“Budtender” entered the Canadian vocabulary at large in 2018, alongside many other cannabis industry buzzwords. Industry experts identified budtenders as a key part of the cannabis retail experience. Companies developed budtender certification processes. Conferences all over the country celebrated them. It seemed like a cannabis version of Cocktail was in the works.

However, shoppers usually buy consumer packaged goods with little to no help from experts. In beverage alcohol, bartenders are commonplace but only in on-premise environments. In liquor stores, product experts may consult on vintage wine or scotch. For most beer, coolers, and spirits, though, customers generally select their own products as easily as they do cereal at the grocery store. With this in mind, how important are budtenders in the cannabis retail environment?

How often do budtenders actually interact with shoppers?

Interacting with customers is one of the key responsibilities of budtenders. However, this kind of interaction requires customers to shop in-store. Cannabis shoppers report buying in legal retail stores more often than other sales channels. More than half of these shoppers also report buying in-person. The data below suggests that as many as 40% of Canadian cannabis shoppers have had the opportunity to interact with a budtender at some point. 

This graph shows the locations and channels for cannabis purchases from May 1, 2019 to April 30, 2020.
Source: Cannatrack data, n=8,486

As physical stores continue to open in key provinces like Ontario, we believe the rate of in-store purchases will go up. 90% of purchases are made in person in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon where the retail market is more mature. This suggests that the profile of budtenders will continue to go up over time. If Canadians start interacting with budtenders more often, then an investment in budtender advocacy and education could be money well spent. The question is – are budtenders effective at swaying purchase decisions?

How much do budtenders influence purchase decisions?

In addition to asking cannabis consumers about their purchase habits, Cannatrack asks how various purchase drivers affected their decisions when buying. Staff recommendations land in the bottom half, with about the same rate of influence as friend recommendations. Price, potency, and format are by far the most effective purchase drivers to date.

This graph shows the relative influence of various drivers on cannabis purchases from May 1, 2019 to April 30, 2020.
Source: Cannatrack data, n=8,486

Cannabis shoppers most often rated in-store purchase drivers lower than other product-related drivers. This may be because many cannabis shoppers have not had the opportunity to have many good experiences in retail stores. Slow roll outs, lack of stock, and varied interpretations of C-45 have contributed to an inconsistent retail experience so far. The COVID-19 pandemic has also driven shoppers online and it is unclear how and when stores will be able to reopen. This will severely limit budtenders’ effectiveness for the foreseeable future.

Is 2020 the Year of the Budtender?

Unfortunately, it’s looking like a no. Although more retail stores are opening every day, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the retail landscape and it’s unclear what will happen for the rest of the year. This will likely slow the migration toward legal cannabis sales in physical stores. Some retailers and LPs might use this as an opportunity to educate consumers through other means, like media and online experiences.

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