Boomers Pose Unique Challenge To Dispensary Operators

The staff has been most important in walking me through the decision-making and purchasing process. Today’s marijuana and it’s methods of use is so different; I find myself knowing basically nothing about it.
— Male 65+, Seattle WA

(This post originally appeared on Cannabis Business Executive)

That is a verbatim quote from a participant in our 2018 study on consumers who use cannabis for medical purposes. In addition to what might be broadly described as customer service, he also cited word-of-mouth recommendations and atmosphere as among the key factors in play when he selected a dispensary. Like most of our Baby Boomer (55+ years of age) participants, he didn’t much care about price.

The Role of Loyalty

Here is a discerning consumer in need of high touch service. Yet not necessarily due to lack of experience. Many Boomers (36% of respondents) reported having used cannabis at a younger age but having stopped in the interim and are now “returning” to cannabis. As the quote above demonstrates however, prior experience with cannabis may not translate to familiarity or comfort given today’s rapidly evolving market. But reaching Boomers won’t be easy. Among others who consider themselves “medical” users, Boomers under-index for interest in online reviews and customer loyalty programs.

Loyalty plays a significant role in any customer relationship. Numerous industries benefit – arguably at the customer’s expense – not so much from loyalty but inertia. Dissatisfied customers face daunting switching costs. For an example, picture your wireless bill or monthly gym fee. Are any of us advocates of Verizon or AT&T? Are we getting the most from our gym membership? Probably not. But the customer relationship in cannabis is, and let’s hope this is for the better on balance, fundamentally different.

The Opportunity with Boomers

With more states poised to legalize adult use in the near future, access will pose less and less of a challenge. (Yet as demonstrated in an analysis of California dispensaries, geographic location may be most important factor impacting access. Forty percent of the state lives in what the Sacramento Bee described as a “pot desert”.) Customers will gravitate to a preferred dispensary or may be inclined to select a dispensary for sake of convenience, but for Boomers – who are less concerned with price, location, and hours of operation – exploring other options won’t prove too challenging.

For an older consumer seeking relief from medical conditions such as chronic pain, it’s well-recognized that cannabis presents enormous opportunity. Seventy-five percent of our “for medical purposes” respondents age 55 and up report using cannabis to relieve pain. This is borne out in our data on the impact of legalizing adult use as well: of medical users in adult use states, 40% of Boomers reported consuming less OTC pain medications post-legalization. (We included this observation among others in a whitepaper released earlier this year.) Thus for Boomers, there is tremendous upside: most are likely to use cannabis for medical purposes only about once per week.

As access and education broadens, Boomers will continue to play an important part in the cannabis consumer market. As our data indicates, while operators may see older customers less frequently, creating a welcoming atmosphere from a physical point of view – wheelchair accessibility was also called out as a deciding factor, for example – and especially from a service perspective will yield value for Boomers and operators alike.

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Mike Luce