One incorrect assumption people often make when creating a subscription business plan is assuming they will be sending out a subscription box to their customers each month.
The reality is, there are many recurring revenue options outside the typical “subscription box” approach, some of which might be a better fit for your business depending on the type of product you are selling.
We've compiled a list of several ways online stores use subscriptions to create recurring revenue, including:
- Offer individual products on a subscription
- Sell your services online
- Start a “club” with recurring subscriptions
- Sell gift subscriptions
- Monthly subscription boxes (it could be right for you!)
Let's get started…
Why offer products on subscription?
Improve cash flow
The most obvious answer to this question is subscriptions provide a steady cash flow into your business by having a reliable source of recurring revenue.
When customers purchase a recurring subscription from your store, their payments are being processed automatically via recurring billing, so you know you’ll have a consistent stream of income flowing into your business.
Image via: livechatinc
Let’s say you currently have 100 subscribers paying $19.99/month for a coffee subscription, and you’ve been steadily growing at a rate of 20 new subscribers per month. If you continue that growth, you can predict that in 12 months you’ll have increased your monthly recurring revenue from $1,999 to $6,796.60 per month.
This is exactly the type of information you'll need to plan your store's growth!
Forecast inventory levels
Using the same example as above, if you’re sending out one coffee bag per subscriber, you know that in 6 months you’ll need to be ordering 220 bags of coffee every month, and that by the end of the year you’ll have increased that to 340 bags per month.
Forecasting inventory levels can save you money, as it allows you to increase your wholesale purchases while decreasing production costs. This can also help you keep fresh products at the forefront, while reducing aging inventory or oversupply.
The best part about offering subscriptions is seeing how much your loyal customers love them! People don’t subscribe to products or services they don’t like, so right from the start you’ll have a loyal client base to start marketing to while building a dedicated community of followers.
Now that you know why you should be selling subscriptions, let’s move into the how.
Offer individual products on a subscription
We’ve talked before about Dollar Shave Club, and how they took something as small as selling $1 razors and turned it into a BILLION dollar company.
This is a golden example of a company taking a product which, at first glance, might not seem like a good candidate for a subscription offering, and turning it into a consistent source of revenue.
This model can work with almost any type of product that a customer would run out of including nutrition supplements, cleaning supplies, make-up, beauty products, and everyday staples like shampoo and conditioner — even Q-tips!
As an extra incentive, they offer free shipping if you choose to subscribe, which is a great conversion booster!
Creating a subscription program for your products can sometimes be complex when it comes to shipping and fulfillment, but if you do have the capacity to handle the extra orders, there’s no reason not to give it a try.
Want to see something cool?
With the Convertible Subscriptions feature, you can increase your subscription numbers by letting your customers subscribe to one product, and then automatically switch to a different product after the first month.
It’s perfect for going from a sample to a full-size product, or from a different flavour coffee like Mighty Mocha to Very Vanilla.
Sell your services online
Some businesses choose to sell their services online, instead of shipping physical products.
The great news is that they can set up monthly recurring revenue too, just like a more “traditional” online store!
Image via: radiustheme
If you offer landscaping services, give your customers the option to purchase a bi-weekly appointment to cut their grass instead of calling you up every 3 weeks. If you offer maintenance services like duct or gutter clearing, you could provide maintenance plans staggered throughout the year, automatically billing customers at those intervals once the work is done.
It even works well for offering services like academic tutoring or music lessons.
To increase your subscription numbers, try rewarding your customers by offering a discount on the services they purchase in exchange for the reduced hassle and consistent cash flow of having predictable, regular orders.
Start a “club” with recurring subscriptions
Another idea for building recurring revenue into your business is to start a subscription “club,” sending your customers a different product from your store each month.
Wine Collective offers professionally curated wine packages to members, allowing them to choose from different plans to suit their taste and budget.
These types of subscriptions have largely been used for consumable products: think Cheese of the Month or a Tea of the Month club, but with a little creativity you can start a “club” for just about anything.
If you sell apparel, you can offer a Sock of the Month club where subscribers would receive a new pair of socks at their door every month. Books? Start a Book Club where you ship out a surprise novel every few weeks.
If you want an edge over your competitors, you can use advanced app functionality to offer what we call Build-a-Box, which lets your customers pick exactly what item(s) they'll receive each month (or any other interval they choose).
One of the main barriers customers have to committing to a subscription box is the fear that they won’t like what they get and they’ll be wasting their money. By using Build-a-Box, it gives you the ability to decrease that fear and dramatically increase your subscription numbers by offering a higher level of customization!
Not only can you still offer the traditional option of receiving that “surprise” bottle of wine every month, but now you can convert those customers who are on the fence by letting them choose their own bottle as well.
Sell gift subscriptions
You can reach a whole new buying audience by offering customers the option to purchase a gift subscription on your online store, just like magazines!
You don’t have to change your whole business model either. It’s the perfect add-on for any subscription offering you currently have running.
With KiwiCo you can give a child a gift that keeps giving by picking the product line (based on age), subscription length, and personalization options. The child will receive a different create each month for the duration you prepaid for.
The main difference between a gift subscription and a normal subscription is that a gift subscription is prepaid.
This allows customers to pay upfront for a specific period of time without having to worry about getting charged at a future date.
It gives you an easy way to keep track of these prepaid orders by generating them in Shopify for you to fulfill and ship. The only difference between these and your regular subscription orders is that they're paid for already.
Monthly subscription boxes
We've written about the power of subscription boxes before.
We've even shown you step-by-step how to write a subscription box business plan! (With a free template of course).
But there’s a reason why we keep circling back to it. It’s one of the easiest ways to gain monthly recurring revenue for your online business.
Postfly, the original monthly fly fishing box, uses Bold Subscriptions to manage their popular subscription box business. These work great as a monthly top-up for fishing enthusiasts or gift for any angler.
Check out some of these creative subscription box ideas from one of our previous posts:
- Crated With Love – Date night in a box. Fun!
- Yogi Surprise – Yoga supplies, every month.
- Blue Apron – Groceries delivered to your door.
- Vinyl Me, Please – For the turntable obsessed.
- Graze – Healthy snacks. I love their slogan: “Don't just snack, Graze.”
- Kiwi Crate – Craft supplies for kids.
- Adults & Crafts – Craft supplies for adults!
If you’re looking for more ways to expand your business and bring in more monthly recurring revenue, make sure to check out this post on Five killer strategies to sell more subscriptions on Shopify. And if you want to read more about subscription features like inventory forecasting, cancellation prevention, dynamic discounting, meal plan services, subscription retargeting, and “buy anywhere” buttons, make sure to check out boldcommerce.com/subscriptions.
Do you offer unique subscription options on your online store? Make sure to include a link to your store below!
This article originally appeared in the Bold Commerce blog and has been published here with permission.