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AGAR - Culture

Going Virtual: Cannabis Retail Design

Originally appeared in VMSD Magazine.

Insa, a Massachusetts medical and adult-use cannabis company, captivates customers with a virtual reality (VR) brand experience. Meanwhile, industry trends emphasize accessibility and appeal to new consumers.

Produced by agency AGAR (Cincinnati), Insa’s 4/20 VR Experience debuted in April 2023 at pop-up events at INSA stores across Massachusetts. Virtual reality (VR) goggles transport guests to a behind-the-scenes look at Insa. Participants customize their tour by choosing where to explore — from learning about the cultivation of cannabis to meeting the Insa team or watching the culinary creation of edibles.

“We talk a lot about the quality of our product, and there’s no better way to show it than an immersive, personalized VR tour of our brand,” says Sara Sullivan, VP of Retail Development, Experience, and Operations at Insa. Alongside the VR tour, guests ate at food trucks, took home custom apparel and participated in branded photo ops. Offering customers entertainment at stores and memorable pop-up events, such as Insa’s VR experience, is a rising trend with cannabis retailers.

“Consumers’ expectations of hyper-personalization is across every aspect of their daily routines, creating an ever-increasing demand for brands to center on each individual with a tailored and unique offer,” says Robyn Novak, Executive Director of Strategy and Development at AGAR.

Regarding recent design trends in the cannabis retail industry, operators and designers are focused on shoppers new to cannabis, according to Megan Stone, Founder and Creative Director of High Road Design Studio (Scottsdale, Ariz.), an interior design studio focused on cannabis design. As cannabis becomes more legally accessible and less stigmatized, store designs are continuing to modernize to appeal to a broader clientele.

“Designers are bringing a sense of normalcy and excitement to cannabis dispensaries through creative fixturing that showcases products in eye-catching yet complementary ways,” Stone says. “These fixture designs are elevating dispensaries from their standard aesthetics and bringing a new level of product accessibility to stores.”

Additionally, dispensaries are establishing relationships with new customers through strong and consistent brand identities. “This is accomplished at every customer touchpoint through logo variations, taglines, iconography, typography, brand imagery, packaging and apparel designs, and environmental graphics and signage,” Stone says.

Despite the changing industry, the basic principles of cannabis retail design, such as “interactive product displays, highly trained staff, express order pick-up infrastructure and super-efficient order fulfillment,” are proving most successful for retailers, according to Stone. With recent trends favoring unique experiences at stores and streamlined accessibility, designers and retailers in the cannabis space are innovating and modernizing for a rapidly expanding customer base.