Sean Balogh

Dispensary Mobile Apps: Benefits and Bullshit in Retail Cannabis 

Let’s start this one out telling you this isn’t a hit piece on apps. Far from it.

However, there are plenty of ways getting an app can go sideways quickly. 

Basically, we want to help you come up with a plan for getting your app off the ground and bring up what you should evaluate to make sure that app provides value to your business and your customers.

What are You Looking for in an App?

They say apps are where it's at and there’s an app for everything. But why do YOU need an app?

Those are all pretty good reasons. Others we’ve heard are not so good, like:

Keep in mind, an app isn’t a one-and-done solution. It requires attention and resources to build, maintain, and incorporate into your dispensary’s day-to-day activities.

If you’re going to go down that road, here are some things to know as part of your decision making process.

Apps, Treat ‘Em Like Real Estate

Do you rent or do you own?

It’s a question you need an answer for, because the difference could save you a lot of grief down the line.

These days, people aren’t building their own homes by hand. The same goes for businesses and their apps. They tend to shop around and find a partner to help bring their vision for a killer mobile app into existence.

That leaves a few options to consider.

“Prefab” mobile apps

These apps are low-budget, low-variation, and low-control for businesses. That’s one way to go. 

You can consider this the equivalent of a low-budget rental property. It might be good for now, but ultimately you are throwing money into a hole with little to show for it or any say in how it takes shape.

These apps are the same in look and feel for every business using them. They are designed to be sold quickly, shipped out, and brought online with as little effort as possible. There is not a lot that is unique about them. 

In all actuality, these apps hit all those not so good answers to the ‘why’ question above.

If you go for a prefab app:

Overall, this approach is used as a way for businesses to just check a box in the marketing department and as a way for providers to make themselves sticky, bundling it into their services to keep them appearing on your AP statements. 

The worst part is, you don’t actually own these apps

They are owned and maintained by the service provider. Meaning, if you ever leave that provider, you lose access to the app along with all associated data you put into and pulled out of it. If it crashes or needs maintenance, you have to wait in line to find a resolution just like every other customer of that provider. Furthermore, if the provider decides to make a change you don’t like, they may tell you to go kick rocks.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, building truly unique and industry-focused apps can make a huge difference, but it can also cost you quite a lot.

Designer Apps

First and foremost, your app needs to be something customers want to interact with. And if you have a grand vision for it, you may need to consider all the costs associated with building an app from the ground up.

A mobile app made from scratch can help dispensaries build and reinforce their brand identity through a truly unique mobile experience. However, experienced designers and programmers charge a premium. And we’re not saying they aren’t worth it. But are you prepared to pay a fortune for that mobile real-estate?

Beyond the build, you’ll need to think of a lot more than programming, there’s maintenance, additional support for more data as you grow, and the time it takes to keep everything up and running. Those costs add up fast.

The Goldilocks Solution

By now it should be sinking in that those two extremes of the mobile app spectrum don’t fit the build for most businesses who just want a great looking app that’s affordable, works reliably, and they actually OWN.

That’s the middle ground you can find with an app development agency like Digital Awesome

They’ve got the process down pat when it comes to building quality apps for dispensaries, fast. 

Not only that, but you get a good amount of customization and reliable support for the duration of your partnership. 

If you ever choose to part ways, they work with you to take the app off their support and plug it into whatever platform you need as you grow forward.

It’s really the best of both worlds and truly an affordable middle ground to support a growing retail business in cannabis that needs to stand out in a highly competitive space.

Beyond your options for the build, there are other considerations to be aware of that will impact your decision, the process, and the final product. Here are some elements of mobile apps to be aware of.

To Text or Not to Text

We hear a lot of back and forth about SMS marketing for dispensaries. Mainly, our competitors say it’s bunk. 

For what it’s worth, texting sure as shit ain’t dead. We know it isn’t and our clients have great success with text messaging campaigns using Happy Marketers. We go into it a bit more in this article on cannabis SMS marketing and why other companies find such bad results when working with our competitors.

If you think an app is a great way to support your overall marketing, we agree, just make sure you own your app when it’s all said and done. When it comes to partners that won’t do you wrong, we can’t recommend Digital Awesome highly enough. 

The Push Notification: Golden Goose of the Mobile App 

It’s likely, if you’re already considering an app, you understand they can be a powerful tool for marketers. The push notification is the mainstay of mobile app marketing.

By delivering these messages at the right time, personalized for each individual or group, and following through on delivering value, you can effectively engage your customers and compel them to take part in your marketing. 

That said, it’s important to understand their limitations and how they can be overused or abused, resulting in you throwing money into the wind, ruining your customers’ experience, and tanking your app’s retention rate.

Push notifications done right:

  1. Instant Communication: Push notifications allow you to instantly communicate with customers, delivering messages directly to their mobile devices. This immediacy works just like a text message and can lead to higher engagement rates compared to other forms of communication, like emails. Make it short, to the point, and above all, relevant to the recipient.
  2. Personalization: Push notifications can be personalized based on user behavior, demographics, and preferences. By sending targeted and relevant messages, the likelihood of capturing the user's attention and driving a desired action increases. Tailor your messaging to the audience and you’ll find success.
  3. Increased Engagement: Well-crafted push notifications can encourage users to open the app, interact with features, make purchases, or take advantage of special offers in a way that's meaningful to them.
  4. Promotional Opportunities: Push notifications allow you to promote new products, services, or time-bound offers directly to a customers' devices, potentially increasing sales and revenue.
  5. Tracking and Analytics: You can track the performance of push notifications through analytics, allowing you to measure engagement metrics like open rates, click-throughs, and conversions. This data can be used to inform future campaigns and  improve your overall marketing effectiveness.

Push notifications done wrong:

  1. Overuse and SPAM: If you send too many push notifications or irrelevant messages, users get annoyed and may opt out of receiving your messages altogether. It's important to strike a balance in terms of volume and only send notifications that provide value to the customer.
  2. Timing: Sending push notifications at the wrong time can lead to poor engagement and dissatisfaction. You need to consider factors like time of day, users' routines, and optimal send times for specific types of messages.
  3. Lack of Personalization: Generic or irrelevant push notifications are less likely to capture customers’ attention and may be ignored or dismissed. Too many irrelevant messages and notifications may be turned off or get your app uninstalled. You should leverage user data to personalize notifications and tailor them to the individual preferences and behaviors of their users.
  4. Technical Issues: Push notifications rely on the proper functioning of your app, the user's device, and the underlying push notification infrastructure. Technical issues such as delivery failures or delays can impact the effectiveness of push notification campaigns.

What to consider for your app

Don’t skimp on these elements of apps. You’ll need an effective approach to each to make sure usability and retention remain consistent as your business grows. 

  1. Cost: whether you’re looking for something out-of-the-box or completely custom, it’s going to cost you. Custom mobile app development can be expensive, especially if you want advanced features or a highly polished user interface. Costs can escalate quickly, and maintenance and updates can also add to the overall expense. On the other hand, a cheaper option could leave you with a lack-luster product that doesn’t function well, doesn’t convey your brand’s unique spirit, and doesn’t give customers a reason to keep coming back and using your app.
  2. Time: Developing a custom app takes time, especially if it's complex or requires integration with other systems. Keep in mind that waiting for an app to be built may be a pain, but taking your time and getting things right for your brand will go a long way in making the final product unique, functional, and engaging.
  3. Maintenance: Once an app is built, it needs to be maintained. This includes updates for new OS versions, bug fixes, and feature enhancements. This ongoing maintenance can be a significant commitment of time and resources. Whitelabels serve hundreds if not thousands of customers, their builds are similar across the board, and issues can stack up when everyone experiences a problem, meaning you’re stuck waiting in line for a fix to be released. That can kill your retention rate. Having dedicated developers or an external partner committed to your app will ensure downtime is kept to a minimum and the user experience doesn’t suffer from poor usability. 
  4. Compatibility: Apps may not work well across all devices and operating systems. Ensuring compatibility across various operating systems, POS software, and other applications can be challenging and may require additional development time and resources. You may not have access to the resources to ensure this seamless experience with an out-of-the-box solution.
  5. Scalability: As your business grows, your app needs to be able to handle increased traffic and data. Ensuring that your app is scalable is important, that’s why working with specialized developers will pay dividends down the road.
  6. Support: Providing customer support for an app can be challenging. When you are not in control of your own app, there is no quick resolution to the problems customers experience. App issues that may only take a few minutes to fix could take days or weeks with a provider that has a long line of customers experiencing the same issues.

The Verdict

While apps and push notifications can be effective ways for a business to engage and market to customers while at the same time building brand identity and fostering loyalty, there are plenty of ways for execution to go wrong.

Carefully consider these components of effective apps for dispensaries and you’ll find success.

If you’re looking for an app for your dispensary, check out Digital Awesome and see why they’re considered the best dispensary app developers for retail cannabis.