Before making a business decision to add subscriptions to your product mix, can your eCommerce platform even support subscriptions? Starting a subscription business requires additional considerations than you would normally look at with traditional eCommerce products. For instance, subscription commerce requires different functionality for things like pricing, recurring orders, reporting, onboarding customers, account management, and more. It’s crucial to lay out a solid foundation before you begin and this starts with considering what your current eCommerce platform can handle.
If subscriptions are going to be a revenue driver and you need to add platform plugins or extensions to handle any portion of the process - you’re likely to be missing out on at least one of the pieces (and probably more) we listed above.
A “bolt-on” or separate subscription platform attached to your primary eCommerce platform should be a non-starter. Why? It’s simple - you want to fully integrate your subscription products and services with the rest of your eCommerce business. That means including subscription products in your promotions and merchandising, and thoroughly integrating non-subscription and subscription products together.
If your best customers are going to be purchasing both subscriptions and products from your store, shouldn’t they be able to do so within the same platform?
Subscriptions require so much additional functionality in the backend and shopping experience, that it’s extremely difficult for a “plug-in” or extension to give you all the functionality you need to run a subscription business.
When subscriptions are treated the same way (promotions, ordering, merchandising and marketing) as other products in your platform, you can integrate your subscriptions and products together to create new selling opportunities.
For example, a subscription-only platform might enable you to upsell a customer from one subscription product to another more expensive one, but can that platform sell the user a subscription and then sell related or accessory products?
Or as a premium subscriber on a site, can you sell both recurring shipments of products and allow access to members-only content through a paywall?
Secondly, during the process of buying a subscription, can you combine those additional products into a single cart? A single order into your platform - subscription + extras?
It’s important to remember that a subscription can mean more than just delivery of orders. It can also mean services related to a product purchase - look around your house and even your pocket. You buy a cell phone with service, a Fitbit with premium service, and much more. Product + subscription is also a new shift.
Combining subscription products with other product types builds a more dynamic experience for the customer, increases average order values, and improves the connection between the customer and your storefront.
Reporting for your subscription business is going to tell you two different things - what has happened and what’s going to happen. Regardless of whether you're running a business with subscription delivery or digital goods (gated content, paywall, etc.), those are the two important reporting and analytics metric types that you’re going to need to be paying attention to.
The subscription market offers predictable business - you know exactly how much you’re shipping and billing at a regular interval. If you’re a planner, the predictable nature of the business is amazing. If your business model is related to digital access or gated-content, you may be more attuned to subscriber churn and lifetime value.
From a shipping point of view, the inventory or purchasing team is going to need advanced reporting tools in order to make forecasting, planning, and purchasing decisions.
From a digital access and gated-content perspective, there isn’t any shipping, but you need access level reporting to gain insight into the level of activity by your subscriber base. Whether or not the platform includes access and engagement analytics as part of its core, you will want to integrate access reporting into your analytics platform.
If you’re doing a significant eCommerce subscription business, the weaknesses of a platform without reporting and subscription analytics will begin to cause problems almost immediately. It’s critical to know what’s shipping and selling, and what kinds of shipments are scheduled.
Now that you're aware of the common issues and considerations of starting a subscription commerce business, it’s time to create a comprehensive checklist of all the features your platform might be missing. The next section of this guide covers everything you’ll need to consider when determining if your platform is a good fit.