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Cannabis Customers Can Now Shop Virtually

By David Jagielski – May 2, 2020 at 6:54AM

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Columbia Care is revolutionizing the cannabis industry -- again.

Cannabis consumers, like all consumers, are missing out on the in-store shopping experience during the coronavirus pandemic. Many marijuana customers enjoy the benefit of asking the staff at a pot shop for suggestions on what to buy, but that's currently not possible; consumers are now purchasing pot online, without an attendant to guide them through the process.

However, Columbia Care (CCHWF 5.14%) is looking to change that. Appropriately, on 4/20, it unveiled Virtual.Care, a new type of shopping experience in which consumers can virtually shop in Colombia Care dispensaries alongside an associate.

A person holds a tablet in front of a cannabis plant

Image Source: Getty Images

How Virtual.Care works

Consumers looking to shop using Virtual.Care first select their dispensary and then book an appointment. The longest option, a 30-minute appointment, is for personal shopping, during which consumers use live video chat to ask questions and discuss products with an associate who is inside the store. Shorter 15-minute appointments allow for product Q&A or a chat with a state-licensed doctor about enrolling in a medical marijuana program.

Columbia Care says that consumers can access the services via smartphone, tablet, or computer. Currently, Columbia Care has made these options available in its locations in California and Illinois. It continues to add new states and said it planned to make the services available in most of the 16 markets where it operates by the end of April.

Why this is a great move for Columbia Care

The launch of Virtual.Care gives Columbia Care an important advantage over other pot shops that allow consumers to make purchases online and arrange for pickup or delivery. The company has created an experience that goes far beyond what consumers can expect in retail these days. It's an innovative experience that could be here to stay long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. While tech-savvy consumers who are familiar with the products might see it as unnecessary, for others, it's the next best thing to being physically in a store, talking in person with an associate.

Columbia Care is already known for innovation; the company was the first to launch a credit card in an industry that's highly dependent on cash. Virtual.Care is just the latest example of how Columbia Care is proving that it's a more adaptable company than its rivals. And by offering flexible purchasing options, the pot producer has the potential to attract customers who might be hesitant to make a purchase without someone guiding them through the process or who just don't feel comfortable making their purchases online.

Does this make Columbia Care stock a buy?

Shares of Columbia Care are down more than 75% in the past 12 months, which is a few percentage points worse than how the Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences ETF (HMLSF -1.06%) has performed during that time. The stock is currently trading at around 1.4 times its book value and less than five times its sales. That's relatively cheap compared to rival Curaleaf Holdings (CURLF -2.91%), which trades at 10 times its revenue and more than five times its book value.

However, Columbia Care has recorded losses in each of its past three quarters, totaling $78 million. Sales during the company's most recent quarter also showed minimal revenue growth, rising from $22 million to just $23 million. And in 2019, the company burned through $60 million in cash to fund its day-to-day operating activities. That could be a problem given that as of Dec. 31, Columbia Care had $47 million in cash on its books. That suggests the company might need to dip into the equity markets to issues shares this year if the economy doesn't get back to normal again soon. That's bad news for shareholders and prospective investors because it'll lead to more dilution, which would probably send the stock price down even further.

Unfortunately, while Virtual.Care might be exciting, investors should wait for proof that the personalized shopping experience is paying off. At a time when pot companies need to be especially careful with their money, investors should look to see that the innovation is adding to the company's bottom line rather than draining its resources. Hold off on buying this pot stock until you see results from the new venture.

David Jagielski has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Columbia Care Inc. Stock Quote
Columbia Care Inc.
$1.84 (5.14%) $0.09
Horizons Marijuana Life ETF Stock Quote
Horizons Marijuana Life ETF
$4.55 (-1.06%) $0.05
Curaleaf Holdings, Inc. Stock Quote
Curaleaf Holdings, Inc.
$6.01 (-2.91%) $0.18

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