Customer Retention

6 Subscription Ideas to Stabilize Revenue

Plenty of online stores offer flash sales and steep discounts to keep product moving out the door. Both provide quick sales. The downside, however, is lower profit.

The subscription model isn’t new to ecommerce, though it’s primarily used by startups and big players. It could be just what small- and mid-sized merchants need to stabilize profitable revenue and weather economic downturns.

Product-based subscriptions offer discounts for automatic replenishment. Amazon’s Subscribe & Save gives discounts up to 15% plus free shipping on auto-deliveries. Customers can opt to receive shipments every two weeks to six months on many products.

Membership subscriptions provide insider benefits, such as first-to-buy rights, special savings, priority support, and access to exclusive content. Memberships are typically sold as a unique item or unlocked with specific products or minimum purchase thresholds.

For example, GoPro offers an annual subscription that is a no-brainer for plenty of its camera owners. For $49.99 per year, GoPro provides unlimited cloud backup, editing tools, savings on accessories and new devices, live streaming, and guaranteed camera replacement.

GoPro Subscription info page

GoPro’s subscription plan allows for damaged camera replacement.

Ecommerce Subscriptions

Shoppers on Amazon subscribe to auto-delivery to avoid the hassle of reordering and to save money. The best subscription plans focus on the overall experience — bonus products, unique packaging, or exclusive access to high-demand items. For example, Apple’s iCloud service is more than backing up photos. It lets subscribers share albums and manage collections through a web portal.

Here are six subscription ideas to get you started:

  • Executive-style classes. The MasterClass model makes learning from experts affordable. Class-style training became highly popular during the pandemic. Merchants can replicate that model by developing courses in-house or contracting with a third-party site to buy memberships in bulk. Some provide co-branded content, too.
  • Video how-tos. People use YouTube to figure out how to do just about everything from crafting to home repair. Larger merchants — Cricut, a maker of craft equipment, is an example — provide how-tos for free. But most any seller can package detailed vlogs with products to encourage folks to buy.
  • Subscription boxes. BarkBox creates excitement with its monthly shipments of themed toys and treats for dogs. Think about related products you could package each month to ship automatically. Birchbox’s beauty-subscription model sends subscribers five handpicked products each month. And Loot Crate sends surprise bundles of gaming and popular culture items to its subscribers.
Loot Crate

Loot Crate sells monthly and bi-monthly subscriptions for various types of products. Some carry discounts for those who purchase an annual plan.

  • Priority access to products. You could offer subscribers first-chance or exclusive access to new or select products, with or without a discount. This can work well with stores that sell limited edition or low-availability items. Incorporate the program with product waitlists for an extra incentive. Another option is to give access to content and products before they’re officially launched. Not all publishers and manufacturers allow this, so check the fine print first.
  • Unique partner product introductions. Partnering with companies that fit your audience is an excellent way to build relationships. Typically, those third parties would pay a fee or at least provide inventory at cost, so you can adequately serve your base.
  • Random product drops. Candy Club is both an online store and subscription service. Customers can opt to receive monthly boxes of candies or purchase items separately. Focusing on random selections allows you to move product that might not otherwise sell on name alone.
Candy Club offerings - subscription or purchase

Candy Club gives the best of both worlds. Customers buy specific jars of candy or opt for monthly surprises.

The Pay-off

Subscription models can help online stores serve loyal customers and entice new buyers. While this growing trend requires audience and market research, the time and effort can pay off big, especially when stacked with additional benefits.

As with all customer-facing deliverables, analyze the response and adjust as necessary. Subscriptions aren’t for every consumer, but if you can nail down the experience, shoppers will sign up and take it for a spin.

Pamela Hazelton
Pamela Hazelton
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