Which Shopify Apps Can Help You Sell Subscription Products?
How often throughout your life have you run out of something you use on a near-daily basis? How often do you wish there was some way that, when you run out, you could get more delivered to you immediately, without needing to go make a special order?
Subscription services are springing up for just about anything these days. One of the best known is the Dollar Shave Club, a company that started as a subscription service for disposable razors, and has branched out to a wide variety of grooming items, from lotions to sunscreen and more. Others range from LootCrate, a monthly box full of nerd toys, to MeUndies, a box of custom underwear, to BarkBox, a pet-focused monthly box full of toys and treats for your dog.
Subscription products offer a range of benefits for a company selling them.
- Predictability. You know, more or less, how much revenue you’re going to have from month to month. Some people cancel, some people subscribe, but you have a generally predictable baseline for how much you’ll be able to pull in.
- Customer loyalty. Subscription products, when they’re high enough in quality, inspire quite a bit of loyalty from customers. Plus, if you have a rotating selection of unique products each month, customers may be disincentivized from unsubscribing because of the fear of missing out on something good next month.
- Ease of cross- and up-selling. You have an established, ongoing monthly relationship with your customers. This keeps the marketing channel open, and you can easily promote cross-sells and upsells through that channel.
Subscription services abound in modern commerce, but despite that, there’s still a lot of space for newcomers to start their own. With growing popularity, it’s no wonder that many entrepreneurs are looking to offer some kind of subscription service themselves. You might want to start a new business specifically for your subscription boxes, or you might want to offer a subscription option for some of your existing store’s most in-demand products.
Whatever the case may be, Shopify is an excellent e-commerce platform, and it’s perfectly suited to creating a subscription product as well as a traditional storefront. You can run one or the other, or both, depending on your business model.
What business model should you pick? There are a few, and picking a model helps you pick the right subscription infrastructure to use.
- The Curation Model. This is the BarkBox/Blue Apron/MeUndies model, where the customer enrolls in the service to get a category of products (pet stuff/meals/underwear, respectively) but doesn’t know what they’re getting each month, because you curate it.
- The Replenishment Model. This is a model many stores that sell daily consumables are using. Dollar Shave Club is an example. Customers buy a product, they use it until it’s gone, and by the time they finish, the next batch has arrived at their doorstep.
- The Access Model. This is a “pay for a membership to get perks” model, that companies like NatureBox use. Customers can shop normally, or they can enroll in a subscription membership and get discounts, special offers, and unique products just for them.
Picking a business model allows you to determine what, specifically, you need in terms of features from your subscription infrastructure. Do you need it to integrate with an existing store? Do you need it to allow for custom management of shipping intervals? Do you need marketing features like split testing and email segmentation? There are quite a few options, so we’ve narrowed the field down to six of the best platforms you can look through to start.
Bold is one of the more flexible subscription platform options available for Shopify. First and foremost, it integrates with Shopify checkout and Shopify payments, so it can work with an existing store or with a new store you’re just setting up. It has a range of features to help keep customers happily subscribed, including the ability to set custom delivery intervals, self-manage plans rather than having to talk to your customer service, and full account management.
Bold is very flexible, and it’s very powerful, but it’s also quite complex if you want to make use of all of its advanced features. It has a robust set of API hooks you can use to link into other apps or into custom-developed features for your storefront, which is great! It’s also pretty tricky for someone who is used to just plug-and-play Shopify apps.
In addition to that complexity, the biggest downside to Bold is the price. The app costs $50 per month plus 1% of the value of all orders that contain subscription products. Depending on the size of your business and the popularity of your subscription offerings, this can be quite steep.
Is it worthwhile? Probably, but only if you’re capable of making use of the most advanced features the plugin offers. Otherwise, you might be better off considering one of the other options we’ve written down on this list.
Where Bold is complex, Recurring Order & Subscription is simple. It allows you to set up weekly, monthly, and custom subscription plans for recurring payments, integrated directly with the Shopify invoicing system. It’s basically designed for a subscription box service, but can be used for other kinds of subscriptions as well.
One of the biggest benefits of this system is that it integrates directly with existing stores, adding a “buy recurring” button next to the buy button. Users can enroll in an automatic, recurring purchase of any of your products, quickly and easily. They don’t need to make a new subscriber account, they don’t need to worry about separate carts or any of that.
For you, the merchant, there are a few benefits as well. It has compliance features built-in, so it automatically handles things like sending notification emails and allowing easy cancellation. It also doesn’t take a percentage of your recurring sales.
Pricing starts at $16 per month for up to 10 products available as subscription products. If you want more of your inventory to offer subscription options, you can simply add them to the system, and your pricing will adjust the next month automatically. Up to 200 products, for example, is $30 per month.
Seal Subscriptions is pretty similar to Recurring Order & Subscription above. It’s a very simple app. Add it to your Shopify store and it adds a widget in your checkout page that allows users to buy a product on a recurring subscription basis rather than just a normal purchase. When it comes time for the recurring sale to go through, the customer is notified via email that their order will be shipping soon, giving them the opportunity to cancel if they so desire.
In case you’re wondering why the notification is such an important feature; it’s for compliance. It helps minimize the risk of chargebacks and refund processing, and it helps keep your reputation clean. If you remember the 90s, a lot of subscription services back then would enroll you and make it hard and tedious to cancel, hoping you would give up. You don’t want to be one of those companies.
Seal Subscriptions offers a few other features as well. You can automatically apply a discount to the first purchase in a subscription, as an introductory offer. Users can set the frequency of a subscription individually and can make several purchases all at once with different subscription periods. They also give you the ability to add a subscription manually, such as if a user wants to sign up through a medium other than your website.
Pricing for this app is by subscription and is free for up to 100 subscriptions. After that, 100 to 1,000 subscriptions is $8 per month, and $15 per month gets you up to 10,000 subscriptions. Simple, cheap, and effective.
PayWhirl is another fully-integrated subscription solution for a base Shopify storefront. It handles subscriptions, as well as payment plans if you want to allow users to make recurring payments on a single large order or high-value product. Like other apps, it keeps users within the Shopify system rather than sending them to another checkout processor. Customers can manage their own data and subscriptions, from weekly to annual payments.
At the moment, this app is free to use, because it’s still in a beta phase of testing and active development. As such, it’s difficult to judge how it will rank once it has been fully released. For now, it seems quite promising, but once their pricing rolls out and you can see what limitations are available on what plan, that might change.
5. Custom Development
One option we always like to include, for the sake of comparison, is the ability to develop your own custom features for a Shopify store. Absolutely nothing stops you from hiring a developer to handle creating an app with exactly the features you want.
In this case, since you’re dealing with something that handles customer financial information, integrates with a checkout process, and needs to handle disclosure and notifications for compliance with regulations, this isn’t actually the best option. It will likely be more expensive than simply using one of the existing apps out there.
You can do this with custom apps or private apps. Both options are exclusive to your store; the only difference is that private apps use an API key from Shopify to access their features, while custom apps don’t need that level of access. You can read more about this process in the Shopify documentation for these kinds of apps.
Keep in mind that there are a lot of apps on Shopify’s app directory. We’ve listed a few of the better subscription product apps, but there are dozens more, some aimed at selling digital products, some with integration with an external service like AAA, and some that focus more on the marketing side of things. Feel free to browse for something you like.
6. Hire a Firm for Custom Integration
At this point, you’ve probably realized that a subscription product has a lot of details that go into it. You have to concern yourself with more than just the product itself. For example:
- Maybe you want to offer the ability for a user buying a one-time purchase of a product to turn it into a subscription, at the time of checkout.
- Maybe you want to handle split testing with different product images and descriptions, to see which encourages the most subscriptions.
- Maybe you recognize the need to maintain compliance by offering an easy way to cancel a subscription if they no longer want it.
- Maybe you understand regulations that require you to send notice before the user is billed for their next product, so they can cancel or change their subscription if they want to.
These, along with a wide array of different customization features, can all be had from a subscription platform. The thing is, not every platform offers every feature you might want. To that end, it might be a better option to hire a company that can handle a custom integration for your site and your store.
Custom integration can be flexible and powerful, and you can often get cheaper access to what you want through a company than you can through a stand-alone app. Plus, you don’t have to be the one fiddling with your website code and hoping you don’t break something along the way.
A company that handles custom integrations is going to be your best option when you have an existing storefront as well. The last thing you want to do is set up a subscription product in a system that doesn’t work quite right with your existing store. You risk losing store data, customer continuity, and the easy flow between one-time and subscription purchases.
If you’re interested in this kind of subscription service integration, feel free to reach out; we can answer your questions and help guide you to the option that works best for you.
Have you used any of the services that we’ve listed? What were your thoughts on the service? Be sure to let us know!
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