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HIGHLIGHTS
  1. Legal cannabis review platforms seen helping customers, brands
  2. Lift & Co.’s Cannabis Concierge expected in stores soon
  3. Several pot retailers wary of breaching strict regulations

Some cannabis retailers are looking to place online customer reviews inside their stores, skirting Canada’s strict marketing rules that prevent salespeople from sharing information such as the effect certain products may have on users. These restrictions create decision-making challenges for shoppers.

Publically traded Lift & Co., which provides retail cannabis training, has approached stores about placing its online customer review platform – Cannabis Concierge – on tablets in Alberta outlets for customers to access as they ponder over what to buy.

“It kind of gets around the federal legislation of what they can and cannot say while still giving consumers information so they can make an informed purchased,” said Michael Rodenburgh, Ipsos executive vice president for Western Canada.

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“I think it will be a benefit for the brands because it all goes back to the ability to make an informed choice. Without an informed choice, people may not have a good experience and that’s not great for the category. I think it’s going to be an influential tool.”

Mr. Rodenburgh said he expects a lot of retailers will use customer review platforms in stores.

The Cannabis Act forbids traditional marketing techniques in order to keep legal pot away from children and salespeople cannot tell customers the effects that specific strains and oils could have on them as people react differently. This has made it difficult for companies to establish brand recognition as they struggle to differentiate their products.

Some retail stores, however, have now been presented with an alternative.

Lift & Co.’s platform, which is available free online, asks viewers for their desired effect, experience level and age before presenting specific product reviews that include “symptoms helped,” side effects, and other details.

“We can expect to see it in stores as soon as the Alberta (retail licence) freeze opens up. I imagine we’ll also see some in stores in Ontario in April,” said Matei Olaru, chief executive of Lift & Co., adding he could not say how many stores have agreed to use Cannabis Concierge.

“We’re empowering them to work better within the regulations.”

Calgary-based Cannabis Cowboys, which has not yet opened a store, will use the Concierge, Mr. Olaru said.

SpiritLeaf, which has four recreational cannabis stores open in Alberta and Saskatchewan with other venues awaiting licences, is testing out the platform with plans to use it in some of their stores, said Nathan Noble, national training coordinator for SpiritLeaf.

“We look at Lift and Co’s Concierge as an opportunity to help consumers navigate what we have available in the stores and a description of the products we have in the store. We’re not looking for a way to push a message that we’re not allowed to,” Mr. Noble said, adding that the company will seek approval from Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) before installing it in stores.

The AGLC, however, could not provide a concrete answer when asked by Cannabis Professional.

“It is something that if brought to our attention would be investigated to ensure that they are not in breach of the Act,” AGLC spokesperson Kaleigh Miller said, when asked in general about the use of customer review platforms in stores.

“I was told by our inspections team that they would seek guidance from Health Canada on that because it’s a piece that falls under the Cannabis Act and is not specifically addressed under Alberta’s Acts and Regs pertaining to marketing and advertising.”

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Calgary-based High Tide Inc., which owns Canna Cabana retail stores, opted against placing a customer review platform inside its venues, wary it may go against regulations, said spokesman Jason Kostiw.

“The opinions are based on individual experience and can’t be verified,” Mr. Kostiw said.

“We’re happy to communicate facts and proven knowledge, but not opinions that haven’t been verified or curated for appropriate content.”

Cary Smith, senior vice president for marketing agency N6A, said that many cannabis companies are veering on the side of caution when it comes to marketing.

“It’s a little bit of the wild west when it comes to cannabis companies in general and everyone’s trying to figure out what the restrictions are. Those things aren’t perfectly clear now,” Mr. Smith said.

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