The Subscription industry has seen an incredible surge in recent years. While the popularity of this growing model largely stems from a consumer desire for convenience, it doesn’t mean customers want an impersonal, automated experience. As the ecommerce landscape becomes more competitive, winning brands must find ways to go the extra mile and create meaningful long-term relationships with customers to grow subscriber retention.
During a recent Crowdcast conversation with Chris George, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Subscription Trade Association (SUBTA) — and founder of Gentelman's Box — and Jay Myers, Co-Founder and VP of Growth at Bold, outlined ways to position a subscription brand to provide ease and convenience in exchange for reliable revenue streams. Here are four learnings to keep front-of-mind when launching the next winning subscription brand.
1. The subscription industry is growing…fast!
Subscriptions aren’t a new business model. Well before the rise of ecommerce, consumers subscribed to magazines, book clubs, and even the now oh-so-retro compact discs. Fast forward to 2011 and the budding subscription box industry was valued at $56 million. By 2016, it had reached $2.6 billion — and over $10 billion by 2019.
There are many factors contributing to this growth, but certainly a significant part of the story involves a shift in consumer perception towards experience over ownership, particularly among gen-z and millennial consumers.
One study shows millennials would rather travel the world than own property.
Screenshot via: crowdcast
This new consumer mindset is driving the subscription industry to unforeseen heights. It’s not just Amazon Prime and Netlfix. People are subscribing to everything imaginable: coffee, beauty products, CBD, even ice cream!
George and Myers agreed there’s a lot more to success in subscriptions than the product itself. But how can brands identify and lean into that added value? Which brings us to our next takeaway.
2. Subscriptions are a healthy source of recurring revenue
Earlier this year, Bold interviewed 800 of the 20,000 brands using Bold Subscriptions to capture trends and data that are drivers of success. Here is an example of some of key findings from the survey that Myers and George delved into throughout the discussion.
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These numbers show just how integral subscriptions are to the brands who have incorporated this model. Even brands who tried a subscription without success overwhelmingly said they would try it again. What is it about the subscription model that brands connect with?
According to George, a driving factor is that of recurring revenue. This means that you have predictable sales coming in at all times based on the number of subscribers you have. Now, predictable revenue doesn’t mean you can put your feet up and let them come to your doorstop. Running a successful subscription business requires the same strategic planning and effort as selling for single purchase, if not more!
The main advantage of predictability, however, is that it’s easier to forecast where your business is headed, understanding what kind of cash flow you have to invest in expansion, be it through capacity, product development, or inventory management. Subscription modelling has proven especially useful for brands who create their own products from raw materials, because it allows them to buy larger and recurrent quantities of materials knowing they won’t go to waste. It also takes the pressure off seasonal pushes like Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) and the holiday shopping season.
Recurring revenue is good for the bottom line, and more and more brands are stepping in to capitalize on this opportunity.
As to the 82% of brands who didn’t have success in subscriptions, but said they would try it again, George shared how subscription modelling can be an exhaustive effort. In order to drive long-term success, it’s pivotal to deliver a completely tailored approach.
Two of the important factors for how subscriptions businesses approach customization are through the onboarding of customers, and the micrommitments offered that often lead to long-term consumer loyalty. Which brings us to our next takeaway.
3. Successful brands add value beyond the product
Never underestimate the importance of a good product. Consumers subscribe to your bow-tie-of-the-month club for a reason to dress up, or a dog box for quality dog food. It’s all about differentiation. To stand out, leading brands must look for ways to go beyond their product and add additional value.
George used Amazon Prime’s membership as a classic example of a subscription program adding extra value. In addition to the free shipping (what people signed up for in the first place) it comes with an entertainment streaming service, a music streaming service, cloud storage, photo storage, and loads of other perks. Even if customers don’t need the shipping perks, they might have a hard time cancelling once they’ve started utilizing the TV streaming or music service, or cloud storage space.
The takeaway for subscription brands is to consider ways in which to deepen the relationship with the consumer by increasing the value of the trade-off of their recurring spend.
Brands that succeed at adding value to their subscription will begin to enjoy the rewards of a healthy recurring business revenue model.
Here’s a quick list of ways successful subscription brands make their membership irresistible:
- Free shipping
- Faster and preferential services
- VIP product offerings
- Gifts and giveaways
- Exclusive community groups
- Personalized approach to customer service
- Adding additional services, products, and perks
Now that we’ve talked about value, let's look at our final takeaway on how to make the perfect first impression with a remarkable onboarding experience.
4. Onboarding for subscriptions and the importance of micro-commitments
Onboarding refers to the series of steps a customer goes through, all the way through an initial interaction with a brand, through to the checkout and post-purchase experience.
Having a strong subscriptions onboarding flow can increase customer lifetime value (LTV), reduce subscriber churn rate, and turn one-time customers into valued long-term subscribers.
George made a distinction between the kind of onboarding that was popular in ecommerce before — getting the customer to checkout as quickly as possible — from the approach successful subscription brands are taking today, which is a series of steps or “micro-commitments” that inspire customer engagement, while gathering crucial consumer data and information that will support the brand to grow the relationship. .
Dog subscription box Kong Box is an example of a brand that does this well. During the onboarding process customers are asked a series of personal questions about their pet to craft a personalized subscription offering for their furry best friend. Questions like the dog’s name, birthday, how active they are, and any dietary restrictions go into building the custom subscription box they will receive.
The information gathered through these micro-commitments also plays an important role in how effectively Kong Box will be able to deepen the relationship with subscribers through personalized email communication and customer service.
There will always be churn in subscriptions. But, subscription brands can reduce churn rate by trying to gain a fulsome understanding behind why customers may be choosing to leave and deliver tailored offers that address those reasons.
“Make sure you ask qualifying questions about why they are cancelling, and give them another offering.” – Chris George, SUBTA
For example, if they find it too expensive, offer them a new plan at a lower price point; if they are receiving too many products, suggest a scaled back plan; if they simply don’t like the product, thank them for their business and send a coupon code should they have a change of mind.
If a customer does decide to churn, they may still tell a friend about the offering or return again at a later time. For this reason, maintaining the relationship on the way out is just as important as on the way in.
Ready to launch your winning subscription brand?
Tune into Subscriptions 2021: The new pillar of ecommerce for the full conversation with George and Myers and a more in-depth look in how brands can drive long-term growth through subscription modeling.
Looking for a high-performing, customizable subscription solution? Bold Subscriptions is one of the top subscription apps for Shopify merchants and is now available on WooCommerce, BigCommerce, commercetools, and a number of other platforms via our headless API-powered technology. Follow the link below to learn more.
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Special thanks to our friends at Bold Commerce for their insights on this topic.