Star reporter’s foray into the online world of cannabis sales

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The first and only time I’d ever placed an online order prior to Oct. 17 was with a sunglasses seller so shady that my credit card company phoned me within the minute to warn me off.

Still, somehow, a box of blatantly knocked off Ray-Bans — bundled up in bubble wrap, the faux gold plate already peeling — arrived in the mail one week later.

That was three days faster than it took to receive my one gram’s worth of AltaVie Harmonic — order #13,609 placed at 12:39 a.m. on legalization day — from the Ontario Cannabis Store.

Granted there were two days’ worth of rolling Canada Post walkouts in Toronto during the delivery period. And the intervening weekend did not count as work days.

So technically, the OCS only missed it’s three-to-five business days delivery pledge by one day when the pot arrived in the Star’s newsroom Friday morning.

That in itself was two days longer than the original one-to-three day depot-to-door goal the store had made before legalization.

But the monumental rush to purchase pot that followed the online site’s 12.01 a.m. opening — coupled with early days’ product shortages — pushed the delivery window wider.

More than 150,000 orders where placed online during the first week of operations, with some 12,000 being placed in the first hour.

I was ordered to make my order. As the Star’s appointed cannabis reporter, my editor assigned me to get on the ocs.ca site at midnight legalization day and buy — something.

And although I was one of about a dozen journalists given a preview of the site by the OCS and Shopify — the site’s builder — the previous week, my first live foray did not go smoothly.

For one thing, the site’s clever search function did not produce results for me. The tool allows buyers to scroll along a line that has the active cannabis components, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), at either end.

If shoppers are looking to have higher concentrations of THC, they can scroll across to increase levels of this intoxicating ingredient. If they’re looking for the purportedly medicinal CBD, they can move the opposite way along the line.

When the desired THC and CBD concentrations are reached, buyers can click and a selection of products meeting those levels should be displayed.

Only when I clicked — lower THC, high CBD to start — no products appeared. And several other attempts also produced zero offerings or products that were too expensive for the assignment.

As time moved on and assignment panic crept in, I clicked on the next, reasonably-priced thing to come up.

That turned out to be the Harmonic, a loose flower sold under the AltaVie label, a division of the large, medicinal marijuana grower MedReleaf.

The purchase — the store currently accepts only Visa and Mastercard —came to $13.85, with a $5 flat shipping fee added.

It came in a 270-cubic cm. AltaVie-labelled packet that had been shipped from the OCS’s secret GTA distribution centre to Canada Post’s delivery depot at 600 Commissioners St. in a 4,096 cubic cm. cardboard box stuffed with paper.

That package was picked up Oct. 26 by Wilfred Gomes, a contracted courier for the Star, along with a slew of registered and Xpresspost mail also destined for the newspaper that day.

But Gomes, who is 63, says he only signed once for all the packages, and not specifically for the pot.

Despite the law saying buyers or anyone at a product destination address must be 19 years old and sign for a package, OCS spokesperson Daffyd Roderick said such mass signings were acceptable.

“He would not need to sign specifically for the product and given that he looks older than 25, he would not need to provide identification,” Roderick said in an email.

Another OCA email sent to media outlets Sunday night admitted there have been delays, blaming them on the postal disruptions and original high order volumes.

“Efficiencies and ways to further expand capacity at the OCS distribution facility continue to be made to help meet the massive demand,” the email said. “Our staff continues to work around the clock to fulfil customer orders, and respond to customer inquiries from calls and emails.”

The email said the online store — which will be augmented by brick and mortar outlets in April — has enough product to meet demand and was working with Canada Post and internal staff to quicken delivery times.

“We are looking daily at ways to continuously improve and to provide the highest standard of customer service,” OCS President Patrick Ford said in the email.

Nick Pateras, a cannabis industry expert, said delays and glitches were predictable and would be expected at the launch of any such massive business and distribution endeavour and that reasonable people would cut the Crown corporation some slack.

“I think there needs to be a general sense of patience from the public and consumers,” says Pateras, who added similar startup problems were being experienced across the country.

“Anyone who is expecting the OCS to be Amazon on day one had unreasonable expectations and were always going to be disappointed,” he said, referring to the online retail behemoth.

Pateras, vice president of strategy for the Toronto based Lift & Co., said the underlying platform, created by Ottawa-based Shopify was robust and would eventually prove an efficient shopping system.

“I think you’ve got two considerations to focus on, the first being you do have a pent-up amount of demand that goes to the OCS on day one,” he said, adding those types of order volumes had been building for years and would not likely be seen again.

“The second thing is … because it’s our first attempt doing this it’s also going to, by design, be our worst attempt. There’s naturally going to be a number of kinks that we have to give them time to iron out.”

In the end, I’m not really into pot, having had iffy experiences with it during the odd times I’ve smoked it.

So I gave the bud — enough to roll four or five joints and having THC level of 8.93 per cent — to a friend, who is a little older than 19 and has often expressed a commitment to the smoking of cannabis.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/cannabis/2018/10/29/star-reporters-foray-into-the-online-world-of-cannabis-sales.html

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