Subscriptions are the cornerstone of recurring revenue for eCommerce businesses, extending customer lifetime value by holding onto customers.
This article will cover the value of subscriptions, and will look at some of the key features of six subscription platforms you can easily add to Shopify, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce via WordPress websites.
What are subscription services?
A subscription service is when a consumer signs up to receive items from a merchant on a set schedule. For example, a subscription box of snacks that arrives weekly, or a vitamin subscription that’s automatically replenished every month.
Many merchants use software to help them manage and track their subscription customers. These platforms all contain basic key features, including integrated payment gateways to collect recurring payments securely and automatically, and the ability to set subscriptions and payments at a frequency that works for your business or service (weekly, monthly, annually, etc.).
Customers should also have the ability to alter their subscription via the service (rather than contacting the business) to give them power to renew, cancel, or temporarily suspend the subscription.
Many services have enhanced features such as detailed analytics, dunning management (a platform’s ability to troubleshoot declined payments automatically), notifications, developer access, and options to create custom workflows.
The importance of subscriptions in eCommerce
Provide a better customer experience
Offering subscriptions is a simple way to improve the customer experience. By allowing customers to sign up for a service, they don’t have to remember to repurchase – automated billing will ship a fresh batch of your product to their doorstep at regular intervals. This convenience will earn high marks for your customer experience.
Enhance your customer retention
When you allow your customers to “set it and forget it” for your product, it’s easy and desirable for them to remain loyal customers. You reduce the chances of a buyer forgetting your brand, choosing a competitor in a pinch, or simply not purchasing again.
Extend your customer lifetime value
Continuing my point above, if the customer is happy and well-stocked with your product, they are less likely to turn to a competitor. This increases loyalty and extends your customer lifetime value, which means you can invest more in acquisition.
Introduce new products
Subscriptions also provide easy marketing opportunities and promotions (for example, adding a flyer with a promotion or a free sample of a new product in their next subscription box). This is a great way to get consumers to try new products they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Optimize your logistics
Subscription services also let you optimize your logistics. You’ll know in advance when subscriptions are due to be sent out, so you can ensure sufficient inventory, pre-schedule fulfillment, manage delivery costs (such as using slower standard ground shipping), and provide valuable insights to improve your financial forecasting.
Case study: Subscription boxes
Let’s take a look at one service called Bokksu, a Japanese snack subscription box. According to the Exploding Topics newsletter, in 2016, Bokksu had 40 subscribers. By the end of 2018, they had 10,000. Between 2017 and 2020, their revenue exploded from $400,000 to $4.8M.
SUBTA reported the subscription industry grew 437% in revenue between 2012 and 2021, with 18.5 million subscription box shoppers in the U.S. alone. The opportunities are vast, and the rewards are plentiful for both merchants and their buyers.
Tip: Check out a guest post from Bokksu Founder Danny Taing on subscription box marketing mistakes.
6 eCommerce subscription tools to add subscriptions to your website
When choosing a subscription tool, you have numerous options, depending on which platform you use. The major ones are Shopify, WordPress with WooCommerce, or BigCommerce, each with their own subscription plug-ins and apps.
Below, I’ll cover six of the most popular and best-reviewed subscription tools, as well as outline their key features and basic pricing structure.
Bold Commerce is hailed as one of the top Shopify solutions. An automatically branded subscriber portal is included for customers to manage their subscriptions. Customers are empowered to pause, skip, or edit their upcoming orders, and automatically prompted if they have expiring or already expired payment information. Mixed cart checkout is supported, allowing both subscriptions and one-off purchases in the same transaction.
Bold Commerce lets you create custom onboarding for your customers where you can apply rules and checkout flows. The customization doesn’t end with onboarding either: you can produce custom workflows for cancellation processes to offer customers incentives or alternatives if they go to cancel.
You can set the frequency of subscription intervals, as well as customizations such as recurring products, customer subscriptions, build-a-box, mystery boxes, memberships, and more.
In terms of payment gateways, Bold Subscriptions works with Shopify Payments, PayPal Express, and Authorize.net. If you use a non-supported payment gateway, you’d need to switch to one that is compatible with subscriptions on Shopify.
Bold Commerce’s detailed reports and analytics include automated revenue forecast projections, with inventory projection that notifies you via email when you have low inventory for upcoming orders.
Their Core package is $49.99/month plus 1% transaction fees and includes a 60-day free trial. Their Premium plan is currently on offer for an introductory price (same as the Core) and boasts an abundance of advanced customizations and features.
Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, Commerce Tools
Recharge promises you’ll be up and running in just a few minutes, with the ability to create default rules for entire products and introduce variants. You can create customer subscription workflows, including post-purchase upsell and customizing the customer portal.
Recharge makes it easy for customers to manage their subscriptions, update payment details, change shipping orders, or add to orders. Subscribers can reply with a text message to update their orders via the RechargeSMS service – and SMS and email notifications keep your customers up to date without you needing to lift a finger. You can set your own automatic alerts if a customer cancels or if there’s an error processing a payment.
You can use Recharge’s templates or build from scratch for full customization. This allows for subscription items and one-off purchase in the same checkout, giving customers the opportunity to try more products. If you want to offer subscribers further options, you may need developer support. Recharge API lets developers create custom workflows for advanced subscription requirements.
They support all major payment gateways, including Stripe, credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and PayPal, and have a failed payment retry feature as well.
Their enhanced analytics breaks down refunds, best-selling products, highest retention, average order value, churn rates, and projections of future revenue based on historical data.
Their Standard Plan has no monthly fees, and charges 1% + $0.10 per transaction. The Pro model is $300/month along with transaction fees, and gives several customization features, including tailored checkout domain and customizable shopper portal, along with more powerful analytics and an enhanced support package.
BigCommerce, Shopify, Magento
PayWhirl can integrate into your own website to provide a seamless checkout process for customers. Embedded payment widgets make checkout even easier (the website features widget demos so you can see what this would like). PayWhirl can bundle recurring billing and subscriptions with one-time payment options in the same checkout.
To tailor billing information to your clients, PayWhirl allows you to edit both the text and HTML of invoices and emails, but they also have default templates. If you’d like to customize further, PayWhirl is open to developers.
As for payment options, their secure gateway connections allow you to save payment methods; they cover all major credit cards and multiple currencies, and they integrate with Stripe, Braintree, PayPal, and others.
Their data and metrics portal can keep track of monthly recurring revenue, annual run rate, and other sales metrics. Here, you can view customer insights such as lifetime value, churn, and revenue by customer location. They also have features such as predictive growth and forecasting.
Currently, PayWhirl has a free trial, which allows access to the full application, though gateway and processing fees will still be applied to any live transactions processed.
They have five pricing brackets:
- Starter is no monthly fees, with a 3% transaction fee.
- Business Pro is $49/month and 2% per transaction. Targeted toward businesses processing $5k+ per month with three account managers included.
- Business Plus is $149/month and 1% per transaction. Targeted at businesses processing $8k+pm and allows 10 account managers. Customer reports are included, but not growth forecasting.
- Business Ultimate is $249/month and 0.5% per transaction. Targeted at businesses processing $10k+ monthly and allows unlimited account managers. This is the most comprehensive package, and includes customer reports and growth forecasting.
- Enterprise: Custom pricing for volume discounts.
With Sticky.io, you can create flexible, custom subscription models and payment options, including special promotions, gifts and free samples, and adding one-click upsells and personalized bundles. This platform also allows you to provide customers recommendations at checkout for additional products and upsells.
Through the customer portal, users can manage their subscriptions, update billing/shipping information, and skip, cancel, or alter an order. Sticky.io can help you build rewards and loyalty programs as well as personalized offers, and they have email templates to get started and save time.
Sticky.io’s billing management integrates with leading payment gateways and includes payment routing technology to reduce failed payments, plus fraud and chargeback prevention with AI screening.
Their account updater automatically updates out-of-date credit card details, and the smart dunning feature identifies optimal rebilling dates and times for customers based on past behavior, and reprocesses declined payments.
Detailed data and analytics provide sales reports by date, product, overall sales, and number of distinct customers, as well as rate of refunds.
They have several dashboards depending on the information you want to see. The customer dashboard shows buying patterns, including lifetime value, AOV, and MRR. The subscription dashboard displays the number of active subscribers, growth, and retention metrics.
They also have views for order analysis, a churn dashboard, and traffic source details, and their metrics integrate with Google Analytics.
If you get stuck, they have support over live chat, phone, and email.
Sticky.io operates on a custom pricing model; get in touch directly to tell them your business needs for a bespoke quote.
Big Commerce, WooCommerce/WordPress, Salesforce Commerce Cloud
With Appstle, you can create and customize subscriptions at intervals that make sense for your business — daily, monthly, weekly, or annual — with merchant control over limiting options available to customers. You can craft personal promotions on future recurring orders to upsell your customers and provide more value. They support mixed cart checkout, automatic billing, personalized notifications, and dunning management to reduce churn.
Customers have control over their subscriptions to pause, skip, or edit orders. They can swap products, update their payment details, adjust delivery dates, and more.
Their merchant dashboard gives access to key data and analytics, including performance tracking and detailed reports regarding revenue, subscription numbers, and individual product performance.
All plans feature no transaction fees, and each comes with a seven-day free trial:
- Free: No monthly fees for up to 50 subscriptions. Access to the basics: regular and prepaid plans, email notifications, dashboard analytics, and support.
- Starter: $10/month for up to 1,000 subscriptions and includes dunning management, app integrates, summary reports.
- Business: $30/month for up to 10,000 subscriptions, and includes extra features such as cancellation management, app integrations, custom email HTML, and customer portal settings.
- Enterprise: $100/month for unlimited subscriptions, automated product swap, customer portal HTML, SMS notification, and custom development.
Shopify. Coming soon: WooCommerce and Big Commerce
WooCommerce Subscriptions supports both simple and variable subscriptions. It offers a wide range of customization options, such as including a trial period, sign-up fee, product of the month, creating coupons, and allowing merchants to control and change various settings like price, billing period, synchronized payments, and length of subscription. They have an insightful guide to help new businesses get started.
WooCommerce Subscriptions offers your customers over 25 payment gateways so they have the convenience to pay any way that works for them. Stripe and Square can be integrated, as can Klarna (buy now, pay later). Their merchant dashboard shows helpful information like live shipping rates and tax calculations, and you can view this information on the go via their mobile app.
Renewal notifications and emails automatically tell both you and your customers when subscription payments have been processed and when the next payment is. By default, payments are set to automatic, meaning there’s no involvement from you or the customer. With the manual option, the subscription is suspended until the customer logs in to renew manually.
Their detailed reports dashboard keeps track of all the important statistics you need to run your business efficiently, including number of active subscribers, cancellation/retention rate, and anticipated incoming revenue to help with financial forecasting. WooCommerce also integrates with Google Analytics to assist with reporting, and there are numerous other apps and plugins available to further customize and boost productivity.
$199, billed annually.
WooCommerce Payments must be used with WooCommerce. This is a WordPress plugin, not a standalone system, so you’ll need a WordPress-hosted website.
WordPress is the top website building platform that powers nearly half of the web, and WooCommerce drives many of those top eCommerce websites that use WordPress for hosting.
Wrapping up — Add subscriptions to your website
With these user-friendly services ready at the push of a button, it’s never been easier to get subscriptions up and running on your website. You have many options at your fingertips — it’s impossible not to find the right fit for your business.
Note: All descriptions, features, and pricing models were obtained directly from the platforms’ websites and are accurate at the time of writing (September 2021).