Selling Subscriptions: 4 Things You're Missing

Subscription selling is the next big thing in eCommerce. Based on industry trends, around 70% of business leaders believe that subscription models are the way of the future. It’s no surprise. Companies like Netflix, Amazon, and even vehicle manufacturers like BMW and Porsche are seeing massive success with subscription selling.

What many companies don’t realize is that subscription selling is much different than the age-old, single-sale standard. There’s much more involved than just taking a customer’s payment information and shipping a product. 

Luckily, Slatwall Commerce is designed for subscription selling and can help you achieve success in the subscription market. But creating and selling a subscription product is only the first part of the process. Here are four things that you’re probably missing with your existing subscription business.

1. Recurring Billing

One of the biggest shocks to subscription-selling beginners is recurring billing. Your existing eCommerce platform was probably fine taking and processing credit card information… once. With subscription selling, you need to charge customers on a regular basis, which creates a few difficulties for standard eCommerce platforms:

  • Securely store customer credit card information through your payment provider.
  • Automatic billing every month (or however long your subscription recurs)
  • Notifying customers of charges via email or text
  • Handling failed payments
  • Sending payment receipts

Since your customers won’t manually initiate the sale every month, it’s up to your eCommerce platform to handle many of the tasks automatically on a recurring basis. If it’s not automatic, it’ll add a ton of administrative work to your already-packed schedule, which you certainly don’t need.

Think about how to handle recurring billing before launching your subscription service.

2. Subscription Management Abilities

When selling single products, you really need only two pieces of information: customer billing information and their mailing address. Subscription selling—as always—is a bit more complicated.

For subscription selling to succeed, you need to construct customer profiles with preferences, contact information, and recurring delivery dates. Your team needs access to tools to help customers manage their subscriptions:

  • Swap, edit, and change subscription preferences
  • Ability to delay subscription shipments
  • Update contact information and account passwords
  • Shipment and delivery alerts
  • Changes in delivery times
  • Delivery forecasting

If a customer calls and asks, “why didn’t my delivery arrive? It usually arrives on Thursdays,” your team needs to know the answer. Without the right subscription management abilities, you won’t be able to offer the quick assistance to solve problems. If you can’t solve problems, your customers will likely get frustrated, leading to a higher churn rate.

Many times, customers might need to change their subscription delivery dates. Maybe they have enough of an item to last through this month, and they want to push their subscription back a month. Most standard eCommerce platforms won’t be able to handle such a request. 

Make sure your team has access to all the tools they need for subscription management, so they can help customers through the intricacies of subscription commerce.

3. Customer Self-Service

To avoid overwhelming your team with customer requests, customer self-service options are a must-have for any subscription selling method.

Customers need a secure portal they can log into to change and update their subscription options as they need. They should be able to make basic changes to their accounts without needing to call your support line:

  • Billing and payment information
  • Make changes to products or services/increase or reduce quantities
  • Opt-out of automatic billing
  • Pause or cancel subscriptions (it’s unfortunate, but you should give customers the ability)

Realistically, with all the tools and capabilities that your team has access to (see #2 above), you should be able to make it available to the customer. 

The more power you can give customers over their accounts, the less your team will need to handle. Subscription selling just doesn’t work without a well-built customer portal.

4. Communication

Subscription commerce generates a ton of communication. Between constant emails and notifications about orders and deliveries to billing notifications and subscription changes, you’ll need to create a map to handle such levels of communication. 

Building a communication strategy is key to successful subscription commerce. First, consider every message and update you’ll need to send:

  • Billing notifications – “Here’s your receipt,” “We were unable to charge your card,” etc.
  • Order confirmations – “Thank you for your order,” “Your order has been shipped.”
  • General notifications – “An item on your order is no longer available,” “We have a new product available that you might be interested in,” etc.

Once you know the basic messages you’ll need to send, identify the system(s) responsible for generating and sending those messages, and create a map of how everything is going to work.

Without a plan to handle the excessive amount of communication that comes with subscription selling, your customer service lines are going to be overloaded. Make sure you’re prepared to handle the constant communication needs.

Key Takeaways:

  • Have systems in place to handle automatic recurring billing, like the ability to save payment and billing information, automatic payment processing, and sending receipts. Keeping payment management within your eCommerce infrastructure is critical to the customer experience (and your own sanity).
  • Provide your team with the tools to manage customer subscriptions. They need to be able to change preferences, update information, change delivery dates, and much more. Of course, that’s in addition to all of the other traditional account self-service functionality customers expect (see below).
  • Give customers a self-service portal where they can log in and manage accounts themselves to update billing and contact information, change account preferences, and pause or cancel their subscriptions.
  • Create a communication plan that includes the specific messages you’ll need to send to customers and the system(s) responsible for generating those messages.

Bonus: Subscription Data Points

Without measuring trackable metrics, you’ll never know if your subscription selling is effective. Without differentiating your subscription sales from regular sales, all your revenue will be lumped together. You won’t be able to tell if your subscription is successful or if you just had a really good sales month.

Flag subscription sales as originating from subscription business in all your systems. You want to generate specific subscription reports to calculate ROI and make sure you’re reaching your target goals. 

You’ll also need to track the sales order volume generated by accounts that have opted into subscription commerce channels. Are your subscribers generating more business than they had in the past, or are your subscriptions going stagnant?

Tracking subscription metrics separately from your standard sales will ensure you’re staying on target and help you make informed decisions in the future.

Key Takeaways:

  • Track subscription metrics separately from your standard sales
  • Monitor subscribers to see how their buying patterns change over time. Are they buying more or less compared to last year?

Avoid Subscription Selling Surprises

Selling subscriptions is much different than standard one-at-a-time sales. It requires much more intricate processes like recurring billing, advanced account management abilities, customer self-service portals, and constant communication. Make sure you’re prepared to handle the differences before jumping into the world of subscription commerce.


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