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3 (+1) Takeaways from Seeing the Ontario Cannabis Store Website

Written by: Jay Rosenthal, Co-Founder & President, Business of Cannabis

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be walked through the Ontario Cannabis Store’s soon-to-be-launched website. To look at the shopping experience as Ontarians will see it starting Wednesday morning.

Many in the Canadian cannabis industry would like to see all private retail on all platforms all at once. I completely understand this sentiment. Private sector has a way of moving quickly, adapting to new circumstances and catering to customers in real time. BUT, I encourage you to hold off judgement until you take a spin through the new site next week.

Here are my initial three (plus a bonus) takeaway:

1. It’s an Elegant Shopping Experience

The Ontario Cannabis Store website is a well thought out shopping experience - especially when you consider it will instantly be the largest government-run cannabis shop in the world and the wide swath of the population that will use it. The Ontario Cannabis Store and Shopify teams have clearly worked hand-in-hand over time to ensure the shopping experience is smooth and seamless. They have integrating the best components of Shopify while also ensuring an experience where shoppers who do not always shop online feel welcome, have access to information and can view an array of product categories and varieties.

2. Education-Forward

As is to be expected, the education components about cannabis are upfront, easily accessible and thorough. (But not mandatory to move through the site.) As we know from other places, consumers can have lots of questions - sometimes about what to buy and what the effect will be - but sometimes about the plant itself and the component parts. Educational information is easy to find, easy to search and I believe will be the standard to which future retailers - both on and off-line - will aspire. Of note, we did not flip through every FAQ or educational component in depth - but what we saw was a compelling, cannabis education experience. The OCS team has given access to much of the learning portal already at OCSlearn.ca.

3. Delicate Balance of Age-Gating

Age-gating websites kind of sucks. That’s the truth. It puts a hiccup to a web user’s flow the moment they land on a site - which must be number one of deadly UX sins. BUT, it is required and so the site has it. And you will go through that gate every...single...time...you...visit...the...site. There is no account to set up that will take you past the gate, there is no backdoor into the site. There is an age-gate up front on the site and then another when you want to make your purchase after you fill your “bag” - which is the new name for your cart, ironically. It is not a verified age-gate. You don’t need to scan your ID - rather, you will need to be the one that signs for the package at your door and you will need to show ID when it gets there. Perhaps there is a better to age-gate a site than what the OCS has done but consider that they don’t want to totally ruin the web experience or drive people away from the site before they get through the gate. It is a difficult balance and I think the site got it right.

+1 - It’s an Amazing Time to Be Alive

Sitting around the 18th floor conference room table watching the run-through of the site - it struck me what an amazing time to be living. A Provincial government is launching a sleek, consumer-centric website that will be selling legal, Canadian-grown cannabis and shipping it to my door (in one to three days). This is the bonus take-away: it is incredible to be able to witness what is about to take place on Wednesday.