May 27, 2024

Tricia Oak

Business & Finance Excellency

Considerations For Early Movers In Cannabis E-Commerce

CEO of Cheesecake Labs, a software design and engineering company that helps you build successful tech products.

As I write this in September 2021, 19 U.S. states have completely legalized cannabis for recreational and medical use. That’s over one-third of the country. 

This steady legalization — and destigmatization — isn’t just benefiting cannabis users but entrepreneurs in the space, 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. 

As CEO of a software design and engineering company, I’ve seen many clients struggling with the guidelines for the delivery of cannabis products via mobile devices. But recent changes in the space are about to provide a better experience and safe access to legal cannabis products.

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. However, Google has maintained its ban on cannabis-related apps in its app store. 

Apple’s allowance of cannabis apps is 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, I expect we could see cannabis marketplaces explode on the App Store over time. 

Second, apps that take advantage of these new and upcoming changes could 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 around what states are allowing versus what the federal government allows has already 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’s platform are still a turning point for the cannabis industry. From my perspective, developed cannabis brands would be foolish not to capitalize on these changes by launching an app in a timely fashion. And that brings us to the next challenge: How?

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. 

A bespoke app, on the other hand, will take slightly more time and resources at the beginning but can provide more benefits, like tailoring the app to your specifications. It’s the best route to take if you plan on staying agile in your sector and in control of your product. 

Either way, you’ll need to have a solid understanding of who will be using your app.

How Customers Shop For Cannabis (And How They Don’t)

If you’ve decided to build your own cannabis app, you’ll need to know how customers shop for cannabis — as well as how they don’t. Conducting market research is always a safe bet to ensure you have a complete understanding of your target audience and how they shop.

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 is likely to 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. 

Based on my experience, here’s how you can avoid these pitfalls and create a platform that’s palatable to most customers. 

Consider Removing The Technicalities From Recreational Cannabis Use

App developers should take measures to simplify the purchasing process. Rather than only 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, considering including information like where a product was grown, what kind of high the user can expect (e.g., sativa versus indica, etc.), as well as the potential effects. If a product has no THC and is purely for CBD use, make that clear and explain the potential effects of CBD in simple terms.

Remove The Stigma From Cannabis E-Commerce

Today, cannabis is becoming increasingly normalized, legalized and destigmatized, so there’s no need to exclude mainstream consumers with abrasive aesthetics. Instead, the design rules for other modern propositions apply: simple layouts, friendly language, smart 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). 

With all of the above factors in mind, it’s clear that there’s a lot that goes into cannabis app development. It’s imperative that early movers in this industry do their research and follow the necessary guidelines and protocols.

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