The road to legal status has been a protracted one for CBD. From flying under the Home Office’s radar for years to fighting the disentangle itself from marijuana and cannabis, cannabidiol is finally emerging from the grey area it has occupied until recently.
CBD products now abound in the UK, which has emerged as the world’s second largest consumer of the compound. Accessibility has also vastly improved–walk into any trendy wellness shop on high street and you’re bound to find a bottle of CBD oil or candy.
But the runway isn’t quite clear yet, especially if you’re a smaller online business. Many ecommerce platforms–including Amazon–still have fuzzy restrictions around CBD. “Vendors didn't have clear policies. There were unfair rules enforced on our businesses, including unwarranted contract terminations with no notice from service providers,” says Julie Winter, Vice President of CBD for Life.
Restrictions are bound to ease as regulations settle and more products obtain Novel Foods certification. Right now, however, choices are limited to building your own site, using a store hosting platform, or taking your chances on Amazon.
What Are Major Online Retailers Doing?
Amazon’s stance towards CBD is still restrictive. The term “CBD” is prohibited and using it anywhere in your listing can get it suppressed. Some sellers try to work around the restriction by using “hemp extract” instead, which the platform allows. But even that tactic isn’t a guarantee that Amazon’s algorithm won’t sniff out your product and take it down.
Yet CBD’s grand, legal debut on the platform is a question of when, not if. The £690 million-market is just too big to ignore, even for Amazon. Just last February the eCommerce giant announced it was running a pilot test for CBD sellers in the UK.
Experts say the experiment can only signal good news for the industry: “Thanks to the legal clarity relating to CBD in the UK, we are likely to see more major retailers getting involved,” says Leila Simpson, Head of External Affairs at the UK Association for the Cannabinoid Industry.
Like Amazon, Ebay is a hazy and unwelcoming place for brands. Search for “CBD” and you’ll get numerous books on CBD and odd merchandise like prints and flags–yet not one oral or topical CBD product. Consumers will have to do a little digging to actually unearth CBD products, which may mean they’re not getting indexed properly by the platform.
There’s no explicit guideline that prohibits CBD. Yet many sellers who have actually managed to sell through eBay find their products getting banned, allegedly because they’ve been reported.
When asked why one seller’s CBD oil was taken down, the platform responded that while it acknowledges that CBD is legal in the UK, it has yet to receive “any such information from the government bodies informing the same”. Which government body they’re pertaining to isn’t clear.
Where the two biggest ecommerce platforms are dragging their heels on letting CBD onto the market, other platforms are capitalising on their reluctance.
Holland & Barrett, one of the UK’s oldest and largest health and wellness chains, completely allow the sale of CBD in their stores. It’s online shop has an entire category dedicated to CBD. Brands can register as suppliers by submitting their products for review.
Mellow is another marketplace that has budded in the abscence of larger online retailers. Launched back in 2019, the platform now hosts more than 70 brands. However, it should be noted that Mellow currently only partners with brands, not resellers or retailers.
Self Hosted and Built Stores
Specialist marketplaces like Holland & Barrett and Mellow are great for established brands, yet may still remain out of reach for smaller businesses and resellers. The solution? Create your own store whilst waiting for mainstream retailers to figure out their stance on CBD.
Self-hosted platforms offer the highest degree of freedom for CBD brands. Using CMS systems like WordPress, sellers are free from the limitations of ecommerce platforms that have yet to decide how they want to approach CBD beyond blanket bans.
However, using these tools requires a working knowledge of coding. Sellers without will have to hire website designers to put the site together. It’s also important to note that while WordPress allows the use of its CMS system to develop your online CBD store, it will not host it for you.
Shopify, which once only allowed US-based CBD brands to use their hosting platform, now appears to be relaxing rules to allow international sellers. Provided, of course, that products are “in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations” and do not contain more than 0.2 percent of THC. In the UK, applicable laws and regulations may translate to a Novel Foods certification, which the government has mandated for all CBD products.
Certain types of items are also barred from receiving payments through Shopify. Some have been able to create workarounds, yet not for products related to smoking or the actual buds of the plant. Sellers can also hire professionals who specialise in setting up payment gateways for CBD merchants in the UK.
BigCommerce was among one of the first to open their doors to CBD sellers. The SaaS platform offers a myriad of tools brands can use to build a fully functioning website, including compatible payment gateways and processors.
Using services like Shopify and BigCommerce give sellers the ability to establish their own store, without having to code. Both platforms offer drag-and-drop site building functionalities, a great option for non-code-savvy sellers.
Most mainstream ecommerce platforms still prohibit the sale of CBD. Yet given the popularity of CBD, that’s set to change. Amazon is already running a pilot test for brands specifically for the UK. More are bound to follow suit, especially after more products secure their Novel Foods certification. In the meantime, sellers can sidestep difficult and seemingly arbitrary regulations by hosting or building their own site.