Digital innovation & engagement look set to become increasingly important for CBD brands as companies look to maintain the soaring demand in online sales that have occured during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
CBD companies from around the world have reported soaring demand for products since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, in what has become a substantial period of growth for the industry.
Although unsurprising that a pandemic should lead consumers to care more about their health and wellbeing, the increase in demand for CBD products comes at a critical time for the industry.
At the start of 2020 uncertainty surrounding waning consumer demand, falling share prices, raw material price depreciations and reduced margins were all concerns for the industry.
This resurgence in consumer demand comes with an increasingly important role for online channels.
Where previously e-retailing and digital sales represented, in many cases, the minority portion of company sales, digital channels have rapidly become the leading channel for many CBD organisations.
Once consumers have made this shift, many won’t go back, which means CBD companies are going to need to readdress corporate strategies in order to place digital top of the agenda. With that comes the need to innovate, in order to utilise technology in ways that help deliver memorable retail experiences that in turn drive repeat sales and ensure customer satisfaction.
Boston Hempire, a Massachusetts based CBD company, is one of the many CBD providers seeing a jump in sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We didn’t know how business was going to be affected going into this pandemic, but sales started to drastically increase“, said Boston Hempire’s CEO, Brandon Gadles. And the growth has been substantial; upwards of 300% for certain products.
Gadles and close friend, Kevin Coyle launched Boston Hempire in early 2018. Both entrepreneurs were seeking alternatives to prescription drugs for a sick parent. After seeing the benefits of CBD, Boston Hempire was born, quickly expanding its wholesale distribution to over 5000 stores/medical offices across the nation. In late 2018, the e-commerce website was also launched.
Most of Boston Hempire’s products are organic, and all offerings are third party lab tested and fully insured with Cannabis Insurance Business. Gadles only works directly with family farms as well as partnering farms to ensure the industry is not overrun by large tobacco or pharmaceutical companies. “We have received several offers to sell but have declined due to rising concerns regarding the direction big tobacco will take the industry“, Gadles said. “We are a leader in this industry and Boston Hempire will not be overly influenced by big tobacco, taking profits from the hard-working farms and small businesses of America“.
In early 2019, the company expanded with a full line of wellness products. Gadles states that all CBD products have seen an uptick in online sales since the start of COVID-19, especially Gummies and Soft Gels.
Papa & Barkley is another retailer experiencing significant demand for online sales, following the outbreak of COVID-19.
“We’ve seen a pretty dramatic increase in our online transaction volume,” said Adam Grossman, CEO and founder of Papa & Barkley.
In March alone, as the US went on lockdown, Papa & Barkley’s online CBD sales transactions grew 240% over previous monthly averages, the company said. In April, online sales increased another 88%, according to the company.
In the UK, research published by Alphagreen.io, the UK’s largest marketplace for certified CBD products, in May, suggests that more than 8 million Britons are now buying CBD products, with spending exceeding £150m in the first four months of 2020 alone. That puts the market on target to achieve revenues of £450m over the year as a whole, which would represent 50% growth compared to 2019.
In the marketplace’s survey, 38% said they bought their CBD products online, compared to 14% who purchased from health shops and 13% who sourced products from pharmacies, supporting the increasing importance of online strategies for CBD companies.
Alphagreen.io CEO Alexej Pikovsky explains that the marketplace commissioned the research after noticing a sharp spike in demand for CBD products in the UK from the beginning of March onwards, as the Covid-19 crisis began to bite. He said: “The key here is that with people feeling anxious, having trouble sleeping and, in some cases, feeling let down by the traditional health system, they have looked for alternatives.”
Alphagreen.io’s study, based on a survey of 5,000 adults, found that 8.4 million Britons had either bought CBD products this year or intended to do so. Some 42% of purchasers are focused primarily on relieving or managing pain, with 21% seeking to tackle their insomnia, and 19% hoping to address anxiety.
Dr Dani Gordon, a specialist in medicinal cannabis and CBD products, said told Forbes that the research suggested the uptick in demand was part of a broader trend. “People are increasingly turning to more natural health and wellness solutions to add to their self-care routines,” she said. “Patients are looking towards natural remedies to mitigate and soothe symptoms of common conditions such as anxiety, as well as other mental and physical health concerns.”
One interesting question is whether the increased interest in CBD products will endure beyond the current crisis.
Certainly, much of the demand is relatively recent – Alphagreen.io’s research suggests 53% of purchasers made their first purchase in the last 12 months. Pikovsky believes the increased demand will be sustained, as consumers become better informed about CBD products and the market matures.
He launched Alphagreen.io last year to provide a single portal for purchasers in what is a highly-fragmented marketplace where consumers aren’t always sure which brands to trust. The marketplace requires providers to supply certified data on their products in order to maintain their listings.
As online sales soar, competition between retailers and brands will require CBD companies to use digital channels to engage effectively with existing clients and to acquire new customers online. Demonstrating quality and transparency will also be vital, in order to make consumers feel empowered in their purchases as well as improving trust within the industry. As consumers become increasingly educated around CBD use, demonstrating that your brand can meet those demands of high quality and authenticity will be paramount.
Likewise touch points diminish and change with digital engagement. When a consumer is purchasing a product in a store, they place reliance upon that retailer to ensure that the products for sale are of a particular quality and standard. They also have the options to engage with retail staff to ask questions, or solicit advice, which is very important, especially if the customer is new to CBD products. Sales assistants are there to allay any concerns and help consumers pick a product that is most suited to their needs. Replicating that process online, requires digital channels and solutions that can emulate those personal touch points. This might be through engagement programmes, webchat, and digital outreach or particularly through personalisation of retail experiences.
Personalisation is one area where digital tools that are driven by user-centric data can really impact on the consumer experience and help drive a personalised experience that will not only increase sales conversions but also improve customer satisfaction and brand reputation.
Bringing together these digital experiences will be an important next step for the CBD industry and one which will likely lead to increasing partnerships and consolidation, as well as the introduction of new players in the marketplace.
Author: Matthew Driver, Senior Consultant