in cash in person at the store.

“For the time being, we relinquish all payment transactions to be conducted at the dispensary in the store,” Rosenfeld noted, citing the various complexities involved with getting into the middle of transactions of cannabis given its legally complex status.

But though it cannot offer online payments, it does offer the merchant the ability to digitally list and sell its stock while also bolstering an in-store solution for staff that then helps manage the workflow from those online orders.

“It is incredibly, super important to consider the staffing component of this. We provide not only software to manage the marketplace; we also provide software for the dispensaries, because we know their success is our success. We make it possible to connect workers to connect from any device and facilitate orders.”

And most notably, Jane doesn't charge for access to its software. It charges a gratuity when their merchants make a sale through the marketplace — joining the marketplace and using the attendant software is free.

Fixing The Consumer Experience

And because of the design of the marketplace — and its search function — consumers looking for cannabis-related products can get the kind of specialization that is otherwise common in eCommerce.

“We created a very simple search bar that makes it easy for you can search for whatever you need. That might be very specific brands like Cheeba Juice, or it might be a product type, like gluten-free. We can help customers look for specific strains or specific effects like pain relief, energy, nighttime use. We meet the customers where they are at currently and recommend products based on shopping history and algorithm magic. What we are able to do us curate and experience for a customer in very much they way they would look at Netflix or an item on Amazon."

The point, he noted, is simplicity — and making it easier for consumers, merchants and brands to connect and conduct commerce.

And going forward, Rosenfeld noted, the system is designed to plug and play easily with other innovators in the space so that it can easily tie to dispensary-specific POS systems or on-demand delivery platforms and aggregate online orders to them.

“We want to be the marketplace, because we are a software solution. We can’t help with growing seeds or selling it. But we can integrate, and we want to plug and play with all the improvements.”

And if cannabis were to become legal in the United States, across the board, tomorrow?

“Oh, man,” was Rosenfeld’s first response — and though he noted that though Jane would have some upgrades to make and possibly some more staff to hire, it would be doing much the same things they are doing today.

Though, he noted, he certainly wouldn’t mind a chance to do them even more easily at a larger scale.



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