Are white-label apps good enough if all you want is a loyalty program?



It’s a fair question. 

Retailers like Foxtrot are repositioning the mobile app as an integral part of the customer experience, other brands may be content to only use their apps for loyalty programs. Do they need anything more than the white-labeled apps provided by their loyalty vendors?

I thought I’d find out. Using CSP’s Top 2023 list as a guide, I downloaded a sample of around twenty white-labeled apps from small and midsized convenience retailers. 

Four things stood out.

1. White-label app providers rarely specialize in app development

I suspect most retailers would be skeptical if the company installing their underground storage tanks offered to design a new coffee program or put together a brand refresh. That’s not what they specialize in, and it’s really no different than when certain vendors offer free or low-cost apps as part of their services.

While it may not seem like an issue on the surface, creating the level of user experience and user interface that encourages initial and repeat usage is specialized work—and it often falls outside of vendors’ core competencies. 

Many of the apps I downloaded felt tired, dated, and downright neglected. It was the digital equivalent of walking into a Sears that looked like they stopped making updates decades ago. 

Even if a retailer wants to keep things simple and just use their app for a loyalty program, shouldn’t it at least be fresh and user-friendly?

2. White-label apps often require account creation before you can use them

Speaking of user-friendly, imagine going to an eCommerce website where you weren’t allowed to view the products until you created an account. I don’t suspect many would stick around to find out what’s for sale.

Many of the apps I downloaded did the same thing. Rather than showing me what I could do with them—or what the loyalty programs had to offer—I was forced to create an account. No preview, no description, no ability to even poke around the app and see what’s there. Just a form asking me for information. 

In my opinion, this is really a symptom of the problem I described above: apps developed by companies that don’t specialize in app development. It’s just a particularly egregious example and one that will be a barrier to adoption. Every source of friction is an invitation for users to drop off, and I can’t think of anything more friction-filled than gating the entire app behind a form.

Add a few errors to the mix, and it gets even worse. Consider what this reviewer had to say about one of the apps I tested:

This is the most difficult to set up account I have ever experienced. The software is completely unforgiving of errors and does not even allow one to review all one's entrees before submitting.

3. White-label apps are often the same from one retailer to the next

No self-respecting retailer would create a carbon copy of their competitor’s stores. To the extent possible, everyone wants their brands to stand out as unique and different. 

And yet, many retailers are telling customers to download apps that those customers have already seen from other retailers. Rather than offering ways to personalize the app experience to each individual retailer, many white-label app providers simply swap the logos and change a color or two. The actual user interface and user experiences remain identical. 

During my small test, I noticed that this led to a general sense of commoditization—both from the apps and the individual loyalty programs. I don’t suspect that’s what any retailer had intended to accomplish, but it’s certainly what I experienced.

4. Many white-label apps have limited functionality 

I know we’re talking about retailers who just want to keep it simple and focus on loyalty programs, but let’s face it: sometimes the goals change. Many retailers reach a point where they’d like to add something new and different. 

Perhaps they tried the latest app from a quick-service restaurant and saw a feature that would complement their own kitchen operations. Or maybe they want to experiment with mobile fuel payments or give delivery a try.

When this happens, retailers typically find that their current apps are a dead-end. The white-label apps deployed by vendors are almost always built around their core services—not the capabilities provided by other vendors. The best-case scenario is they’ll offer limited support, but more often than not the retailer is left with two options: either pay an agency to modify that app with costly custom development, or scrap it altogether and start over. We detailed this dilemma in detail in our white paper.

A better solution is to just avoid these hassles from the start and work with a trusted app developer.