The Evolution of Cannabis eCommerce Marketplaces

The Unique and Accelerated Journey of Cannabis eCommerce

The cannabis industry in the US is intricate and difficult to unravel. This history of this unique industry is a tale of innovation intertwined with the ever-evolving digital landscape overcoming the challenge of government regulations and social stigmas. At this critical intersection, cannabis eCommerce platforms and marketplaces like Weedmaps and Leafly stood as pioneers, providing a haven for dispensaries in the uncharted territories of cannabis digital marketing and e-commerce. These platforms gave the cannabis industry a home online, a place where dispensaries and cannabis consumers could engage in open eCommerce. However, the tides are changing, ushering in a new wave of loosening regulations and shifting dispensary needs, changing the significance of these once-dominant platforms.

As we dissect the historical significance of cannabis eCommerce marketplaces like Weedmaps and Leafly, we unravel the story of their rise to prominence and the recent reduction in priority, leading us to the question of their place in the future of cannabis marketing. Recent traffic trends tell a tale of diminishing influence, as dispensary operators shift their focus from these specialty marketplaces to other digital marketing channels that have recently become available to cannabis marketers. We are looking over the cliff of an impending paradigm shift (or have already made the leap) where dispensaries are shuffling their resources to get the most from their marketing spend and claim control over their data and customer experience.

Our exploration into the evolution of digital marketplaces for cannabis retailers illuminates the advantage that awaits dispensaries who can capitalize on seismic changes in the digital space. We also delve into the nuances of strain searches, weed deals searches, the pivotal role of collaborative efforts within the industry and more.

Navigate the past, decipher the present, and gaze into the future of cannabis eCommerce marketing, where dispensaries wield the power to shape their own destiny.

  1. Past: The Emergence of Cannabis eCommerce and the Seismic Shift
  2. Present: Establishing New Digital Priorities and Strategies
  3. Future: Identifying Challenges and Creating Innovations
  4. Key Takeaways: Getting the Most Out of Your Cannabis eCommerce Marketing Spend

The Emergence of Cannabis eCommerce Marketplaces

Journey back to the emergence of the legal cannabis industry in the US, a time when marketing opportunities available for dispensaries were scarce. Digital channels that most small businesses would leverage were not an option for cannabis marketers. So when specialized cannabis eCommerce platforms emerged from this digital void, it was an obvious must for dispensaries looking to grow their business and reach new customers. In this article, we’ll mainly focus on cannabis eCommerce marketplaces like Weedmaps and Leafly, both of which played a pivotal role in this period of growth by offering a way for dispensaries to connect with customers online. Restrictions on common search engines and social media platforms were no longer an insurmountable barrier. The challenges these platforms addressed and their vital role in connecting cannabis customers with local dispensaries laid the groundwork for the digital evolution of cannabis retail.

Weedmaps, born in 2008, played a monumental role during this era and established a strong foothold as a place for customers to find deals, products and dispensaries. The cannabis eCommerce platform became a beacon and began to grow its own gravity, pulling customers and dispensaries together in a way that was truly revolutionary to the cannabis industry. Industry terms like “Edibles” weren’t a violation of community guidelines, they were buttons that made it easy for customers to find exactly what they were looking for, making the customer experience a key differentiator for the Weedmaps platform, especially for consumers looking for great deals.

Simultaneously, Leafly was blazing a trail in digital cannabis education, creating a library of cannabis information that went beyond what most consumers were able to access previously. The comprehensive database brought together information on product types, strains, cannabinoids, terpenes and much more, creating an informational hub that served both customers and retailers. Specialized search features empowered market-wide education that has driven innovation and a more nuanced understanding of the plant, how it is grown and processed.

Together, cannabis-specific eCommerce platforms Weedmaps and Leafly laid the cornerstone for the digital transformation of cannabis retail, addressing critical challenges and reshaping the industry’s trajectory. Customers that were used to texting their local “drug dealer” to meet up could now use their phones to find legal shops or even complete purchases for pickup or delivery.

The Seismic Shift in Cannabis eCommerce

Fast forward to the transition period (2012-2021), where the evolution of Google’s policies opened new avenues for dispensaries. The dynamics shifted fundamentally as dispensaries could directly list on Google and compete for clicks in the search listings. Prioritizing customer engagement on their own systems rather than sending traffic to the industry-specific marketplaces, Google Maps began to occupy the top listings for the most valuable searches.

This transformative moment reshaped the dynamics of cannabis customer acquisition strategy. Digital marketing was no longer limited to the shadows, dispensaries could now be found directly on consumers’ primary search engine of choice. Key local searches, such as “dispensary near me” or “weed near me,” gained newfound importance, aligning with broader consumer behavior trends where such local searches boasted a staggering 78% conversion rate to offline sales.

The impact of this transition on the industry’s marketing landscape immediately diminished the inherent value of once-dominant cannabis eCommerce platforms like Weedmaps and Leafly, pushing both platforms and retailers to find more creative ways to implement effective (and compliant) digital customer acquisition campaigns.

The absolute necessity to include specialized marketplaces in any digital marketing investment evaporated and was replaced with a more nuanced conversation about the customer journey and the best ways to engage with potential new customers. Digital marketing investment now included a wholly-owned customer experience for local retailers, putting them in direct competition with marketplaces to attract and retain new customers in maturing markets and as new states legalize cannabis.

Marketplaces had the advantage of large existing customer bases and brand awareness but the shifting dynamics of both the digital landscape and consumer behavior would soon favor the dispensaries directly. Cannabis marketplaces, however, did not become irrelevant.

Challenges: Traffic Decline and Native Menu Adoption

Enter the present, where Weedmaps and Leafly face a decline in traffic, signaling a paradigm shift. Diving into the reasons behind this decline, you’ll discover a shifting landscape of behavior and digital platforms available to the industry.

The reasons behind this decline are multifaceted. Changes in user behavior are key. The changing digital landscape is an obvious factor that influences both consumer and retailer behaviors, with consumers finding cannabis in the way they would find anything else, like a cup of coffee. With consumers integrating their cannabis experiences with their standard behavior more and more as the industry is normalized, they no longer need to go through the extra step of downloading an app or visiting a specific cannabis eCommerce website. The multi-use apps like a web browser or maps would do the trick. Weedmaps and Leafly earned a lot of their value through the search engines they are now directly competing against.

The adoption of advanced solutions for dispensaries to own their digital marketing system. Cannabis eCommerce websites with SEO-friendly native menus are now in direct competition with cannabis-specific marketplaces on the fastest-growing cannabis customer acquisition channel — search engines like Google. Supported by software and cannabis marketing services, dispensaries are now winning the competition for the most valuable keywords and continuing to gain ground on more informational searches, including strains, products, terpenes, cannabinoids and more.

Although they have the advantage of deep wells of content and established authority, digital cannabis marketplaces can’t compete with the local authority of retailers with a physical location that’s listed on Maps.

SEO Strategies for Local Search Dominance

In the current era of cannabis marketing, dispensaries are strategically embracing the power of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to assert dominance in local searches and to complement their existing cannabis eCommerce menus. Recognizing the immense value of being easily discoverable by potential customers, dispensaries are investing time and resources into optimizing their online presence.

One key aspect of this strategy involves the meticulous integration of SEO practices, ensuring that dispensaries not only appear prominently in general cannabis searches but also dominate local search results. Dispensaries are realizing the importance of tailoring their digital strategies to cater to the immediate needs of their local communities. This involves understanding the specific keywords and phrases potential customers in their vicinity are likely to use when searching for cannabis products.

Case studies abound with success stories of dispensaries effectively leveraging SEO to enhance visibility and attract a local customer base. By implementing robust SEO strategies, dispensaries are positioning themselves as go-to sources for cannabis products in their respective areas. This localized approach not only boosts visibility but also fosters a sense of community connection, as customers often prefer to engage with dispensaries that understand and cater to their unique needs.

A noteworthy trend within SEO local search dominance is the emphasis on indexable SEO menu content. Dispensaries are increasingly recognizing the importance of providing comprehensive and easily accessible information about their product offerings on their websites. By having indexable cannabis eCommerce menus, dispensaries reduce their reliance on external platforms and take control of their online presence. This strategic move not only enhances user experience but also ensures that dispensaries have a direct channel to communicate their product variety, promotions, and unique selling propositions to potential customers.

As dispensaries navigate the changing landscape of cannabis marketing, the integration of SEO for local search dominance emerges as a crucial component of their digital arsenal. It’s not just about being visible; it’s about being visible to the right audience in the right way. Dispensaries leveraging cannabis eCommerce SEO effectively are not only capturing attention but are also shaping a narrative that resonates with their local community, establishing themselves as trusted and authoritative voices in the evolving cannabis market.

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