Member Blog: Report Shows Inflation Will Reduce Dispensary Profits – Here’s What You Should Do
By Bethany Moore
October 3, 2022
/ Education

Member Blog: Report Shows Inflation Will Reduce Dispensary Profits – Here’s What You Should Do

by Lee Johnson, CBD Oracle

A new survey from CBD Oracle found that if inflation drives cannabis prices up, most customers will start to buy less cannabis. Unfortunately, inflation isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, currently standing at 8.3%, and things are very competitive for both dispensaries and growers. Plus, the survey shows that the fear that customers will go to a competitor if you raise prices is actually very justified. So what can companies do? We’ve put together some suggestions that play on consumer psychology to help you stay profitable.

The Survey: Why It Looks Bad for the Industry

The survey from CBD Oracle asked 1,450 Americans in adult-use states about their buying habits and how they may change with inflation. While there were many results, the most interesting ones concerned how people would respond to more inflation and the price of cannabis increasing.

They found that 54% of respondents would buy less cannabis if prices increased as a result of inflation. Although over a third (37%) would buy around the same amount, it’s clear that there will be some impact on companies’ bottom lines. The survey also asked about the maximum amount people would be willing to pay for an eighth (around 3.5 g) and found that while 83% would pay $30, only 57% would still buy at $40.

But with increased prices for everyone from growers to dispensaries, it’s difficult to make ends meet at current prices. Mature markets like Colorado have an even bigger issue, with more than enough stock and tons of competition, so increasing prices may really feel like a gamble. The situation is totally unsustainable, and around 30% of dispensaries will be raising prices in the near future, if they haven’t already.

Andrew Livingston, Director of Economics & Research at Vicente Sederberg commented to us, “Cannabis is clearly not ‘inflation proof.’ Companies struggle to operate profitably as their cost of labor, distribution, and input ingredients climb along with prices across the rest of the economy.”

Raising Prices While Retaining Customers: A Guide for Dispensaries

The survey shows that the problem is on the horizon, but what’s the solution? Here are some suggestions.

Use Price Anchoring

Anchoring is a very useful psychological concept for dispensaries, and there are many ways you can benefit from it. The way it works is really simple. Imagine you have a “regular” price on the tag crossed out, and a sale price below it. Even if the sale price is still higher than customers might want to pay, customers note the crossed-out price and then look at the other relative to the original amount. So if your eighth is labeled “$35 $25,” customers “anchor” onto the $35 and the $25 seems like a bargain. This specific type is called strike-through price anchoring.

Anchoring Through Product Grouping

Price anchoring can be very powerful when used intelligently. For example, you could have your biggest-selling product on the shelf, but with a much more expensive strain beside it, ideally marked and labeled such that it’s hard to ignore. While very few customers will pay for that $50 eighth, that will make the $30 one sat beside it look much better.

Costco-Style Anchoring

In this approach, you arrange your store so that higher-price items greet customers – again, made hard to ignore through ads and positioning – and they anchor onto higher prices. Then as they make their way into the store and see your regular prices, they seem cheaper, even if they haven’t changed or have even increased.

Raise Prices Elsewhere to Keep Cannabis Cheap 

You can also try to balance less profitable products out with other items. As McKinsey & Company suggests, raising prices on secondary and tertiary items (think grinders, bongs, vape pens, and other accessories) can help you recoup losses on key-value items (cannabis products). Combined with other approaches, this can be a clever way to boost profits while minimizing the risk customers will simply go elsewhere for weed.

Focus on Your Brand

With over half of dispensary customers sticking to the same seller, one way to minimize the impact of inflation is to make your brand their brand. Shopify’s report on the Future of Retail recommends focusing on your brand story (why are you in business? What sets you apart from the competition?), showing that your values align with customers’ and treating your employees as a “brand audience.” If you educate your employees about your brand, you will make them brand evangelists, improving customer loyalty as a knock-on effect.

Cut Costs Wherever Else You Can

Simply reducing costs on packaging – child-proof plastic packets rather than glass, for instance – can help you stay in profit without pushing costs to customers. Freezing hiring or even laying off staff is another alternative. This isn’t ideal, but if there are ways you can streamline, automate or digitalize processes, you may be able to cut back until the economy gets back on its feet.

Collect Data and Adapt

Arguably the most important thing you can do alongside any of these changes is to improve your data collection and response process. This is simply so you know the impact of the interventions as quickly as possible. You need to combine this with an enhanced decision-making process so you can make company-wide changes quickly and efficiently. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to make one set of changes and leave it that way, so set up systems to streamline the process for the future.

Conclusion: Remember, We’re All in This Together

With the report showing tough times are likely ahead for the cannabis industry, the most important thing to remember is that basically every dispensary in your state is in the same boat. If you’re friends with any other businesses in your area, talk to them about it and how they’re planning on responding. If prices must rise, it’s much better if you can present a united front to consumers. One dispensary raising prices might be a death sentence; all dispensaries raising prices is just inflation, plain and simple. Be up-front with each other and customers, and you’ll be surprised at how well you can pull through.  

Lee Johnson is a writer at CBD Oracle who has been covering science, vaping, and cannabis for over a decade. He focuses on research-driven deep dives into topics ranging from medical uses for CBD to industry and user statistics, as well as general guides and explainers for consumers. He is a passionate advocate of both CBD and cannabis, and a strong believer in informed choice for consumers.

CBD Oracle is a cannabis consumer research company working to improve the safety and transparency of cannabis products, producing in-depth research pieces, along with long-form analysis of social and legal issues.

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