In the spring of 2020, two consumer insights companies, SoapBoxSample and KNow Research, joined forces to explore consumer behaviors, needs, and preferences around the gifting and sharing of cannabis products for special occasions, including holidays. They gained rich insights into the category—ones that can provide gifting options at a wide array of holidays and for a variety of recipients. Here they share what they learned about what brands and retailers can do to make their products relevant, appealing, gift-able, and share-able.
With the cannabis market attracting new customers every day, social norms and customs around cannabis usage, sharing, and gifting are developing simultaneously. In an effort to learn more about consumers’ perceptions of cannabis as a gift and what brands need to keep in mind when meeting customers’ needs, we collected survey data from thousands of cannabis consumers across the United States. Then, we conducted in-depth interviews with cannabis gift-givers and gift receivers, uncovering trends that will have a significant impact on the 2020 holiday season and beyond.
This research initiative was born out of data gathered in February 2020, just before Valentine’s Day. SoapBoxSample’s bimonthly CANNApinion Poll of 1,000 cannabis consumers revealed a surprising number (42 percent) planned to gift cannabis products as part of their Valentine’s Day celebration. Survey participants shared they were using cannabis both as a traditional gift (wrapped in a box with a bow) and to enhance a shared experience. Many indicated they expected cannabis would aid them in feeling more relaxed and connected to their partner. “I’d like to give it as a Valentine’s gift so my spouse will feel relaxed after a stressful week, and we both can get naughty afterwards,” one participant said.
We were curious about the development of this new tradition. Could cannabis begin to replace wine or champagne as a romantic date-night staple? Would cannabis-infused chocolates become the go-to Valentine’s Day gift? What trends could we expect to see with cannabis gifting in general?
To learn more about the desires and behaviors around cannabis gift-giving, we conducted in-depth interviews with participants who were open to talking about their cannabis gifting. Some interviews were with the participant and their significant other, which gave a more candid view of how their cannabis gifts were given and/or received. We were delighted with how forthcoming participants were. They eagerly shared their purchasing habits and what they’d like to see more of when shopping for the perfect gift. There’s much for brands to deliver on.
The top reason cited for incorporating cannabis into the holiday celebration was “to relax.” Of the 998 consumers surveyed, 72 percent said they planned to consume cannabis as part of their Valentine’s Day celebration; among that group, 46 percent said they would do so to relax. Fifteen percent said they would consume to “feel more connected to their partner,” and 20 percent said their cannabis gift would “enhance a sexual experience.”
Defining a gift
Throughout the course of the study, we heard many definitions of “gifting” and what constitutes a “gift.” We came across three main cannabis gifting attitudes:
- Traditional gifter. Some define a gift as something presented, typically in a package with a bow. “I got some chocolate-covered cannabis strawberries for Valentine’s Day from my husband,” one participant said. “There weren’t many. I kind of wanted to save them for myself, so he didn’t get any.”
- Shared-experience gifter. Purchasing something to enjoy together was not necessarily a gift, even if the item was purchased with the holiday in mind. Rather, cannabis often can be a component of a shared experience that makes the holiday special. When asked why they wouldn’t consider cannabis a Valentine’s “gift,” one of these gifters clarified: “It’s more routine than a gift, because my husband and I smoke on a regular basis.” For these gifters, experiencing the cannabis gift together is part of the gift-giving experience.
- Altruistic gifter. Some give without an expectation of sharing. Some used cannabis as a “hostess gift,” so the host or hostess could decide whether he or she wanted to share with guests or save the gift for later. Other altruistic gifters gifted with only the recipient’s pleasure in mind. “My friends and I took a road trip and the driver brought some candies for everyone to have, so she kind of gifted us a little bag of hard candies for each of us, for fun,” one participant revealed.
Study participants harbored strong feelings about which occasions were appropriate for gifting cannabis and which were not. Based on data from SoapBoxSample’s CANNApinion poll (February 2019), birthdays are the most popular occasion for gifting cannabis. Sixty-four percent of this group said they had given a cannabis product to someone as a birthday present. April 20 (4/20) is the second-most-popular cannabis gifting occasion: 48 percent of cannabis consumers polled said they have given a cannabis gift for this holiday. Winter holidays are the third-most-popular gifting occasion (36 percent).
Finding the fit
Consumers agree: Successful cannabis gifting requires a certain degree of intimacy between the gifter and the recipient. That’s partly what makes cannabis a special gift—it’s the perfect fit for the recipient. Unlike other holiday go-tos (e.g., wine, champagne, or chocolates), there is no “one size fits all” cannabis gift. The gifter needs to be acquainted with the preferences of the recipient, or at least know they’re open to receiving cannabis, before attempting to pick out something. Then they need brands and retailers to show them what their gift options are through that lens.
“Unless you know someone likes marijuana, you’re not going to give them anything just because you don’t want to risk it,” one participant explained.
Sometimes the perfect gift may be discovered before the gift-giving occasion is identified. For these situations, there can be a moment of “synchronicity,” where the gift giver discovers “the perfect thing,” and then fits that gift into the nearest appropriate holiday. “He really likes those gummy rings,” a participant told us. “They’re half white and orange, peach-flavored, and that’s his favorite ‘normal’ candy. I found that exact thing in the cannabis variety in a legal dispensary. So that was like, ‘Wow, this is one of those synchronicity-type of things!’ I’ve got to get this.”
Another told us cannabis “hasn’t gotten so mainstream yet—like, it isn’t at the point where you go [to a dispensary] and it’s in a heart-shaped box—but if it was, I would probably try it.”
Getting in the gift bag
As we head into the 2020 holiday season, we have six recommendations for brands looking to get in their consumers’ consideration for gifting.
- Provide guidance. Help consumers select the perfect gift for specific people in their lives. Picking out gifts can be challenging, particularly during the holidays when there are multiple people to buy for. The best marketing messages are those that provide helpful information and make our lives easier. Online retailers have been doing this for years, making suggestions to shoppers about specific products for specific people at specific times. Cannabis retailers could benefit from the same strategy.
- Establish trust. There are multiple ways for brands to establish trust with consumers, including budtender education and word of mouth. However, more cannabis consumers trust their own pre-shopping online research—and customer reviews—than budtender recommendations, according to survey data from November 2018. That survey revealed 35 percent of cannabis consumers trust pre-shopping online research when it comes to shopping for cannabis products, compared to 24 percent who say they trust budtender recommendations. Interview participants from our 2020 study echoed the sentiment, saying they want to know what “real customers” are saying. “It’s hard to know who to trust,” one told us. “I’m the type of person who does a lot of research, and I like to know what I’m buying. So, if I saw a great marketing display in-store, I would still look up [the product] and see what real customers are saying.”
- Leverage packaging. When it comes to gifting, packaging plays a critical role. Particularly in the post-COVID era, when gifting may be less likely to happen in-person, wrapping and packaging can enhance the gift-giving occasion. Study participants frequently mentioned gift baskets and gift sets. “I mean, I would definitely come up with a basket,” one said. “If I walked in and there was colored cellophane on the basket with, like, orange soda and a grape soda, and it’s got a couple of chocolates and a couple of gummies, a little mix and match, and maybe a thing of chips. I mean, like, that’s totally gimmicky, but I know I would buy that.”
- Offer customization. Give consumers the option of “customizing” their own basket or gift set. The freedom to choose which items best reflect the personality or tastes of the recipient makes the gift even more personal.
- Optimize promotions. Consider “bundling” products at a discount by offering multiple discounts for two or more products purchased or creating gift sets. And don’t forget about free holiday shipping! That’s a gift that keeps on giving to your consumers. “On Black Friday, the dispensary did 50 percent off flower,” a participant revealed. “And then they had 40 percent off live resins and wax and butters. The more deals they have, the more people are going to be there. They sell out a lot!”
- Elevate assortment. Products marketed as gifts should be an elevated version of the “everyday” product. Consumers understand that presenting a “value brand” can take away from the gifting experience, and special occasions call for something extra. “For my birthday, I like to get a ‘caviar joint,’” one participant said. “It’s a top-shelf flower. Those are the special-occasion ones.”
The best gifting experiences enhance personal relationships, and there are countless ways cannabis gifts can accomplish this. Gifts demonstrate to the recipient they are cared for, showcase the intimacy between the gifter and the giftee, enhance the holiday mood by helping people relax, and provide the impetus for a shared experience that goes beyond the ordinary and everyday. For example, one participant said, “My mom bought me some cannabis lotion for my birthday. She’d sit and rub my hands. It was really nice.”
This holiday season, help customers discover “the perfect thing” for everyone on their cannabis gift list. Provide products that are relevant, appealing, packaged, and promoted to help people create and build emotional connections at the holidays.
Adriana Hemans is an insights-driven marketing executive specializing in connecting brands with niche audiences. She currently serves as director of demand and special projects for SoapBoxSample, a Los Angeles-based consumer insights firm. She was the driving force behind launching and expanding the firm’s cannabis research division. She has spoken at multiple industry events, including the NCIA’s Northeast Cannabis Business Conference and SampleCon.
Katrina Noelle is principal at KNow Research, an insights consultancy based in San Francisco that, for more than seventeen years, has designed custom research for clients by combining methodologies from traditional in-person research with online and mobile approaches. She also is co-founder of Scoot Insights, which uses its trademarked Scoot Sprint approach to help decision makers choose the right direction.
Leann Donovan is a research strategist at KNow Research, where she employs more than fifteen years of market research experience in project and recruiting management. She is certified by the Burke Institute and specializes in healthcare and entertainment, with an emphasis on moderating children’s groups and conducting interviews with kids of all ages ranging from 5 to 75.