Running a successful dispensary in 2023 requires much more than just stocking quality products—it also means having the right Point of Sale (POS) system and support team in place. The good news is that there are many options to choose from, but how can you know which one will best suit your store's needs? Here we list out non-negotiable features you'll need, questions to ask as you're shopping for cannabis retail software, and other considerations when selecting a POS system for your business so you can make an informed decision with confidence.
While some new operators choose a POS system on price alone, you’ll soon discover you get what you pay for. The cheapest cannabis POS systems are known to create some of the costliest mistakes to fix down the road. For instance, if your sales data is not being accurately reported to Metrc, or your tax calculations are not accurate, you may end up with an expensive compliance mistake or tax liability which requires hiring specialized consultants or comes with large fees and audits to untangle, which ends up creating a big headache. It's important that you won't quickly outgrow your software system; the last thing you want is to discover a need to quickly overhaul your workflows shortly after training your entire staff. Instead, pick one that’s flexible enough to support your teams’ needs and consumer preferences now and well into the future. There is a large opportunity cost and hassle of ripping out one system to replace it with another.
As you evaluate pricing for cannabis retail software, be sure you're evaluating the entire tech stack; while the initial price for just the point of sale may appear inexpensive, it's important to understand what features it includes and what other monthly software subscriptions you will need to have a complete set of tools to compliantly and successfully run your new dispensary. For instance, if you are a storefront dispensary operator who also plans to run delivery, can the system execute both of those types of sales with compliant tracking and reporting and accurate inventory in both sales channels? Is there a built in loyalty and rewards program as well as the ability to send cannabis marketing? If not, you should be prepared to spend additional money for more monthly software subscriptions.
These are the key feature sets you want to look for in a cannabis dispensary POS system (we’ll dig into each below):
POINT OF SALE
Look for a cannabis retail software solution that includes omni-channel sales within a single platform for streamlined data management and accurate inventory. Does the point of sale process in-store sales in addition to accepting orders online for pick-up and delivery? Look for a solution that makes it easy to offer a personalized experience for each and every customer, no matter where they're shopping. What menus and marketplaces are integrated with the system (ie Weedmaps, Leafly, etc) and what kind of manual labor is required to keep them up to date? What kind of customer database is built into the system? What data points are collected at intake? When you first check in a new customer, is it possible to give them specific designations or group them into customer groups with specific discounts that can be used for marketing efforts in the future? What kind of retail models does it allow you to run? Ideally you should be able to choose from traditional counter service to floating sales staff to a pharmacy fulfillment store flow, with efficient workflows to move products quickly.
- Read more about How Compliance and Dispensary Inventory Management Dictates Your Cannabis Retail Store Flow
No longer limited to traditional brick and mortar purchases, cannabis consumers are increasingly turning to delivery services to get their products from the comfort of home. To take full advantage of the benefits this market and remain compliant with regulations, make sure your dispensary POS system is equipped with specialized features to execute deliveries with optimized routes.
Be sure to ask if the delivery system offers Hub & Spoke or Dynamic Cannabis Delivery, or ideally a mix of both options to best serve your customer's preferences. Dynamic delivery gives you the ability to receive and deliver orders while you’re already on the road, reducing costs while expediting delivery times. Even if you aren’t ready to launch the delivery arm of your cannabis retail business out of the gate, it can be a lucrative sales channel, and you will want to look for a POS system with built-in delivery functionality to ensure there’s room for your business to grow into delivery in the future without switching systems.
Compliance is a critical component of the burgeoning cannabis industry, and failing to meet requirements can lead to hefty fines, legal trouble, or even the complete closure of your dispensary. Not all compliance integrations are created equally; is important to understand if your POS system sends real-time sales data to Metrc or batch reports at the end of the day (the latter gives you time to fix inventory mistakes before reporting to the state). In California, the 2023 regulations specify that retailers may not have an inventory discrepancy of 5% or higher; this will now be measured by comparing your physical inventory to your inventory in Metrc. If Metrc is down (which unfortunately is still frequent) and the POS does not reconcile invenventory data when it comes back up, you will find inaccuracies between your Metrc and POS inventory that may put you above this 5% threshhold, leading to audits or fines. Compliance is perhaps the least sexy component of running a cannabis business, but it’s essential the system you choose has accurate built-in guardrails to keep you compliant with clean inventory in all of your sales channels. If you're an existing operator, use this Free Metrc Checklist to spot potential compliance issues.
Be sure to ask these compliance questions when you’re vetting a cannabis POS system:
- Does your POS system send real-time sales data to Metrc or batch report at the end of the day?
- What actions do I have to take within Metrc vs within the POS system to maintain compliance?
- Does your team offer daily Metrc monitoring to ensure my account stays accurate?
- Do you have a proprietary Metrc UID Labeling system?
- How do I conduct inventory cycle counts within your POS?
- Can you walk me through workflows on how your system handles returns in Metrc?
Managing the inventory of multiple brands, across numerous stores can quickly become a dizzying task. To keep on top of all that stock and product variety, dispensary owners should consider investing in POS systems with powerful inventory tracking capabilities. The system should help you easily qualify the inventory: Is it selling fast? Who is buying it, and when? Are there low stock notifications to help your buying team plan when to restock? Can you easily see the age of all of your inventory to know when to discount to move it quickly before it expires? With perishable products like cannabis, your cash flow is tied to your ability to move inventory. You also want to ensure the system gives you quantifiable data - can you easily see in a click where your inventory is located and how many total you have on hand on your retail store floor, vault, delivery inventory or back room and where to grab it from? Is there built in functionality around purchase orders, vendor management, how much you owe to each distributor, as well as COGS & margins on products? With this technology at your fingertips you'll have near constant visibility into what's available for sale meaning never falling short or missing out when it comes to reordering—making sure those products are always there to meet customer demand.
- Learn more about Dispensary Inventory Management Best Practices with the Guidebook for Smarter Inventory Management.
LOYALTY & REWARDS
The best way to turn a FTC (first time customer) into an LTC (long term customer) is to reward them for ordering with you and for spending more on orders. It’s essential to have systems in place to reward your dedicated customers. You’ll want to have a variety of built-in, customizable options to create incentives that will encourage recurring visits from your customers. Look for loyalty programs with flexible rewards that include Cash Back, Flat Discount, Percent Discount or Free Product to maximize revenue and deepen relationships for long-term success in business.
DATA & ANALYTICS
Accurate, real-time data is essential to success in running a dispensary. Being able to trust your historical sales and customer data cannot be overlooked in helping you optimize your business performance. Can you see at a glance which brands, products and categories are contributing to your revenue and margin? Detailed dashboards should help pinpoint areas with potential for optimization while exportable reports should ensure that you have a deep look into what is selling fastest, in which sales channels, and to who. Do you have access to the data you need to plan your inventory, manage staffing needs, simplify tax collection and remittance, and see what's happening in all facets of your cannabis retail operation?
Dispensaries can capitalize on the power of marketing features to drive customer loyalty and business growth. Through SMS texting, dispensaries can quickly alert customers about new relevant product drops or discounts that will keep them coming back for more. Running promotions such as holiday sales and events will also help their bottom line grow. Look for a POS system with built-in marketing opportunities to put your historical sales and customer data to work with minimum manual labor. The ability to send extremely targeted messages for the most efficient and highest ROI on cannabis marketing.
ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS TO EVALUATE
RELIABILITY & UPTIME
Will your system be able to handle increased sales on major holidays like 4/20? How frequently does their system crash? Ask for data points on uptime and reliability, and be sure to get references from existing dispensary operators using the systems you are vetting. Does the POS have a status page where you can transparently check uptime? How fast is their response time? Are you getting spinning wheels of death when trying to execute back of house workflows? Does front of house have to wait for a few seconds for pages to load? Each second of lag with a customer means decreased sales. In addition to looking for a status page, the best thing to do is ask for a list of dispensary clients running that system in your area where you can go and ask questions and see the system in use.
KNOWLEDGEABLE CUSTOMER SERVICE
When it comes to dispensary POS systems, reliable customer service should not be overlooked. Having a dedicated team ready and waiting can make the difference between day-to-day frustration or effortless operations, so don't forget to do your research and ask what kind of expertise the customer service team will offer. Check out reviews and testimonials ahead of time for invaluable insights into what you'll experience as an ongoing partner with any given company's support staff.
REGULATORY & FUNCTIONALITY UPDATES
With the ever-evolving cannabis market, staying one step ahead is a challenge for many POS systems. It's crucial to ensure that your technology team can quickly adapt with state regulations and customer needs-—be sure to ask about its advancements in technology. Finding a system which continuously innovates by adding new features and stays up to date with local regulations should be of utmost priority; time spent waiting on outdated software could mean lost profits and compliance exposure. How frequently does the team implement feature requests from dispensary operators? Investigate what recent improvements have been made on any potential systems before making a final decision; agile adaptation will be key in keeping your team and customers happy as the industry continues to evolve.
USER EXPERIENCE & EASE OF TRAINING
When it comes to onboarding into a new system, how many clicks does it take to execute simple functions? Is the user experience intuitive and easy to learn? Are there training courses and materials that will make it easy for you to onboard staff into new roles, from budtenders to inventory managers? These are all important questions to ask as you decide which cannabis POS system to use in your dispensary.
THE MEADOW DIFFERENCE
Some dispensary operators cobble together five or six different software services, but smarter storefront dispensaries and delivery teams choose Meadow’s all-in-one solution to manage their operations, grow their sales, and reduce their workload. With 99.99% uptime over the last 8 years, customer support tickets answered in 5 minutes or less by knowledgable cannabis experts, and a robust series of Meadow Mastery courses to get your whole team up to speed, there’s a reason why dispensary operators like you consistently give us 5 stars.
Running a storefront dispensary or delivery team can be difficult and time-consuming, but with Meadow's all-in-one solution you'll enjoy greater efficiency and higher sales. With just one program to manage your operations, reduce the amount of work needed-freeing up more hours for what matters most!
If you're looking for more information about why Meadow should be at top of mind, book a call now to get all your questions answered and see firsthand what sets us apart.