Over the last half-decade, sales of cannabidiol — better known by its acronym CBD — has exploded in popularity, becoming one of the fastest growing industries within the United States.
The total U.S. CBD product sales jumped from $108 million in 2014 all the way to $1.6 billion in 2021 — with the number expected to reach nearly $2 billion by end of year 2022.
With the coronavirus pandemic affecting industries nationwide, it is no surprise that most of this growth has been driven by online sales, which accounted for by far the most sales of CBD products in the United States in 2020.
The growth of online sales, combined with the increased popularity of CBD in general, presents an exciting opportunity for CBD online businesses — particularly those looking to move further into the world of ecommerce.
In fact, the movement to CBD ecommerce has already begun. In the United States alone, cannabidiol (CBD) sales in the ecommerce channel are forecast to increase to more than six billion U.S. dollars by 2026.
However, for new and growing business owners, selling CBD oil and other CBD-infused products online presents a few obstacles that must be overcome before launching a website and kick-starting the marketing process.
From the legalities and rules that encapsulate the CBD industry to the keyword research, SEO-optimized content and link-building that is required to stand out in this already-saturated market, it is well worth brushing up on your knowledge.
A well-informed business can feel confident about embarking on a digital journey that is sure to be as lucrative as it is enjoyable, so allow some time to further enlighten yourself on the ins and outs of how to sell CBD online.
Cannabidiol, widely known as CBD, is a popular natural substance reportedly used to help with a wide range of conditions. It is added into tinctures, edible foods like gummies, oils and body products like balms and lotions.
Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary mind-altering substance in cannabis, CBD is non-psychotropic. The cannabinoid can be extracted from both the hemp and marijuana plants, with industrial hemp plants proving to be the most popular for CBD extraction.
Miraculously, the human body is equipped with something called an endocannabinoid system (ECS). This complex system produces its own cannabinoids and is responsible for achieving homeostasis by receiving and transmitting signals sent by cannabinoids, like CBD. Cannabinoids work by binding with receptors scattered throughout the brain and immune system.
Numerous scientific studies have successfully demonstrated the way in which the ECS reacts when a dose of cannabinoids like CBD is administered. For example, a study published in the journal Neurotherapeutics suggests that CBD may actually inhibit or activate compounds found in the ECS. A prime example of how CBD may benefit the body is by stopping the absorption of anandamide. According to a study on The Profile of Immune Modulation by Cannabidiol(CBD), the plant may also trigger a number of other immune system responses.
Prior to starting, businesses will have to determine which type of CBD to sell online. With so many different kinds of CBD out there, deciding on one can be a tricky proposition.
We have narrowed down the number to three main types of ingredients that contain CBD, including:
CBD isolate is widely considered the purest form of CBD, which means no other ingredients are present. It is also refined, lacking any discernible taste or odor.
Full-spectrum hemp differs from isolate most evidently in that it contains all cannabis plant compounds, including other cannabinoids and essential oils.
All of these compounds work together to enhance the potency, producing what is called the ‘entourage effect.’
Broad-spectrum hemp is the middle ground between isolate and full-spectrum CBD. It contains the additional cannabis plant compounds of full-spectrum while also having little or no amounts of actual THC.
Like full-spectrum, broad-spectrum hemp has the ability to deliver the ‘entourage effect.’
Due to the reported health benefits — partially because of the close affiliation with the cannabis plant — consumer interest around CBD products has been steadily rising since 2016.
In 2018 — considered CBD's breakout year — the number of US CBD consumers doubled, from 2.6% to 4.8% with Baby Boomers leading the pack.
This number has only increased steadily since, with the projected estimated annual CBD usage rate to jump to an astounding 35%.
According to a January 2020 Consumer Reports survey, almost one-third of U.S. adults tried CBD in the past 24 months. Twenty percent of Americans 65 and older said they’d tried CBD, up from 14 percent in a January 2019 CR survey.
CBD oil is now infused in many different products across the board, especially in the wellness, food, beverage and beauty industries. Consumers now have a bevy of CBD products to explore, from tinctures and topicals to gummies and even lattes.
What makes them tick the most? According to a study by Statista, the leading cannabidiol product types among adults in the United States as of 2020 are:
By 2025, the US's retail market for CBD products is expected to hit $16 billion, up from $2 billion in 2018. Compound the above with the fact that, among those who are familiar with CBD, 80% support its usage — even if they are not personally using it — and it becomes clear that CBD is an up-and-coming niche for starting an online business.
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If you are interested in exploring the high-growth niche of CBD sales, here are the nine main steps for starting an online CBD business:
A quick sweep through the (digital) shelves of any wellness store will prove that you can now buy CBD anything. Creams and ointments, human and pet chewies, hemp clothes and accessories — when consumer interest is high, entrepreneurs will try to capitalize on the hype.
What should you sell then: the trendy stuff or the “classics”? Well, that’s for you to decide. When assessing the overall market prospects, look into the general niches first.
Here are the most popular ones:
Next, you should zoom in on your product types. Most of these differ based on the CBD consumption method:
Legality is a big part of CBD marketing, and failure to follow the rules — whether it be state or federal laws and regulations — could result in significant penalties.
Classification of the cannabis plant as a Schedule I narcotic has hindered progress in the legal department. FDA regulations pose a concern for CBD merchants, and if you are hoping to start selling CBD online, you may be wondering what your options are in regards to advertising and marketing.
Let’s answer some questions that may be on your mind:
The answer to this question depends on the state in which you reside, whether you want to start selling CBD online that has been extracted from a marijuana or hemp plant, and what products you intend to sell. Only hemp-derived CBD products may be sold online.
The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill did not alter or change the FDA’s authority to regulate food, drug, cosmetic, device, pet food and dietary supplement products. Many states amended their state drug law to remove hemp from their state-controlled substances act while adopting the FDA’s position on selling certain hemp-derived CBD products. Certain states prohibit the sale and consumption of CBD. Other states limit the types of CBD products sold in the state or require a specific license.
If you are selling or planning to sell CBD products online, you must have systems in place to ensure that you are fully compliant with each state’s laws around CBD. Implementing product-based shipping restrictions on your store will help you stay within safe shipping zones.
The Farm Bill passed at the end of 2018 legalized the commercial production of hemp in the United States. This means you can grow industrial hemp with a license from the state or the USDA and then sell products containing hemp-derived CBD where state laws and regulations allow.
There are some restrictions, however:
When it comes to cannabinoids as a substance, the regulatory matter gets complicated. To date, FDA has approved only one CBD-based prescription drug, Epidiolex. The FDA prohibits making any drug or health claims about CBD products. The FDA also prohibits adding cannabinoids into food or marketing anything with it as dietary supplements.
What about the array of edible CBD products currently on the shelves? Are they illegal?
The answer is that the legal status of CBD products isn't consistent across federal and state laws and regulations. Certain CBD products, such as foods and dietary supplements, may be legal under some state laws, while the FDA prohibits these product types.
While FDA doesn't allow CBD in food or to be marketed as a dietary supplement, to date, enforcement actions against CBD sellers have been limited to warning letters directed at sellers that make egregious drug or health claims about their products.
While hemp-derived products with no more than 0.3% THC are no longer considered controlled substances, the FDA prohibits adding CBD to food or marketing it as a dietary supplement. However, enforcement has been limited so long as no drug or health claims are made about the products.
Statewide laws differ. Several states allow the sale of all CBD products, while others may limit the types of products that can be legally sold. Some states prohibit CBD products with any amount of THC, even if it is below the allowed federal limit of 0.3%. There may also be requirements for product labeling and testing, as well as licensing requirements for retailers and registration requirements for products.
It’s best to cross-check with a local legal specialist if there are any restrictions or requirements regarding CBD product sales in each state you plan to sell.
Jumping into a business without a solid business plan is like driving without a rearview mirror — you can do it, but you may miss an obstacle heading your way.
When it comes to the CBD niche, your business plan is also your navigator for staying on top of changing regulatory policies, conflicting operational priorities and new business opportunities, fueled by market demand. Plus, it’s the document your financial supporters and other stakeholders will want to see.
Here's what should go into your business plan for ecommerce CBD operations:
You can also learn more about business plan writing for ecommerce from our previous guide.
To sell CBD online, you need to obtain several licenses:
Arguably, the most critical step of your ecommerce operations is finding a reliable CBD supplier. There are a few reasons for that.
First, you need to ensure that you are selling CBD derived from hemp plants, not marijuana ones. The latter contains a higher THC dosage, making them legal only in a handful of states when produced and sold through regulated marijuana markets. Federal and state laws require that all hemp grown in the United States be tested for THC concentration. Be sure that any supplier you choose to work with can provide an independent third-party certificate of analysis (COA) for each batch of hemp, hemp-derived ingredients, or a finished product that shows a THC concentration of no more than 0.3%.
Reputable wholesalers typically do lab testing and can provide a COA detailing a product's THC content and showing that the product is free from contaminants. This is important because several states require that products be tested for various contaminants in addition to THC content. Not being able to provide a detailed COA is a major red flag.
States may require that CBD products be tested for:
Secondly, your product quality will impact customer satisfaction and your CBD brand reputation. After all, 24% of CBD users named the ability of the product to generate the "desired effect" as their primary purchase driver.
Being able to provide a detailed certificate of analysis for each product sold will increase consumer confidence in your brand. Other buying priorities include ingredients quality, price, concentration and consumption method (e.g., oil, edible, vape).
Considering that CBD production remains underregulated, some products on the shelves may not have the CBD content advertised — there may be some containing no cannabidiol at all.
Such sham brands and manufacturers, speculating on CBD's sweeping popularity, are making it harder for honest CBD companies to break into the industry. As The New York Times feature on the origins of CDB popularity sums it up:
"As a result, the compound is often caricatured as snake oil, a scam, even as promising research into the full potential of CBD is starting to pick up."
As a new CBD brand, you don't want to end up on the sham side. Again, this is another reason you should do careful due diligence when assessing different CBD manufacturers. Beyond requesting or performing independent product testing, also evaluate a potential wholesaler based on the following criteria:
Apart from finding a trustworthy CBD supplier, you’ll also need to identify the (best) ecommerce platform for your operations. Just like quality products, your tech infrastructure will positively contribute to your customers' satisfaction with your brand.
However, not every ecommerce platform allows creating an online CBD store due to CBD’s regulatory status. Still, you have some outstanding options.
“BigCommerce by far has the best solution for selling CBD products online. Their platform, coupled with our FDA compliance solutions for regulated products, has proven to be a success for dozens of Vaping websites and has, in turn, attracted numerous CBD companies to the platform. Simply put, BigCommerce is light years ahead of other platforms when it comes to preparing you with everything you need to sell CBD online.”
BigCommerce offers a bevy of B2C and B2B ecommerce features for CBD retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers. From drag-and-drop page builders to limitless customization opportunities to 0% transaction fees and 99.9% uptime, we provide global CBD businesses with an integrated ecommerce solution they need to start their operations fast and scale— without constraints.
CBD brands and suppliers place their confidence in BigCommerce to properly market their product and reach a broad audience, so why not do the same? Our Saas platform merges everything you need to run an online store. You won’t need to worry about arranging payments, and best of all, you can customize your very own CBD store.
BigCommerce takes out the guesswork by combining everything you might need for an online business to thrive, from branding and design aspects to marketing and optimization. We provide payment gateways for simple online transactions, outstanding support and a mobile-friendly design. What’s more, the BigCommerce platform allows CBD marketers to easily manage returns when selling their products, which can be featured on numerous websites.
If you are eligible, you gain access to a nice set of core commerce features for launching your digital operations, including design templates, integrated shipping, marketing tools and payment processing.
The proprietary Shopify Payment method isn’t available for CBD products, so you’ll need to get approved by a third-party payment processor.
3dcart is another ecommerce platform that allows hosting digital CBD and vape-related businesses. They offer similar ecommerce solutions — shopping cart software, embedded ‘buy’ button and full-scale ecommerce website builder, featuring themes, unlimited bandwidth, payment processor support and more.
However, their website backend comes with a learning curve, so 3dcart may not be the optimal choice for non-coding beginners.
By opting for an ecommerce platform over open-source ecommerce tools, or custom development, you reduce the website development timeline.
Since the solution provider handles hosting, infrastructure, etc., all you have to do to get your CBD operations off the ground is work on your store design and list products.
Have you ever painted by numbers? Design experience on modern ecommerce platforms is pretty similar to that. Instead of starting with a blank canvas, you rely on a website theme — your set of pointers, pre-mapping the final store look.
You can still be creative, though, changing colors, layouts, fonts and other visual elements or adding new elements to your online store.
When it comes to CBD ecommerce store design, make sure that:
In the CBD space, your product descriptions should be more than just convincing. They also need to be:
When it comes to CBD marketing, FDA does not allow businesses to suggest that any of their CBD products can "diagnose," "cure," "treat" or "prevent" any medical condition. Even if it's tempting, don't go making any big claims. It is also important to note that customer reviews that mention any drug or medical claims about your product are also prohibited. Make sure to monitor any reviews and remove those that make inappropriate claims.
Lastly, don't write overly complex product descriptions. Not every store visitor will be a CBD connoisseur, familiar with industry jargon. So while you should always provide 'technical' product information, avoid niche chemical terms, industry jargon and odd CBD pop culture references.
Ecommerce photos do two important things:
For example, 90% of Etsy shoppers said that product image quality is a purchase trigger. If you have the budget, hire a professional photographer to shoot a series of product-only and lifestyle images for your brand. Those short on cash can also snap amazing ecommerce pictures on a budget.
After designing your store layout and organizing your product catalog, you need to sort out how your products will reach their new owners.
Shipping is essential to ecommerce consumers — you don’t want to let them down in that department. To work out the optimal shipping policy for your CBD business, ask yourself these questions:
Your next step is to select supporting shipping and fulfillment software — a tool that will help you set shipping rates, manage logistics, print labels and auto-dispatch updates to customers.
To minimize hassle and mistakes, your app should integrate directly into your ecommerce platform. You can discover different shipping and fulfillment apps on the BigCommerce marketplace.
Don’t forget to check if your pick also iterates with the carrier you plan to use.
The CBD industry is deemed “high risk” due to the ongoing regulatory debacle. Thus, many payment processors choose to exclude CBD sellers to minimize their operational risks.
Despite this, you are not entirely out of options. To accept payments from customers, you can work with a specialized payment processor who knows how to handle high-risk businesses.
For example, BigCommerce lets CBD businesses choose among 65 payment gateways that can be used to do business in over 100 countries, employing some 250 local payment methods. Get to know more about how payment processing works for CBD companies.
Once you are up and operational, you need to focus on customer acquisition. While the CBD industry is trendy right now, shoppers won't flock to you on autopilot unless you set yourself up with a solid marketing system.
CBD products are still largely misunderstood, often due to shady marketing from other brands or bogus medical claims made by self-proclaimed gurus. Build your initial customer base by seeding accurate content.
Educate the interested, but cautious, buyers about:
Invite industry experts to create more comprehensive content than your competition. Focus both on your blog and social media, as that’s where most younger consumers go looking for both product inspiration and information.
Publishing well-researched content is key to dominating the search engine results. Especially with the latest Google update called ‘passage indexing.’ By honing its AI algorithms, Google now indexes individual passages from a web page (rather than just the entire page) to help users find needle-in-a-haystack info.
For instance, if I’m googling something like “What’s the best strength of CBD oil?”, I’m redirected to a highlighted result on the page:
This SEO change is an excellent opportunity for CBD businesses to attract top-of-the-funnel customers and convert them with educational content. Since SEO competition around CBD-related keywords is pretty intense, going after long-tail, less-searched keywords can help you build the initial traffic while working on further optimizations.
Much of CBD’s current popularity comes as a direct result of patients’ advocacy.. First-hand stories from people, whom CBD helped cope with chronic pain and seizures, initially spurred the mass interest in the plant both for therapeutic and wellness purposes.
Today, many celebrities and public figures are outspoken fans of the CBD — some of them have even launched their CBD businesses. So finding credible advocates for your brand shouldn’t be an issue. Just ensure that you partner with people who share your brand beliefs and can speak about CBD with authority. Also, make sure no health or drug claims are made about your products and don’t forget about mandatory FTS disclosures. Lastly, keep close tabs on the latest federal laws and regulations as well as individual states’ and local governments’ laws and regulations to ensure your communication aligns with any requirements.
While entrepreneurs in the CBD industry can capitalize on the industry's rapid boom, they should also brace themselves for unique challenges. With a lack of FDA regulation and differences in CBD laws and regulations on the state level, running a CBD business can feel particularly gruesome at times.
This is especially true when it comes to:
Sadly, CBD businesses are considered ‘high-risk’ by many financial service providers due to the aforementioned gaps in state laws and regulations. Be prepared to do some walking and negotiating when opening a merchant account. Securing additional financing via business loans can be challenging, again thanks to the bad reputation the cannabis industry has among certain FIs.
Don't despair, though. There are still some hemp-friendly banks and investors in the field too.
The CBD industry is deemed "high risk" due to the ongoing regulatory debacle. Thus, many payment processors — including most major credit cards and Paypal — choose to exclude CBD sellers to minimize their operational risks.
That doesn't mean you are entirely out of options. To accept payments from customers, you can work with specialized payment processors who know how to handle high-risk businesses.
Payment processors that accept CBD transactions include:
BigCommerce lets CBD businesses choose among 55 payment gateways that can be used to perform business in over 100 countries, employing some 250 local payment methods. Get to know more about how payment processing works for CBD companies.
Insurers are slow to act on the recent legalization of hemp and hemp-derived products. Like conservative banks, they often bar CBD companies altogether or burden them with high premiums.
A solid insurance plan is crucial for your company’s liability, so don’t skim on getting a good plan from a CBD-friendly insurer.
With a slew of businesses touting ‘cannabis’ as a customer attractor, it may be challenging to stand out even when you sell genuine, high-quality cannabis products.
A 2017 Penn University study found that 70% of cannabinoid products sold online had issues with labeling. Over 42% of CBD products were under-labeled, meaning they contained more CBD than stated. Some 26% were over-labeled — they had a lower condensation of cannabinoids than said.
Such happenings — along with misleading marketing and grossly overstated claims regarding CBD's effectiveness — can make new customers skeptical of recent market entrants. Gain their trust by being positively different when it comes to:
New ecommerce companies are very tender. If you want your CBD business to grow, evolve and always be ripe, here are three things you should consider doing.
New CBD business owners will have a lot of their platter between murky regulations and operational issues. While everything is Google-able these days, the information you find may not be accurate. You shouldn’t underestimate the value of a mentor, aka someone who already walked the same walk before you.
As Andre Bourque said on Forbes:
“That’s the rub of excelling in the cannabis industry: there’s no model of excellence right now. It’s a fluid and shifting industry that didn’t really exist just a few years ago.” That makes finding a good industry mentor somewhat challenging. Yet, not impossible. Non-profit organizations such as CBD Alliance, National Hemp Association and Vote Hemp are great places to find new industry connections and support.
Fast traction is often viewed as a given in the ecommerce industry. You have probably heard of literal overnight success stories where some “$500 Instagram ad drove $50,000 in sales in a day”.
In the CBD industry, paid ecommerce ads are usually not an option. Click-bait marketing can cause compliance issues, while content marketing and SEO both take time to work. There are plenty of restrictions for marketing in the CBD industry, so take a deep breath as you navigate what can work and where.
Despite (or because of) slow FDA response, the CBD industry keeps evolving in somewhat contradictory directions. While some states like Texas removed the ban on selling edible CBD products in 2019, others banned CBD-infused foods and beverages last year.
Market trends and consumer trends change from week to week too. Subsequently, it can be difficult for any CBD business to stay on top of the latest trends and fads. But they need to keep close tabs on emerging tendencies among their clients, changes in compliance requirements and other major industry happenings.
Thankfully, there are websites that can help you keep up to date with the latest in CBD industry news. These sites include more CBD-based options like Way of Leaf or traditional staples such as Forbes.
As you grow your CBD business, make sure that you are still listening to the voice of your customers. Build your brand around what your customers like by asking for feedback and paying attention to social channels to see what users like or don’t like about your products and the industry itself.
The CBD industry is growing fast and quickly becoming a crowded market. Buyers are growing savvier as their options increase. If you want to stand out from the crowd and find success, the best way to do that is by crafting a trustworthy, quality brand that customers can rely on.
CBD is an exciting product to trade. On the one hand, you can make a genuine difference by supplying your customers with life-improving goods. On the other hand, you also need to constantly educate the general public — along with some B2B partners and other stakeholders — about your products' legal status and lack of connection with THC-dominant marijuana.
That can be a difficult battle, but it looks to be well worth it when you look at the CBD industry sales prospects again. Grandview Research estimates that the CBD market will swell by a compound annual growth rate of 22.2% between 2019 and 2025.
You can also be part of that revenue pool if you launch your online CBD business today.
This material does not constitute legal, professional or financial advice and BigCommerce disclaims any liability with respect to this material. Please consult your attorney or professional advisor on specific legal, professional or financial matters.
Not quite. CBD regulations depend on the state in which you reside, whether you want to start selling CBD online extracted from the marijuana or hemp plant, and what products you intend to sell. Only hemp-derived CBD products may be sold online if all other state requirements are followed.
The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill did not alter or change the FDA’s authority to regulate food, drug, cosmetic, device, pet food and dietary supplement products. Many states amended their state drug law to remove hemp from their state-controlled substances act while adopting the FDA’s position that certain CBD products are prohibited. Certain states prohibit the sale and consumption of CBD. Other states limit the types of CBD products sold in the state or require a specific license.
CBD can be transformed into a wide range of products, including oils, supplements, sprays, topical balms, capsules, and a whole lot more. As the CBD industry continues to grow, the potential for business opportunities will increase alongside it.
See how you can ride the wave with different products and solutions.
The answer depends on the states in which you sell. There are many states across the US that now require a license to sell CBD, including Texas. These licenses are often required even if you are only selling online to customers located in that area and do not have a physical presence in the state.
Familiarize yourself with local and state regulations before selling CBD. If you are also planning on purchasing your product from a wholesaler, you will want to make sure to check if your state requires a resale license.
BigCommerce offers a bevy of B2C and B2B ecommerce features for CBD retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers. From drag-and-drop page builders to limitless customization opportunities to 0% transaction fees and 99.9% uptime, we provide global CBD businesses an integrated ecommerce solution they need to start their operations fast and scale without constraints.
CBD brands and suppliers are putting their confidence in BigCommerce to market their products and reach a broad audience, so why not do the same? Our platform is SaaS (Software as a Service), and it merges everything you need to run an online store. You won’t need to worry about arranging payments, and best of all, you can customize your very own CBD store.
BigCommerce takes out the guesswork by combining everything you might need for an online business to thrive, from branding and design to marketing and optimization. We provide payment gateways for simple online transactions, outstanding support and a mobile-friendly design. What’s more, the BigCommerce platform allows CBD marketers to easily manage returns when selling their products, which can be featured on numerous websites.