How 4/20 became the cannabis industry’s biggest day

Many retail dispensaries lean on loyalty programs to get customers coming back after the banner day.
By Andrew Adam Newman

Source: Retail Brew

April 19, 2024

Like other proprietors, cannabis retailers promote sales around holidays like Labor Day and Halloween, but its biggest holidays are all its own. Green Wednesday, which falls on the day before Thanksgiving and is the industry’s answer to Black Friday, is widely considered to be the industry’s second-biggest sales day annually.

But the biggest one falls on April 20, with the holiday known as 4/20, like the ubiquitous cannabis term 420:

  • Sales at dispensaries on April 20, 2023, were 116% higher than the average of all other days that month, according to Springbig, whose data draws on the more than 1,200 cannabis dispensaries for which it provides loyalty program software and other marketing solutions.
  • April 20 was the biggest sales day among Springbig’s network, followed by Green Wednesday, Halloween, and another cannabis-specific holiday that goes by a numeric date, 7/10.

Flower power: While consumers first discovering cannabis—or rediscovering it through non-smokable formats like edibles and vapes—might go looking for bargains at retail dispensaries on conventional holidays, 4/20 is “the diehard cannabis holiday,” Jeffrey Harris, co-founder and CEO of Springbig, told Retail Brew. “If you’re…really into cannabis and cannabis products, you’re not missing out on 4/20.”

In fact, “4/20 can be an overwhelming holiday for a new consumer,” Kate Lynch, EVP of marketing at Curaleaf, which owns 147 recreational and medical dispensaries nationwide, along with brands like Jams (edibles), Select (cannabis oil), and Grassroots (concentrates). “You have a lot of very well-established cannabis consumers that are going in knowing that they can get the best deal of the year.”

Joint enterprise: Theories abound about the origins of the term “420,” no doubt debated as bongs were passed around dorm rooms. One is that it relates to the Bob Dylan song with the refrain, “Everybody must get stoned,” which is named “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35.” (12 x 35 = 420).

But the most popular explanation, accepted by and multiple exhaustively reported articles in the Huffington Post, dates back to 1971 in the San Francisco Bay area. Five San Rafael High School students, all athletes, would meet after practice at a designated spot at 4:20pm to consume cannabis and took to referring to doing so as 420 to disguise it from adults.

As for how the term was popularized, one theory is that cannabis enthusiasts The Grateful Dead were based just blocks from the high school, and some of the students got to know them and passed along the term.

Buzzed marketing: Like Black Friday, which in days of yore was isolated to that day until retailers started offering discounts earlier that week, 4/20 has crept far beyond the date.

“I would say eight years ago, [4/20] was really about the day before and the day of,” Lynch said. “Now it literally starts on 4/5, and it’s a race to get the consumer share.”

Still, the day itself is huge for Curaleaf:

  • According to data from 2021–2023, 76% more customers came into Curaleaf stores on April 20 than on an average day.
  • Sales in Curaleaf stores on April 20 more than doubled the average day over the same period.

Along with the sales surge, though, the holiday also presents a challenge: How do cannabis retailers retain all these shoppers who come out of the woodwork on the holiday?

Pot stickers: “We’re big on recommending that…for new customers, that they build a journey” to get them returning to the store, Harris explained.

That means getting newbies enrolled in a loyalty program, and texting them promotions that will lure them back, Harris said.

His company’s software determines when someone’s a new customer and, shortly after their purchase, allows stores to send them a text “thanking them for visiting and giving them a bounce-back offer to come back within the next 10 days and get this special offer,” Harris said. If they do come in that second time, they get another offer for their next visit, he continued.

“We’ve now seen that you have to get customers to visit you three times to be what I would consider a regular customer,” Harris said.

This year, the holiday may draw in more customers than ever for retailers to try to make regulars.

“This year’s 4/20 poised to be the biggest yet,” declared an April 16 headline in Cannabis Business Times. One reason, the article explained, is that it falls on a Saturday, which tends to be the second-biggest sales days for state-licensed retailers, losing only to Friday.

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