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At your virtual service: Cannabis facility offers shopping via video chat

Columbia Care's San Diego dispensary at 4645 De Soto St. in Pacific Beach offers a virtual shopping experience for cannabis products.
(Courtesy)

A cannabis provider in Pacific Beach makes it possible for its shoppers to dispense with a trip to the dispensary while still “visiting” the store.

The San Diego location of Columbia Care at 4645 De Soto St. recently became the first of the company’s 35 active dispensaries to roll out a new digital platform to provide a virtual shopping experience.

Columbia Care, one of the largest cultivators, manufacturers and providers of medical and adult-use cannabis products, launched Virtual.Care on April 20, an international day of celebration of cannabis culture.

“We wanted to do something significantly more secure and more robust than just giving out Skype handles, FaceTime numbers, things like that,” said Jesse Channon, chief growth officer for Columbia Care, which has locations in 11 states and Washington, D.C.

How it works

The platform is designed to be as simple to use as possible. A customer doesn’t need to download an app or sign in with a password, Channon said. Customers can go to col-care.com/virtualcare using any smart phone, computer, tablet, etc.

They then select the Pacific Beach dispensary — after confirming that they are 21 or older — and under “Book now,” choose a service option. Then they can pick a date and time slot and confirm the booking.

Customers will receive a link via email to use during the appointed time. After clicking the link, a video chat will open and the virtual service begins.

With the “personal shopping” option, a Columbia Care representative will answer questions and walk the customer through the store via video, picking the customer’s desired products off the shelf and otherwise providing an interaction “just like you would experience if you were there in person,” Channon said.

Once the customer has finished shopping, the representative bags the items and the customer can pick them up curbside at the Pacific Beach location.

According to Channon, Columbia Care is the first and only cannabis company to offer this type of virtual experience.

Other services offered through Virtual.Care include product Q&As and meeting with a licensed physician to register in a local medical marijuana program.

Where the Virtual.Care idea began

Chris Ras, Columbia Care’s market director for California and Arizona, explained how and why he came up with the idea for Virtual.Care, which the company tested and launched within 2½ weeks of the idea’s conception.

With dispensaries unable to let customers inside amid the coronavirus pandemic, “we noticed that … a few of the things that we were doing for our community and for our customers were lost in a situation where we transitioned to express order and curbside order ... due to customer safety,” Ras said.

Noting the Pacific Beach dispensary’s experienced staff and nearly 1,400 products to choose from, simply letting customers shop the online store wasn’t enough.

“The kind of magic that facility has to offer wasn’t translating in an online, pick-up-only scenario,” Ras said. “We had to bridge that gap.”

In launching the virtual service, Columbia Care released “Amber,” a live resin extract with 100 percent cannabis-derived terpenes delivered in a ceramic device. Besides that, however, Channon said the company didn’t want to focus too much on promotional opportunities given the coronavirus crisis.

“We chose to take a slightly more respectful tone ... and instead focus on the community aspect of keeping people safe at home — staying home to stay safe,” he said.

The future of Virtual.Care

Ras said the effort to re-engage with customers has been highly successful. So successful, in fact, that Columbia Care has decided to continue the virtual service even after California’s stay-at-home order is lifted.

“Why would somebody engage in a virtual appointment? Frankly, time,” Ras said. “People have busy lives, and after this crisis, I would suspect that the world’s going to return to sort of the tyranny of the urgent and people are going to be busy.”

In Ras’ view, being involved in the cannabis community is a social experience. Experts as well as those new to the industry want advice and to “discuss their experiences,” he added.

Furthermore, he said, the digital form of face-to-face interaction has created an expanded cannabis network that enables someone with a medical issue in one state to reach out to people who may have experience with it in another state.

“We now have the ability to put people in touch with solutions,” Ras said. “That, to me, was really exciting.”

For more information on Columbia Care’s Pacific Beach dispensary, visit col-care.com/location/san-diego.


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