In the wake of the 2018 Farm Bill, the horizons of hemp-derived cannabis products expanded, offering nearly limitless opportunities for businesses and brands in the CBD industry to expand what they could offer to their customers. However, threading the path to prosperity within this new regime has not been easy, given the fluctuating legal status of cannabinoids and the regulations surrounding them. Within this labyrinth of legal intricacies, one significant hurdle stands out: payment processing. For online CBD suppliers, finding a payment processor amenable to cannabis commerce has been an uphill battle. The winds, though, are shifting and some payment processors are paving the way toward a more harmonious future for cannabis and e-commerce.
What Merchant Account Will Process CBD Website Payments?
Finding a merchant account or payment processor that simplifies the transaction process can be frustrating, especially if you’re not well-versed in the world of e-commerce. The good news is that more and more payment processors are hopping onto the trend, but why?
The 2018 Farm Bill changed everything for the cannabis industry. Now, hemp-derived CBD products are considered federally legal. Since then, some states have passed their own restrictive legislation aimed at specific cannabinoids and others may choose to do the same. But for the rest of the country, the Farm Bill states that as long as cannabis products are hemp-derived and contain less than 0.3% THC in dry weight, they can be legally produced and sold.
While this doesn’t mean that cannabis is entirely legal, the Farm Bill has brought about just enough change to ease the concerns of some in the financial industry. Where legal uncertainties have kept financial institutions away from the cannabis industry, there some companies that have become reliable partners for CBD brands. This registered merchant account provider, works with major credit card networks, making it possible for CBD companies and their customers to process payments online and offline.
Payment processors like GETTRX, Inovio, Square and Bankful are well-versed in the CBD landscaped and equipped to handle the legal intricacies of processing high-risk industries like hemp, making them excellent options if you’re on the hunt for a way to simplify the transaction process.
But, how does a CBD company choose the payment processor they want to work with?
What to Look for in a CBD Payment Processor
Choosing the right merchant account and payment processor is essential to making your business run smoothly and providing a seamless and intuitive experience for customers. Here’s a condensed guide on some key factors to consider:
High-risk expertise should be a priority, as you want someone who is on your side. Being well-versed in high-risk industries can give you peace of mind when navigating the ups and downs of the complex CBD industry.
You’re only as good as your worst customer, so making sure to find payment processors with a good industry reputation and an excellent track record will be a plus when handling CBD.
Being transparent about your needs with potential payment processors can help set expectations, and using the term “high-risk” will always be a way to break the ice. This helps set the scene and gives reputable processors context and peace of mind about your intentions and products.
Instead of rushing to the most well-known payment processors, take your time and really balance out the possibilities. Some processors may be popular, but lacking stringent underwriting standards can lead to unforeseen shutdowns.
Why Don’t All Payment Processors Work for Cannabis?
If you’re deep into the world of cannabis, you’ve probably already noticed that navigating the CBD landscape isn’t an easy task for processors. This is a case of two highly complex and regulated industries having to find common ground, but since CBD products often have THC, they’re considered high-risk for many mainstream payment processors.
Due to compliance intricacies, federal-state law conflicts, product safety concerns, credibility of labs, and ambiguous federal regulation, not all payment processors are up for the challenge. Despite these obstacles, companies like GETTRX have managed to handle these intricacies and become a reliable partner for CBD brands.
These intricacies aren’t easy to navigate, and Roberto Sato, president and CIO of GETTRX, understands why some payment processors might not want to get involved: “Typically, processors categorize CBD merchants as high risk, particularly Card Not Present merchants,” says Sato. “This classification predominantly arises from legal and regulatory compliance concerns, the rigorous due diligence executed during onboarding and risk monitoring by ISOs, processors, and sponsor banks, as well as the interplay between federal and state laws and regulations. Aspects such as product quality, safety, and overall reputational risk further compound this assessment.”
So, what can CBD companies do to ensure that their products stand the test of payment processors? Basically, it’s about making it easier for the payment processor to see you as a partner rather than a risk. Things like registering with Visa and MasterCard as a high-risk entity, and allotting $500 for each association, show payment processors that your CBD company is going to be easier to work with. “Ensure your products have valid and updated lab reports, with a certificate of analysis for each listed item,” says Sato. “Include comprehensive ingredient labels and ensure your billing descriptor matches the business name on your URL. Exclude products like flower, loose items, seeds, and pre-rolled goods, including delta 8 – 10 with THC levels surpassing 0.3%.”
Cannabis retail is becoming more and more commonplace in the United States. According to a consumer trends survey by North Hollywood-based cannabis brand Ganja Goddess Inc., 90% of respondents said they used online ordering and delivery services to purchase cannabis. Around 60% reported that online ordering and delivery would continue to be their preferred method of purchase post-pandemic. The pandemic hugely impacted the delivery market, pushing sales up 300% by the end of 2020. However, in a lot of states, brick-and-mortar stores remain illegal. Delivery services allow cannabis companies to reach customers in areas where dispensaries are not allowed. While cannabis delivery is an incredible opportunity for companies to reach new customers they would not otherwise be able to, following the law can be difficult in an environment with a patchwork of local laws and changing regulations. So, what do you need to know about regulatory adherence to stay ahead of the curve?
The short answer is it’s complicated. Each state has dramatically different laws regarding cannabis delivery, and laws can vary by jurisdiction. Some states allow full access to adult use cannabis, some only allow medical cannabis and some completely ban delivery, making it tricky to adhere to the law. There are currently 6 states that allow cannabis delivery: California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and Oregon. Others like New York are taking the steps to allow delivery with careful regulation. With more states legalizing cannabis sales every year, delivery laws in existing delivery states are evolving and adapting to licensing changes. California introduced major changes to laws on January 1, 2023. These changes included allowing drivers to carry double the amount of product (up to $10,000 worth), no longer requiring vehicle inventory to be allocated or pre-purchased, and allowing curbside delivery for all licensed retailers. These changes to the largest cannabis market in the world showcase how much delivery is still changing and being regulated, and stresses the value of staying up to date on the latest laws and regulations.
Another aspect of delivery to consider is licensing specifically for delivery. Like regulations, licensing varies state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, in Massachusetts there are two types of licenses. Licensed providers must register as either a Marijuana Courier or as a Marijuana Delivery Operator. Couriers are allowed to earn a fee for delivering cannabis products from licensed retailers to consumers, and operators may buy and sell cannabis products wholesale, as well as deliver them. In Colorado, delivery requires two permits, however, a holder of both permits can still get in trouble if they deliver to an area or jurisdiction that has not affirmatively permitted delivery.
A big win for delivery services came when Apple allowed cannabis delivery apps on iPhones in June 2021, with downloads restricted to states that allow adult use cannabis. Even then, a lot of individual counties or cities within adult use states still prohibit the delivery of cannabis. This patchwork of regulation makes adherence tricky, and makes certain software features like real-time driver tracking and proof-of-age verification crucial to delivery operations. With competition increasing it’s even more important for cannabis delivery operators to provide an outstanding experience for customers every time. One way they can achieve this is by improving their cannabis delivery software. According to cannabis last mile delivery management software provider Onfleet’s study, 72% of cannabis delivery operators said a delivery management tool was “critical to running delivery operations.” Delivery software also helps companies stay compliant with local regulations. Route planning allows your drivers to stay within legal zones. These platforms can also capture images of state-issued ID for age verification and record customer signatures so drivers can focus on ensuring customers are getting the best experience.
Although highly dependent on local, state and federal laws, the cannabis delivery space shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. And if (or when) cannabis is legalized on a federal level, it would pave the way for major corporations like Uber and Amazon to enter the space – Uber is already taking steps in Canada. Whether that’s a good thing is up for debate, but delivery certainly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Depending on regulations and the market’s next moves, we will see a variety of delivery models and services in the coming years. Delivery services are the future of cannabis, providing customers with ease of access and personalized deliveries as well as benefiting retailers by lowering overhead costs and providing options for easy, quick customer service. Just make sure to check local laws before you confirm a delivery order, even in states where cannabis is legal.
Like any industry, cannabis can experience ups and downs, especially when it comes to a doors-open retail business. Dispensaries that operate in towns or cities that attract tourists experience this more than anyone, seeing sales spike during the busy months and reach lows during the off-season.
We spoke with the folks at Dragon Hemp, a hemp retailer based in Sag Harbor in the Hamptons. As a brand that has first-hand experience with seasonal spikes, they were able to provide more context when it comes to anticipating the ebbs and flows of seasonal retail cannabis sales.
What is the Best Way to Prepare for Post-Busy Season Retail Lulls?
In Sag Harbor, Dragon Hemp awaits a spike during the busy summer months, as well as lulls when the tourist season is down and visitors head back to New York City and beyond, many becoming loyal online customers year-round.
According to Kevin Menard, LAc, founder of Dragon Hemp, the best way to prepare for post-busy season retail lulls is to build a community of loyal customers that take your brand home with them.
“Post-busy season lulls can be very useful in setting strategies and goals for the coming year. In our case, we do a thorough inventory review and align what we have with what we need for the upcoming peak season,” says Menard. “As the season winds down, they prepare for online orders that come from the impression left on customers in the store. “We also focus on cultivating our owned channels where we can have more direct communication with our community.”
Advice on Preparing for Busy Retail Seasons
Before the busy season is even over, it’s important to start preparing for the lull in business that’s bound to set in. For Kevin Menard and his business, preparation starts with inventory. So, what’s their secret? “Make sure you have budgeted for an inventory of your most popular items and hire excellent storytellers in both your retail locations and e-commerce marketing teams.”
Keeping an eye out on inventory management can be a great way to spend the slow months. Give brands a chance to monitor sales trends and keep up with changes in consumer preferences, putting more time and effort into online retail and social media and implementing promotions and sales online and in-person. Grow the team behind the brand, keep up with all new regulations and focus on customer loyalty to maintain trustworthiness even from afar.
Turning a Seasonal Customer Into a Lifetime E-Commerce Customer
In order to turn a seasonal customer into a life-long client, it’s important to connect beyond just the sale and product. For Dragon Hemp, the most important part is personalizing the experience for their customers: “For us, it’s all about achieving personalization with each customer,” says Menard. “Typically, a seasonal retail buyer will be opportunistic about their purchase in-store, but that purchase is indicative of a longer-term need. We try to create customer profiles based on in-store buyers and craft recommendations that fit that customer’s health needs over the long term.”
In order to turn a one-time buyer from out of state or city into a lifelong loyal customer, there are a few things to consider that can make this connection happen. First and foremost, building a relationship by maintaining impeccable customer service and personalizing the experience.
Focusing on online retail is also important in order to maintain the connection with clients. Making sure the website is in perfect shape and offer loyalty programs, incentives, promotions, sales, discounts or rewards to returning customers.
Marketing and publicity are other essentials, as you want to target those who have a long-time need that needs to be filled. Allowing for a fuss-free online shopping experience, targeting people who fall in line with the brand’s products and values, being creative and innovative when promoting the website and keeping in touch with active social media and newsletters.
How to Project Goals In Places That Swell Seasonally
It can be difficult to project year-on-year retail goals when the geographic location has a tendency to swell seasonally and have off-seasons but preparing and knowing what to expect can help with reaching those goals (and even surpassing them).
According to Menard, the secret to projecting their goals starts with their first location: “Since our first retail location in Sag Harbor, NY has been open only a year, our projections are still a work in progress! We’re using 2022 data to budget for this year, accounting for marketing efforts, increased awareness, and seasonality. We have some sensitivities built into this model based on different growth scenarios.”
The instabilities and fluctuations that come with a business that works on a seasonal tempo can be challenging when it comes to reaching and achieving specific goals, but there are things that can be done to make the whole process more seamless, and hopefully, more successful.
Looking back at previous years can be helpful in pinpointing tendencies and habits that can be observed in the consumer, and the lower sales allow space for the time that can be used in innovating and creating new products that are based on what the client base wants.
Researching not only the immediate region, but the regions that people often visit is another handy trick. Knowing who is coming, why they’re coming, and what they’re looking for can help set objectives that can be brought to reality throughout the off-season and the busy season, even experiencing more foot traffic in town. Moreover, making the most of the local events, occasions, changes and circumstances like holidays and local events can keep the brand connected to its roots and primary clients.
The off-season is a great time to set up a budget or specific monetary goals to reach, and off-season fluctuations can be added in to give a more complete idea of what the year might look like. Keeping an eye on the market by monitoring it and using forecasting models to predict results can also help set the stage for changes in the year-to-year goals.
Expanding From a Cannabis Retailer to a National E-Commerce Brand
Dragon Hemp didn’t start off with a bang, but they sure have achieved it over time. Dragon Hemp products were conceived by renowned alternative health practitioner and founder, Kevin Menard. Using hemp oil, Chinese herbs and native botanicals, they have managed to create a variety of beneficial and natural products.
“Our apothecary in Sag Harbor has been a great success, but the most rewarding aspect of the location has been the ability to have direct conversations with customers and get a deep understanding of how we can support their journey to better health,” says Menard. “We’re excited to expand our mission of helping people feel like themselves again by using next-generation natural botanicals and time-honored herbal remedies.”
As the country continues toward legal and accessible cannabis, new businesses are learning the ropes and those that have been there all along have been leading the way.
Having ups and downs in any business is to be expected, but just like any industry, knowing what to expect and what to do can make these challenges seem like less of a hassle. Building an online presence that clients connect to, developing e-commerce strategies, expanding product lines, building a loyal customer base and staying up-to-date with the latest regulations are surefire ways to stay on top of the cannabis business.
The cannabis retail market is very unique. What began as compassion clubs and wellness centers in the early days of legal cannabis, eventually morphed into dispensaries, quickly becoming the retail model that regulators around the country adopted and businesses implemented.
For most states with legal cannabis markets, the dispensary has been the only way for consumers to buy cannabis and cannabis products. Before the pandemic began, we started seeing a handful of states warm up to allowing delivery services. During the height of the pandemic, more states adopted curbside pickup, e-commerce in some shape or form and delivery services that finally expanded cannabis retail beyond the dispensary. Still though, regulations hamper commercial growth in the retail space and the dispensary remains, by far, the place where most people buy their cannabis.
When Jack Roosevelt, co-founder of LucidaClub, entered a dispensary back in 2019 in Massachusetts, he shared an experience all too common in the cannabis industry: An overwhelming number of options, jargon like sativa, indica and strain names that make no sense to the uninitiated, confusing product types and an all-around unpleasant shopping experience. Jack saw all those barriers to entry for the canna-curious or novice consumer and thought that there must be a better way to shop for cannabis.
So he started LucidaClub, a membership-based platform that is designed to guide and educate consumers with the advice of experts who can help people understand cannabis products and make the right purchase decision without all of the frustration and trial and error that is so common.
The name, Lucida, comes from a Latin phrase meaning the brightest star in a constellation. Jack and his co-founder, Lucinda, want their company to be the guiding star on your cannabis journey. LucidaClub isn’t just for the cannabis newbie; their in-house curator and team of experts can help any cannabis consumer find products to better fit their needs for sleep, wellness, relaxation, stress or just to have a good time. We sat down with Jack to chat about the cannabis retail market, what his company is all about and what the future of cannabis retail might look like.Jack Roosevelt will be speaking on the cannabis retail experience at the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo. Click here to learn more.
Cannabis Industry Journal: Tell us about your background and how you came to the cannabis space.
Jack Roosevelt: I began my career in finance, working for JP Morgan and Barclays. I left Barclays and joined a renewable energy start up before eventually joining the cannabis space.
My move into the cannabis space was due to an event in the summer of 2019. Adult use cannabis had been legal in Massachusetts since November of 2018. Now, I smoked some weed in high school and college, but hadn’t touched it in at least 20 years. However, cannabis was now legal, so I said maybe there’s an opportunity to find something that would help me unwind at the end of the day, help with sleep and manage some of my stress.
Knowing that I smoked in high school and college, I figured that buying weed was buying weed. How difficult could this be? That took me to going to a dispensary for the first time. Walking through those doors made me realize that buying cannabis today is nothing like buying weed back when I was in college. It’s a fundamentally different experience.
I stood there looking at the menu of strains, with names that meant nothing to me, jargon like terpenes, and even the idea of sativa versus indica at that time was foreign to me. Twenty years ago, we didn’t pay attention to the strain name or anything like that. We’d walk into someone’s dorm room and your option would be ‘this is twenty bucks an eighth, forty bucks an eighth and sixty bucks an eighth.’ You weren’t paying attention to the strain or the name of anything like that.
Coming into the dispensary that day, I thought I’d walk out of there with an eighth of flower and something to help me unwind at the end of the day. I walked out of there with a tincture and it really wasn’t because they upsold me to a better product, it was because it was the least worst option I could see on the menu. It was something I felt that I could understand from a dosing standpoint and it was something that didn’t require knowing the strains or names that mean nothing to me. I was quite frankly looking for the easiest way to purchase something and get out of there as quickly as possible
Sitting in the car afterwards, I was mulling over that experience, the feeling of intimidation, how awkward it was, how frustrating it was. I am 6’8” and 300 pounds I am not a small guy, and I’m not a wallflower. I don’t intimidate easily, so if this was my experience, what was this going to be like for everyone else?
That made me reexamine and take a stronger look at the retail market and the potential growth. How do you engage the consumer like me, for whom there are lots of barriers to entry, most of which are perception-driven. Some of the barriers are regulatory and geographic, but most are perception based. Here in Massachusetts, a lot of the dispensaries are in inconvenient locations. Not all towns allow for rec sales, and not all of those towns that do will allow a dispensary to open on the High Street, so consumers often times have to drive out of their way to get to a dispensary.
So, for me understanding what this new consumer base would look like and how they would come into the market was key. Obviously there would be a natural growth progression for the cannabis market. However, if we could build something to help guide people, answer their questions and make them feel comfortable with what they were buying and how to consume, really hold their hand in the initial stage of a consumer coming back into the market or coming in for the first time, then we could help grow the market quicker and put that natural progression of growth on a faster track.
That experience made me start to do some market research, look at the market size, and what that potential market could look like. Our research shows that, depending on the maturity of the market in question, there are between 1.5 and 4 times the number of Cannacurious sitting on the sidelines than there are active consumers in a market. Here in MA, conservatively there are at least 1.5MM Cannacurious sitting on the sidelines, waiting to come into the market. Because our research showed such a large opportunity he in MA and the Northeast, where we live, we decided to focus our efforts here.. Because we are Cannacurious consumers ourselves, we have a natural understanding and empathy for the consumer. I was definitely not and still am not an expert on cannabis. But if we can find the right experts that can answer the questions that we have then we can do the same for the Cannacurious. For 70+ years, we’ve been told that cannabis is bad, smoking weed is bad and everything associated with it is bad. So, we want to break that negative perception, that stigma that is still lingering and open it up to a more mainstream consumer.
CIJ: What gave you the idea to start Lucida Club?
Jack: What I just told you sums it up pretty well. It was basically built out of personal frustration. I thought that if I had this problem, those feelings of intimidation, awkwardness and frustration, then undoubtedly a lot of other people would too. Therefore, we’re looking at how we can create a platform that would make the buying process as simple and convenient as possible, while educating the consumers at the same time.
CIJ: How does Lucida Club work?
Jack: It’s a concept of simplicity and convenience. There are two sides to this: The E-commerce side, when you sign up and become a member and you want to make a purchase, all you have to do is answer three questions: What experience do you want? Do you want to smoke something or not? And how much money what do you want to spend? We put together three experience packages with three key price points, around $100, around $150 and around $250.
It is based on available inventory, which products and price points match up with different packages. We have fully integrated with Flowhub and are doing the same thing with some other POS systems as well. We see the inventory for our retail partners on a live basis. When one of our members makes a purchase, if they choose the sleep, nonsmoking, $100 package and put that option in their cart, by the time it populates in their cart, our platform has already gone to the dispensary inventory, we’ve allocated their inventory by experience and by order preference. So it will put those top two or three or four items in the cart automatically. The consumer doesn’t have to worry about what brands are available.
We’ve done all the work for them. They just need to pay attention to what experience and price point they want and we take care of the rest.
The other side of our business involves our head curator who combs through all the inventories and manages the product selection. But he also works with with our members as a concierge. When you sign up for our service, you automatically get a free consultation with our head curator, which we encourage all of our members to do before they make their first purchase. That way, we can answer all your questions and make sure the package is really tailored towards you individually. You also get a follow up consultation, which helps to guide additional advice and make sure you get the experience you’re looking for. On top of that, we’re also trying to advance consumer education through a lot of content, answering common questions and help to guide consumers on their journey with cannabis and the role it can play in their lives.
CIJ: How do you think you are innovating the cannabis retail experience?
Jack: When I was sitting in the car that fateful day back in 2019, I looked at retail the same way everyone else does: you build a store, an e-commerce platform, you have a product you’re trying to sell and focus on the product itself. What opened my eyes being the consumer that day was that cannabis unique.
We’ve been told for decades about how bad cannabis is for us and for society and these negative connotations have been drilled in to us. We need to look at the retail space from the consumer’s perspective and the barriers to entry that they feel. It’s not something that a regular retailer can do easily.
By definition, a brick-and-mortar retailer, needs to be everything to everybody, for all of their customers. They have to work with the connoisseurs, the regulars that have been consuming for a long time, who really understand what they’re looking for. At the same time, they need to engage with the canna-curious, the newbie that’s walking in the door for the first time. It’s difficult to focus on one market segment for them. If they were to focus all of their efforts on just the canna-curious, they would be missing out and losing traction and not engaging properly with their other customer bases.
We have the ability to engage with a very specific market segment, the Cannacurious, which is a very large group of people by the numbers but still niche. Our research shows that there are at least 1.5 million Cannacurious in Massachusetts alone that are either sitting on the sidelines or engaging in the market in a very small way. We’ve spoken to a lot of people that have other people make purchases for them, their sister or brother going to a dispensary that feels comfortable picking up a single package of edibles for them. That’s a form of hand holding that we want to provide. We want to make consumers feel comfortable and educate them on how they can choose products for the experience they want.
In my mind when we look at the cannabis space, it’s about how we can help people come into the marketplace, how we can help open their eyes to a litany of other opportunities for them and also how to approach things from a consumer perspective.
CIJ: What do you think the future of retail in cannabis looks like?
Jack: That’s a tough question because so much of that is driven form a regulatory standpoint. I know where I think it would go if regulators were just there to make it easy for consumers and for everyone to do business. It changes so much state to state and market to market. In retail in general, so much is moving online and on to e-commerce. Where you have a situation where people actually understand what they want and they tend to buy the same products on a regular basis, e-commerce is great and easy for them to make a purchase. Delivery opens a lot of doors as well with that. But again, it’s really difficult to look at what is going to happen because the market is so fragmented from a regulatory standpoint.
It won’t develop in one direction easily. Delivery is an option but we don’t have it on a mass scale in Massachusetts. It’s the same with e-commerce. Technically in Massachusetts, purchasing online is not an easy thing to facilitate. It still has to be done at the point of sale in-person with pickup and it hampers e-commerce. This potentially slows down how the market could develop. I definitely know where it could go, but looking into that magic eight ball will still be very cloudy if you ask it for an answer. Sorry, I have to obfuscate things a little there because it’s just so hard to figure out what the regulators will greenlight next and where they want the market to go.
We really just don’t know. There are so many ways to look at that question. If you’re a brick-and-mortar dispensary right now and you’re looking at how the market itself is growing in the state of Massachusetts, it’s tough to say. We went from about sixty licensed retailers during the height of the pandemic to well over 200 now. There’s going to be some consolidation. Whether that means that the growth of MSOs will proliferate and everything will be homogenized going forward, I don’t know what that could mean because at the moment it’s very difficult to have that full homogenization when you’re only allowed to have a handful of retail licenses. How do any of the MSOs gain real traction with three locations? If that changes, if you go somewhere like Florida where the rules are different, you see the true growth of the MSO with dozens of retail locations. Here, we still have a lot of mom-and-pop retailers along with a lot of much smaller MSOs who might have locations in one or two other states.
E-commerce will bring a lot to the market and help brands grow significantly. How we grow depends almost entirely on what the regulatory environment looks like. There are so many different things we could do with our platform, but we are so hampered by the regulations in just this one market alone. We built our platform and business model the way we did because it allows us to be flexible and adapt. As we move into a new market, we can build relationships and new markets open up. It’s all about being flexible if you can be.
Federal regulations have made compliant credit processing in the cannabis industry difficult to achieve. As a result, most cannabis retailers operate a cash-only model, limiting their ability to upsell customers and placing a burden on customers who might rather use credit. While some dispensaries offer debit, credit or cashless ATM transactions, regulators and payment processors have recently been cracking down on these offerings as they are often non-compliant with regulations and policies.
KindTap Technologies, LLC operates a financial technology platform that offers credit and loyalty-enabled payment solutions for highly regulated industries typically driven by cash and ATM-based transactions. KindTap offers payment processing and related consumer applications for e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailers. Founded in 2019, the company is backed by KreditForce LLC plus several strategic investors, with debt capital provided by U.S.-based institutions.
We interviewed Cathy Corby Iannuzzelli, co-founder and chief payments officer at KindTap Technologies. Cathy co-founded KindTap after a career in the banking and payments industries where she launched multiple financial and credit products.
Aaron Green: Cathy, thanks for taking the time today. How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Cathy Corby Iannuzzelli: I’ve been in the payments industry for a long time. I was doing some consulting a few years ago for a client in Colorado and that gave me exposure to the issues in cannabis like the fact that you couldn’t have real payments in cannabis. Then, a close family member with health issues turned to medical cannabis when nothing else seemed to work. I was amazed by the difference it made in her life. At that point, I put those two things together and I said, I need to focus on helping this industry get a real cannabis payments solution because I thought it was ridiculous that you had an industry of this size and importance that had been abandoned by the payments industry.
Aaron Green: Can you highlight some of your background prior to entering cannabis?
Corby Iannuzzelli: Throughout my career, I’ve been a banker, I’ve been a payment processing executive and I’ve been a consultant. So, I’ve kind of done it all in the payments and financial services space.
Aaron Green: Why is it that most dispensaries only take cash?
Corby Iannuzzelli: In the US, even though cannabis is legal in many states, it’s still illegal federally. There are big banks and card networks like Visa, MasterCard, etc., who are national, even global companies and frankly, the executives of those companies don’t want to end up in jail for violating national laws. So, they have put cannabis dispensaries on what’s called a “prohibited merchants” list. This means you cannot accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, or similar payments as a cannabis business and so it’s forcing the industry to a cash-based solution.
About the only thing you’re seeing that’s not cash in dispensaries are ATMs. But if you think about it, ATMs are machines where the consumer goes and pulls cash out and pays upwards of $5 or more in fees for doing that. They then hand that cash back to the dispensary who then has the costs of having to deal with that cash. The industry is just stuck in a cash-based business until federal legislation changes.
Aaron Green: I’ve been to some dispensaries where they accept credit cards or debit cards. What is going on there?
Corby Iannuzzelli: I’ve heard reports of consumers who’ve been able to use a credit card or a debit card in a dispensary. Sometimes the processor who sold that solution to the dispensary says, “Oh, it’s compliant, I guarantee you it’s compliant.” But if you dig in, that’s not the case. And eventually, Visa or MasterCard figures it out and shuts it down. In some cases, it’s outright fraud where the processor who sold the payment terminal to the dispensary is misrepresenting it as say a doctor’s office rather than a dispensary. There’s no merchant category code in the payment networks that says this is for processing dispensary payments, so they pretend it’s something else until they get shut down.
When they do get shut down, I’ve heard of cases in Las Vegas where it was basically 100% Visa or MasterCard one day and 100% cash the next day. It completely disrupted the whole business. It’s not just the retail store, but the inventories and everything else throughout the business.
There have also been some cases where you’ll see something called a cashless ATM. In a store, they call it a debit card transaction. It’s really a cashless ATM where the consumer is making what looks to the ATM network like a cash withdrawal in $10 or $20 increments, but the consumer is getting a receipt instead of cash, and they’re turning around and handing that receipt back to the dispensary who then makes a change because the cashless ATM only dispensed in $10 or $20 increments.
Now ATM networks are looking at these cashless ATM transactions to see if they are compliant. Do consumers know the fees that they’re paying? Are these transactions coming in and looking to the network like real cash when it’s not? Cashless ATM transactions are probably the most common thing you see, but that’s being called into question after the Eaze incident where a large company was misrepresenting its terminals. The federal government stepped in and called it bank fraud and the individuals behind it, the executives, are in jail. Since then, the networks are looking at this and saying, what about these cashless ATMs? Are those transactions within our rules, or is there something funny going on here?
Aaron Green: So, to summarize here: you’ve got federal regulations at the national level that says that cannabis banking is not allowed so major institutions are not offering it. Yet you found a way through the regulations and compliance issues. I’m curious can you pull back the curtains a little bit and tell us how you came up with a solutionhere?
Corby Iannuzzelli: Well, we came up with the solution by stubbornly refusing to believe that cannabis payment processing could not be done in a compliant manner. We just said, “there is a compliant way to do this, let’s figure it out.” We took the same components that are out there for the financial services and payments industry and reassembled them in such a way that we do not violate any rules. We do not use any of the Visa, MasterCard, Discover or Amex rails, we built our own network. We have direct contracts with the merchants and direct contracts with the consumers. We control everything and all the funds flow through regulated financial institutions. So, we designed something that looks and acts to consumers and retailers the way Visa and MasterCard look and act when a consumer goes to make a purchase, but they run on a separate set of payment rails and in compliance with banking regulations and state regulations. When you’re looking at the problem from a different perspective, sometimes you can come up with a better answer.
Green: On the consumer side, what does that user experience look like?
Corby Iannuzzelli: Our product is completely digital. The consumer experience starts with integration at the online checkout. When it’s an e-commerce shopping cart and somebody is placing an order, they will see a button called “Pay with KindTap.” The first time they click that button they’re automatically brought to our integrated web app where they do a quick and easy application for our digital revolving line of credit product. If approved, they instantly go back to the checkout screen and their first purchase will just happen immediately, with flexible payment options over time. If the consumer decides they don’t want our KindTap credit and would rather have a pay now-product where we pull the funds from their bank account, then the consumer can do so. So, there is no physical card per se, it’s integrated like PayPal or Affirm at the point of checkout online. For the consumers who use KindTap credit, there is a mobile app where they can see their transactions, view statements, pay their bills, etc.
Additionally, there is a loyalty program for all purchases – KindTap credit or through the consumer’s bank, because we feel very strongly that a lot of the reasons consumers choose to pay with one card over another is the points and the rewards that they get. So, we’re providing loyalty rewards with KindTap so that consumers can get rewarded for that spending with KindTap and it’s better for the retailers.
Green: On the retailer side, what does that experience look like and what is your business model?
Corby Iannuzzelli: We are not going store by store doing integrations, rather, we’re integrating with various software, delivery and e-commerce providers. That gives us broad reach and ability to expand rapidly in various state markets where cannabis is legal. Once a merchant says “yes, I want to be a member of the KindTap Merchant Network,” then we work to get them set up on our platform in a matter of days. The merchants receive continuous support from our success team, marketing co-investment and a depth of analytics reporting. We made the entire process and ongoing operations streamlined and frictionless for both merchants and consumers.
Aaron Green: What are the benefits of moving from cash to credit type of payments?
Corby Iannuzzelli: On the retail side, there are the obvious benefits of not having all the security, safety and theft issues associated with operating a physical cash business. Consumers very often don’t carry cash anymore, except when they’re making a cannabis purchase. There are a lot of hidden costs to retailers because payments are not just about moving money from the consumer to the business.
“I really am optimistic that with so many scientific breakthroughs we’ve had that we’re going to be able to figure this out.”Payment options – or lack thereof – can shape where people shop, how much they spend and what they buy. It’s a proven science how consumers make impulse purchases. If you’re a cash-based business in cannabis, and you’re trying to get somebody to make an impulse purchase, and they walked in with $100, then you can’t get them to spend more than $100, no matter how creative your marketing is! The consumer is limited by how much cash they have in their bank account or in their pocket at that point in time. So, it’s really about the upsell that comes with the bigger basket sizes that retailers experience when you move from a cash-based business to credit and suddenly, the merchant doesn’t have to deal with long lines of consumers on payday when the store was beyond slow two days before. Now the consumer can spread purchases with the thinking, “I’d rather not be the one standing in that line on payday. I’m going to go Wednesday [instead of Friday] because I have KindTap credit so I can budget and manage my cash flow throughout the month rather than around my paydays.”
So, we think that the lack of an efficient and effective payment system for cannabis is holding back sales. We all focus on how much the industry is growing. KindTap thinks about how much faster it could be growing if it was supported by a decent payment system.
Aaron Green: What are some other cash-only markets you are looking at?
Corby Iannuzzelli: We are laser-focused on the cannabis ecosystem and bringing a compliant credit and loyalty-based digital payments solution to cannabis merchants and customers and rewarding those stakeholders for accepting/using KindTap. Additionally, we are planning to extend the KindTap Merchant Network so that consumers can use/earn our loyalty points with other goods and services they’re purchasing that are adjacent to cannabis or that are important to the cannabis consumer. That’s the direction we’re going.
Aaron Green: Today people can receive gas points for spending with their credit card. Now with KindTap, you can spend to get cannabis points?
Corby Iannuzzelli: That’s exactly right.
Aaron Green: What in either cannabis or your personal life are you most interested in learning about?
Corby Iannuzzelli: Personally, I am most interested in seeing breakthrough technologies in climate change. We’re going to need to correct this situation and I’m reading about collecting carbon dioxide from the air and burying it in the earth and things like that. I really am optimistic that with so many scientific breakthroughs we’ve had that we’re going to be able to figure this out. Certainly, it’s going to take a lot of smart people and a lot of investment, but I really look forward to watching them do their stuff and hopefully taking us out of this nightmare situation that we’re heading into if we don’t make some changes.
Aaron Green: Thanks Cathy, that concludes the interview.
As retailers accept the end of in-store shopping as we know it and start adjusting to e-commerce, an improved and more involved customer experience will be imperative for an e-retailer to grow, let alone stay afloat.
Jane recently announced a strategic partnership that combines Jane’s best-in-class product catalog and business tools with Leafly’s consumer marketplace and reach. Together, the companies will build solutions that empower cannabis retailers with fast and simple online shopping experiences that increase consumer purchase behavior. The partnership will seek to help instill consumer trust in the online shopping experience, build stronger customer acquisition tools for retailers, and help dispensaries grow their ecommerce capabilities with consistency and automation.
This strategic partnership comes after a massive year of growth for both Jane and Leafly. In the past year, Jane powered over 17 million orders and $2 billion in cannabis sales, while Leafly has seen more than 4,500 cannabis retailers in North America leverage their platform to bring new customers through the door.
We spoke with Socrates Rosenfeld, CEO of Jane to learn more about e-commerce and online marketplaces and how Jane and Leafly came together as partners, rather than competitors. Prior to Jane, Socrates was an Apache helicopter pilot for the US Army later transitioning to consulting with McKinsey.
Aaron Green: Socrates, thanks for taking the time today. What trends are you seeing and following in the industry?
Socrates Rosenfeld: Always happy to chat about the industry. Thanks for having me.
If you were to ask me that question a year ago, I’d say having a digital footprint was something that would give a dispensary or a brand a nice advantage. Today, it’s a must-have for survival. Where it used to be one or the other; online or offline, now we are able to merge the two by replicating a physical store into a digitized form to extend its reach far beyond its walls.
As things become more digitized, information becomes more necessary to run operations. With that we are able to meet the expectations of the consumers who are accustomed to convenience and curation. The omnichannel experience provides the best of both worlds. Access and ease of search with the ability to pick up or have the product delivered the same day from a locally owned and run business.
Reviews are one of the most important aspects of this unification of online and offline. It is something that is lost in solely offline purchases, that we’re now able to collect and organize. This product information allows us to provide customers the purchasing power to make a well-informed decision.
At Jane, we believe it is possible to create wins for the dispensaries, brands and customers – and digitization creates the opportunity for that to happen. I think there’s no better incubator in the world than the cannabis industry to prove that online and offline retail can work in harmony.
Aaron: Jane is the largest e-commerce platform in North American cannabis and Leafly is the largest marketplace in North American cannabis. What’s the difference between an e-commerce platform and a marketplace?
Socrates: Great question. There is definitely some overlap between the two, which is why it makes so much sense for us to collaborate. Ultimately though, our focus and expertise are different. Jane’s ecommerce platform serves as the industry’s digital infrastructure that pushes digital products across various order origination points like a dispensary’s own website, a brand’s own website and now, Leafly’s marketplace. Paired with Leafly’s industry-leading content and market information, together we can complete the entire online cannabis shopping experience – from product discovery through order fulfillment.
Aaron: At first glance, one might think that Jane and Leafly are competitors. How did you see it differently? And how did this partnership come about?
Socrates: Not only is our tech complementary, but we are aligned on mission – to empower consumers, dispensaries and brands with the integrity of the plant in mind.
We want to make it simple for consumers to reach the products that will be most helpful for them. We want to make it possible for dispensaries and brands, regardless of their size, to be able to compete on an even playing field.
It all comes back to being good stewards of the industry. Education and access create a healthy demand for a diverse range of products. That means that the plant stays in the hands of many – safeguarding it from homogenization.
Aaron: How do consumers benefit from the partnership?
Socrates: It really is all about bringing this industry in line with any other retail vertical and meeting the customer where they are. It unlocks more avenues for customers to discover products and access a vast catalog of information and verified customer reviews. Bottom line, this partnership makes shopping for cannabis as simple as shopping online for everything else in the world, while also ensuring the success of the sellers.
Aaron: When you say the sellers, are you talking about the dispensary or the brands?
Socrates: Both, we want to provide value for the entire ecosystem. We can do that directly for dispensaries and brands by enabling an automated ecommerce platform that they can use to power their own website. At Jane, we know that technology can unlock value for everyone, where it is not a zero-sum game and success for one means success for the other. With Jane, both the dispensaries and the brands win.
Aaron: What kind of regulatory challenges do you face through the partnership?
Socrates: There are no real regulatory challenges for the partnership itself. The entire industry operates under regulatory challenges, but it is those regulations that have been the catalyst for innovation. I see the opportunity for legal online payments and national product distribution to play a large role in shaping the industry soon, and a partnership like this will ensure a seamless transition for the industry as things continue to evolve.
Aaron: Final question. What are you personally interested in learning more about?
Socrates: I’ve always been curious about disruptive models. The companies, not just in tech, but any company that has set out to do things differently and has been able to hold true to a vision. That’s what interests me, and I think I will always have something to learn and draw inspiration from.
Aaron: Excellent, that’s the end of the interview, Socrates!
The COVID-19 crisis is plunging the global economy into recession, changing consumer behavior and the world of business. Cannabis businesses are no stranger to operating in a challenging landscape. The constantly evolving legal status, regulatory hurdles and social stigma has forced founders in this space to be nimble and more financially wise with their capital.
While the market has experienced a seismic shift that has already attracted investors to inject capital into the cannabis industry and seen neighboring industries, including tobacco, alcohol and pharma, come into the fray, COVID-19 will change key industry structures and operations. To succeed and cultivate value, cannabis companies must adapt to the new realities of the marketplace to be well positioned for continued growth after the pandemic subsides.
With social distancing guidelines suddenly forcing brick-and-mortar retailers to move their businesses and customer experiences online and disruptions to the supply chain due to international travel and business directions, some businesses will struggle to stay afloat.
As consumer behaviour and online shopping patterns adjust to a new way of living (affecting B2B sales, online ordering, deliveries and manufacturing), leadership and strategic thinking will be paramount.
By understanding where the challenges and opportunities lie, cannabis businesses can thrive. Here are some focus areas and tactics to consider:
Targeted consumer segmentation through social media
When starting a cannabis business, it is key to understand who your core consumers are and what they want from their products. This has become even more acute because of the pandemic with consumers flocking to all sorts of health-focused products including CBD.
With everybody spending more time online, social media use is on the rise. Executing a social media plan to include influencer outreach can increase brand visibility, build a solid consumer base and create brand advocates.
Instagram is essential to a cannabis business building an online presence but it’s important that it doesn’t become a “hard sell, please buy me” channel. Plan and make Insta-worthy content that educates and entertains followers to increase engagement, click-through rates and leads. Brands may want to pair with an influencer on either a gifting or paid-for basis which will mean the brand appears in a potential customer’s feed as they interact with their favourite accounts.
The art is finding key influencers whose audience is one that you would like to interact with. This type of positioning will allow cannabis businesses to reach a new audience or group of people.
Marketing and PR
In times like these, many companies choose to pull back on communication activities and expenditures for fear of spending too much for what they perceive as little return, however, marketing and PR, when executed well, can be the lifeline of any business.
With so much noise in the market about the “next best thing in cannabis”, effective marketing and PR can distinguish brands that are credible and offer a strong value proposition to those that are all smoke and mirrors.
The current needs of businesses and consumers are much different than they were just a few short months ago, so it’s important to understand these needs and spending habits while combatting negative perceptions of cannabis.
As cannabis companies are not able to advertise like mainstream companies, a strong public relations and marketing strategy will enable firms to communicate their identity, build trust, shift perceptions through media coverage, enhance reputations and reach customers, partners and investors.
Businesses in every sector are cutting costs to keep their businesses afloat. This needs to be done strategically and requires senior leadership teams to explore cost reduction strategies and streamline non-essential costs.
This may mean further consolidation of cannabis companies and supply chains to manage cash flow and maximise resources. Companies may even look to create strategic partnerships with complementary businesses in the industry or push some firms towards mergers and acquisitions.
Business models will evolve as cannabis companies identify inefficiencies and reconfigure their operations and messaging. This could range from assessing their R&D capabilities, agricultural assets, manufacturing chains or route to market.
The postponement of countless CBD Expos, trade shows and cannabis conferences are creating new demand and opportunities for businesses. To reach prospective wholesale clients, investors and connect to their customer base, firms are entering the digital marketplace. Digital events, Zoom investor pitch panels and email marketing and sampling is on the rise and expected to grow over the coming months.
CBD brands should work in parallel with their retail partners to influence product samples in digital offers and create a touchless transaction. Buying products online is going to become a permanently entrenched habit, even when restrictions are fully lifted so it’s worth looking at how technology can support and enhance sales while offering a smooth customer experience.
Everyone in the cannabis industry will be affected by COVID-19 so maintaining positive relationships is vital in these tough times. Calling investors or partners to tell them what is going on with your business or checking in on others in your ecosystem means information can be shared to iron out any issues and help generate ideas to future proof the business. “A problem shared is a problem halved!”
COVID-19 is creating incredible business challenges. As we navigate the new normal, it’s important to adapt and grow. As more products come to market and brands/services develop distinguished offerings, expectations will change so cannabis businesses need to be ready for greener pastures.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
We use tracking pixels that set your arrival time at our website, this is used as part of our anti-spam and security measures. Disabling this tracking pixel would disable some of our security measures, and is therefore considered necessary for the safe operation of the website. This tracking pixel is cleared from your system when you delete files in your history.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.