Many successful ecommerce businesses focus their marketing efforts on search engine optimization, shopping feeds, email, affiliates, and pay-per-click advertising. However, websites that sell consumable products — such as supplements, batteries, food, snacks, vitamins, beverages, and condiments — can tap into a new revenue source: the “auto ship” program.
An auto-ship program allows customers to schedule — on a recurring basis — when their products are shipped. This allows businesses to generate repeat revenue without any additional marketing expense, or customer service effort.
For example, say a website sells protein powder. For gym members that drink a daily protein shake, their protein-powder packages usually last about 30 servings, or roughly one month. Instead of running out of powder and having to reorder at the last minute, “auto ship” enables customers to determine when they want their powder shipped — such as every 30 days. That way, they get a steady supply without running out or placing a repeat order each month.
For the business owner, an auto-ship program generates recurring revenue. It also creates other benefits, as follows.
- Budgeting. It allows the business owner to set a predictable budget, and project sales each month.
- Inventory and fulfillment. Knowing what is in the queue allows for planning inventory and fulfillment operations more effectively — potentially saving money.
- Marketing expense. There’s a big savings on marketing expense since remarketing to the customers — to get them back to the site — is no longer needed.
- Brand advocates. Customers become brand advocates since they are committing to the program and using products on a regular basis.
Consumers like the program, too, for these reasons.
- Convenience. Products will be delivered without effort, and automatically billed to the consumers’ credit cards.
- Cost savings. Many businesses offer their auto-ship customers special prices, as they are more profitable than new or non-auto-ship customers.
- Control product details. Many leading auto-ship programs allow customers to edit their order details — such as frequency and quantities — anytime through their account portals.
- Unlimited supply. The auto-ship schedule allows customers to “set it and forget it,” never running out of their favorite products.
Vitacost’s Auto Ship Program
Vitacost.com is a leading nutritional supplement company, with $218,652,000 in sales for 2010. It promotes its “AutoShip!” program directly on the home page. Consumers who enroll in it save 5 percent on Vitacost-brand products.
Vitacost clearly explains the auto-ship details, including benefits and terms, on a separate web page.
AutoShip! links are prominently featured throughout the site, including on the header and footer. Moreover, Vitacost.com offers powerful features that allow customers to manage their AutoShip! orders, as follows.
- Adjust quantities. Customers have control over the quantity of each product in their order.
- Remove products. Customers can remove products from the orders.
- Notifications. The next estimated delivery date and the last order date are prominently displayed.
- Product descriptions. A product’s picture, description, and price are provided.
- Frequency. Customers can change the frequency and the next ship date for all products in the order.
- End dates. Customers can set the end date for when they want the products to stop being shipped.
- Immediate ship. Customers can choose to ship the products immediately.
However, there are a few items that would enhance this management system.
- No confirmation. Adding products to the AutoShip! order is done without a confirmation or knowing what the cost of the product will be with tax and shipping. Customers could accidentally add products to their orders.
- Edit individual products. Customers are unable to edit the frequency, next-ship date, end date, and ship-now date for individual products in the order. Each product may have different portions; some may run out sooner than others. For example, a customer may want “Udo’s Choice Blend” every 15 days, and “Flaxseed Meal” every 45 days.
- Tax and shipping cost. There is no subtotal displaying tax and shipping.
- Change products. While a customer can add products easily, it is not as easy to change products — such as different flavors.
AmazingGrass.com’s ‘GrassHeads’ Program
AmazingGrass.com is a distributor of organic foods — a family-run farm in Kansas that has perfected the growing, harvesting, dehydration and storage of organic alfalfa and cereal grasses. It offers a “GrassHeads” auto-ship program. (AmazingGrass is a client of my web development firm.)
Promotion of the GrassHeads program is placed on the header of every page. Similar to Vitacost.com, the link directs to a separate page outlining the benefits and details of the program. Enrollment in the program provides a 20 percent discount off the order total — and free shipping. Moreover, special offers and promotions are available to active GrassHead members.
AmazingGrass.com offers a few additional features that are not available on Vitacost.com, as follows.
- Change products. The ability to swap out each individual product for another.
- Final price. A total field that provides the final price, including the quantities and applicable tax.
- Shipping dates. The ability to change each individual product’s ship-next date.
- Ship now. The ability to choose which products should ship now.
- Frequency, by product. The ability to change the frequency of individual products in the order.
- Help. Icons explain the management and features of the program.
A helpful addition to this management system would be an end-date feature — similar to Vitacost.com — so a customer is not required to manually cancel the products within an order.
Both the Vitacost.com and the AmazingGrass.com auto-ship programs offer feature-rich user experiences that allow customers to control their recurring orders. Both businesses heavily promote their auto-ship programs to drive recurring sales, and serve their customers.