Not too shy to buy: P.E.I. Cannabis online sales tiny compared to in-store purchases
Online sales for 2019/2020 fiscal years represented only 1% of total revenue
Officials with P.E.I. Cannabis say online revenues are far lower than they were projected to be before legalization — and in the last fiscal year, they made up only 1% of the corporation's total sales.
Representatives from the P.E.I. Cannabis Management Corporation were invited to present at a provincial standing committee on Tuesday.
They said budgeting for a new industry was a challenge, so they expected their numbers and projections would change. They just didn't anticipate online sales would be as tiny as they turned out to be.
"We had budgeted our online sales to be a lot more than they were our first full year," said Quentin Bevan, chair of the corporation.
"I think they were, you know, in the one-per-cent range, which surprised us as well."
'Why should I be ashamed?'
The corporation's annual report shows online sales for the 2019/2020 fiscal year amounted to just $179,254.
Carl Adams, the chief financial officer with P.E.I. Cannabis, said the online sales platform was built around people being shy about buying cannabis products in person. As it turns out, that's not an issue.
"We built the platform expecting a lot of people who would not want to be seen publicly purchasing the product. And it seems that people's attitude is: 'Now that it's a legal product, why should I be ashamed to walk in and buy it?'" said Adams.
Adams said the online sales platform remains useful — for those who live in remote areas, or who have mobility challenges. But overall, there doesn't seem to be a reluctance to go into PEI Cannabis stores and purchase products in person.
'People come in suits and ties'
"People come in, in suits, in ties, right from work," said Adams.
"And there's no stigma associated with that, such as it was back in the early '60s and late '50s around alcohol. We don't seem to see that now."
Officials said it's not just a reduction in stigma around cannabis; customers have displayed a desire to connect with store staff to learn more about the products that are for sale.
Jamie MacLeod, acting chief executive officer of the P.E.I. Cannabis Management Corporation, said buyers who provided feedback cited enjoying those chats.
"I think we underestimated, as did many of the provinces across the country, the importance of that face-to-face conversation with a knowledgeable staff member — particularly people who had never used the product before and wanted to try recreational cannabis products for whatever reason," said MacLeod.
In the early days of online P.E.I. Cannabis sales, a "good day" would have been three or four sales total. Online sales have crept up since then — particularly last spring, when provincial stores were closed due to the initial COVID-19 lockdown.
That sales level has since slipped a bit, "but it's still maintaining way above where it was a year ago," said Adams.
During the shutdown last spring, the corporation waived shipping costs and instituted a phone-in option to help customers with the ordering process. Now shipping charges have resumed, but officials said only a portion of that cost is passed onto the consumer, in order to remain competitive compared to the illicit drug market.