Will Dispensary Kiosks Replace Arizona Budtenders?

Will Dispensary Kiosks Replace Arizona Budtenders?
Frank Mayer and Associates

Moe Asnani had been looking for a solution to the long lines he’s seen lately at his Tucson dispensaries.

“And then we met these kiosk designer-manufacturers from Frank Mayer and Associates at MJBizCon,” says Asnani, referring to an annual cannabis industry conference held in Las Vegas. “We really liked their pitch about adding kiosks for better service. We figured, what the heck, let’s experiment with this.”

He's since installed 18 kiosks, 10 of them at Downtown Dispensary and the others at D2 Dispensary. They're wall-mounted and freestanding units that allow customers to browse real-time inventory, read product descriptions, and place orders.

The new system has brought product error risks down to zero for purchases made at a kiosk, he says, and is relatively easy to use. Customers submit an order at a kiosk that can also answer questions, recommend new cannabis varieties, or describe the latest daily specials. “Then you get a text when your product is ready,” Asnani says. “Someone calls your name and hands you an exit bag. Kind of like when you order a cup of coffee at Starbucks.”

He adds: “We’ve had some days where the kiosks are doing the work of three people, sales-wise. So far, both the customers and the staff love this setup.”

The new machines have sped up the ordering process at Asnani’s dispensaries, but installing kiosks was less about rushing cannabis customers to the door than about streamlining an existing system and providing more options for different types of clients.

“The kiosks are great for people who are anti-social,” he says. “Some customers don’t really want to interact with a budtender when they come in. Also, I’ve heard stories about veterans who are using cannabis for PTSD, but they still have that conservative military thinking and they’re uncomfortable buying and talking about a federally illegal substance.”

Asnani isn’t replacing employees with machines, he says. In fact, he’s had to hire more personnel after installing the kiosks. “Employees are still filling that kiosk order, they’re getting it ready, labeling it, doing a compliance check, all of that.”

Kiosks have improved staff productivity, Asnani believes. “Now that people are in and out in less time, my employees are able to keep up with other parts of their jobs, like managing inventory and overseeing intake. Customers using a kiosk aren’t taking our people away from other tasks because they need help or have questions.”

Not one of Asnani’s 212 employees has complained about being replaced by a device, he claims. His customers seem to like the kiosks, too, though they’ve yet to make much of an impression in Phoenix. Of the dispensaries contacted for this story, only the CuraLeaf chain appears to have installed kiosks.

“People are really liking them so far,” a CuraLeaf clerk named Molly reported about the kiosks at the chain’s 19th Avenue location. “We have someone who can help you learn to use the kiosk, and everyone’s been super positive.”

The kiosk setup doesn’t differ much from CuraLeaf’s online ordering system, Molly says. “But the mobile web version of our online system isn’t as good as it could be, so people like the kiosk if they don’t have a laptop or whatever to order from.”

“I hate standing in line myself, for anything,” says Asnani. “And I don’t think our customers should have to wait around, either. We can teach them the kiosk system and that’ll give them more time to actually relax and enjoy the product they’ve bought from us.”
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela