As we write this, in August 2021, 19 U.S. states have completely legalized cannabis for recreational and medical use. That's over one-third of the country.
We wouldn't be surprised to see cannabis legalized on the federal level within the next three years.
This steady legalization — and destigmatization — isn't just benefiting cannabis users but entrepreneurs, too. In particular, we're beginning to see a rapid push for app-based cannabis purchases that are as fast and easy as shopping on Amazon.
Cannabis is moving to mobile
In July 2021, Apple made a huge announcement for its App Store: cannabis can now be bought and sold through iOS apps. And Google has committed to launching a similar rule relaxation soon.
These announcements are big news for multiple reasons.
First, it presents all-new possibilities for buyers and sellers. Individuals will be able to purchase cannabis from the privacy and comfort of their homes using their smartphones. And while there's only a handful of places they can do so right now, we're likely to see cannabis marketplaces explode on the App Store in no time at all.
Second, apps that take advantage of these new and upcoming changes will play a key role in pushing the cannabis dialogue forward, just as pioneers Amazon and Netflix did for their respective sectors.
The obstacles surrounding cannabis commerce haven't disappeared though
Unfortunately, cannabis users and brands haven't been given a total green light. Not yet, anyway.
For now, the U.S. government hasn't legalized cannabis at the federal level. It's still a federal crime to be caught with cannabis on your person, and you can't use a credit card to pay.
This disparity between what states are allowing versus what the federal government allows has created complications over the last decade. And when commerce is moved into the digital space — where rules and regulations are less clear — users, as well as business owners, might have a hard time figuring out how, if, and when the sale of cannabis through a mobile app is legal.
These updates to Apple and Google's platforms are still a turning point for the cannabis industry. Cannabis brands would be foolish not to capitalize on these changes by launching a bespoke app in a timely fashion.
And that brings us to the next challenge: how?
Making cannabis a delightful digital experience: should you buy or build your mobile app?
One of the first considerations you'll need to make when taking your cannabis brand into the digital space is whether you want to buy or build your app.
As you can probably guess, buying a white-label app is faster than building one. It's a lot easier, too, which can be especially important if you don't have any coding talent on hand.
The upfront benefits of a white-label app, however, are often short-lived. You'll run into issues like scalability, IP ownership, limits on new features, and the delay paid to your needs as you are one of many clients using the same white-label product
On the other hand, a bespoke app will take slightly more time and resources at the beginning but will nearly always provide more benefits over time. It's the best route to take if you plan on staying competitive in your sector and in control of your product.
How customers shop for cannabis (and how they don't)
So you've decided to build your own custom app for selling cannabis. Good call. Next, you'll need to know how customers shop for cannabis — as well as how they don't.
Too often, cannabis brands fall into one of two traps.
In the first scenario, they'll try to elevate cannabis so far above its (fading) negative stigma that their marketplace becomes filled with technical and irrelevant jargon. Precise percentages, measurements, weights, and labels will be applied to everything, making it difficult for the average customer to know what they want, let alone find it.
In the second scenario, brands will do just the opposite. They'll fail to remove the stigma attached to cannabis or lean into it inadvertently. A dark or “edgy” cannabis marketplace will likely turn away just as many (if not more) customers as the first. This will ultimately play into the latent fears that many Americans currently have around cannabis and its sale and use.
Here's how you can avoid these pitfalls and create a platform that's palatable to most customers.
Remove the technicalities from recreational cannabis use
App developers should take measures to simplify the purchasing process — and this rule is by no means exclusive to the sale of cannabis.
The tech industry is particularly good at this. Brands will present the least intimidating and most persuasive features of their product first. Then, as more technical components are introduced, they're paired with explanations and simple stats. For instance, a CPU with a complicated title will be paired with a simple statement like “Double the performance.”
You can use similar strategies when selling cannabis. Rather than listing the percentage of THC and/or CBD in a particular product, you can show a sliding scale of how high an experience the user could get.
Instead of organizing your products by strain, try to include information like where a product was grown, what kind of high (sativa vs. indica, etc.) the user can expect as well as the potential effects. If a product has no THC and is purely for CBD use, make that clear and explain the benefits of CBD in simple terms.
Of course, certain brands might be marketing to a more niche and experienced demographic. If that's your approach, then take notes from high-end alcohol and coffee sellers. Here, technicalities are more acceptable, though they should still be paired with accessible marketing.
Remove the stigma from cannabis eCommerce
As mentioned, propping up cannabis's negative stigma is something you certainly want to avoid. This style of abrasive counter-culture marketing is really only practical when you're trying to aggressively target a niche — it's used to turn away the mass market while honing in on one specific crowd.
Today, cannabis is becoming increasingly normalized, legalized, and destigmatized, so there's no need to exclude mainstream consumers with abrasive aesthetics. The audience for that style of marketing is shrinking, and the audience that's replacing it will look the other way.
Instead, the design rules for other modern propositions apply – simple layouts, friendly language, intelligent use of white space and marketing copy, and an easy purchasing process.
And on the topic of payments, remember that customers won't be able to pay for their cannabis-using credit cards or banks. Paytender's digital wallet is a good workaround, as is old-fashioned cash in hand on delivery (although the latter is arguably less modern or seamless and potentially dangerous for the delivery driver).
Custom = competitive
With all of the above factors in mind, it's clear that a bespoke development project is the best way to go.
Building your own app means that you aren't at the mercy of anyone. You call the shots on design as well as own the code, which means you can manage, tweak, and update it to your heart's (and your users') content.
A bespoke app also has the benefit of being set apart from the competition. You'll avoid being locked into a solution that becomes stunted and dated over time. This can help you maintain a competitive edge over other cannabis sellers. It's a future-proof solution.
If you're interested in launching or adapting your cannabis brand on mobile devices, reach out to the experts at Cheesecake Labs. Not only do we have years of experience in building quality apps for the eCommerce space, but we've also helped other cannabis brands launch their digital products.