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10 Strategies for State-of-the-Art Subscription eCommerce

Amaury de Closset
Co-Founder, Limio

It has never been more important to sell subscriptions online – and do it well. Long before COVID-19 hit, shutting physical stores and ushering in a world of remote work, it had become the customer expectation. Why go in shops or talk to someone on the phone to subscribe when I can start my free trial on Netflix in three clicks?

Yet COVID-19 upped the ante. It is now critical to sell online – for some businesses, such as media or telecom organisations impacted by store closures or insurance companies suffering from a disrupted broker network, it can be the only way to sell currently. Even for digital products or SaaS, economic disruption brought by COVID-19 means less sales people, less customer service staff, and more self-service.

The good news is, it’s never been easier to sell subscriptions online and empower your subscribers to self-serve when it comes to upgrading, cancelling, renewing or making the myriad of small changes required to keep a subscription experience smoothly running, from payments, to addresses, to contact details. Thanks to trailblazer companies such as Shopify or Amazon who have set the customer expectation for e-commerce, new software providers have shifted the status quo of subscription and ushering better subscriber experiences.

If the customer is king, its clarion is convenience. The subscriber experience will be frictionless, intuitive and convenient. Easy said, hard to do. Frictionless subscription eCommerce is fiendishly hard, with complex data models and mind-bowing pricing complexity, many third-party integrations to payments, address validations, tax calculations, and channel-hoping subscriber journeys.

To do subscription eCommerce well, you need to think of it as the orchestrator. You need to make products, identities, invoices, payments, entitlements, all sing together across the whole subscriber lifecycle, from first purchase to last cancellation, online and offline. Oh yes, it’s an online world out there but it doesn’t mean subscribers should get left out if computer says no. Sounds complicated? It is. Add the myriad of devices and browsers your subscribers use, their expectations in term of performance, reliability and security, payment innovations such as Apple Pay, and regulatory compliance such as GDPR and PCI. And if you have set your sight on world domination, expect legal and localisation hurdles.

So how do you deliver state-of-the-art subscription eCommerce? Here are the 10 things you should look for.

1. Clear, concise pricing pages.

If you go to Spotify Premium, Hulu or the Economist, you’ll see pricing pages following a similar structure. A minimal header, an eye-catching hero banner, a clean three cards display of offers, followed by a succinct description of the key features of the product. The format is concise, informative, and actionable. And notice there are very often three offers. Three is a magic number. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thinner, lighter, and faster. Clean, clear, concise. It’s also easy to compare 3 offers, and therefore to take action. If you have more offers, get them on a different pricing page.

2. Localised, personalized pricing.

Could you imagine asking US customers to pay in Euros? While international markets are more used to paying in Dollars, it does reduce conversion rates. And you are missing out on potential price uplift from regional pricing, a strategy that can improve the bottom line by pricing accordingly to local market value. At a minimum, consider covering the main currencies or run a test using the local currency of your second biggest market.

3. Frictionless checkout.

The checkout is the hottest battleground of conversion. Will you make it easy? Each field the customer needs to populate introduces more friction and reduces conversion rate, so think carefully about the data you must collect. Wallets such as PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay will typically store all the data you need. Otherwise, integrate your user, address and payment data to prefill as much as possible the checkout. And keep your checkout clean and uncluttered, especially on mobile. The aim is for the customer to hit Pay, not read up on all the latest features of your products.

4. Actionable purchase.

The subscriber paid. Hooray! So can they now access the content immediately? Easier said than done. You need to make sure your billing, customer relationship management, entitlements, provisioning systems are all singing harmoniously together, so that by the time the subscriber completes the order, they can actually enjoy their digital product or start tracking their physical shipments. Getting the onboarding experience right is critical to preempting churn.

5. Convenient, comprehensive self-service.

It’s 2021. If you can subscribe online, you should be able to cancel, upgrade, downgrade, renew, top-up, update your payments online. Make this easy for your customers, but importantly, give control to your marketers of the self-service experience. Retention is a war played on every front, including self-service. Your marketers are best equipped to understand what is going to make the subscriber stick.

6. Smart cancellations experience.

Let’s talk about the cancel experience. The cancellation experience needs to be smart, personalized, convincing. Your marketers are the best placed to make that happen. You should collect information on why the customer is cancelling, and based on your customer data and their cancellation reason, craft segmented experiences to show them alternative products, special offers and discounts, relevant products, or personalized content. Some of our customer have seen 40% improvement in retention rate by implementing personalization strategies in their cancellation funnel.

7. Upsells and cross-sells.

Often, the first subscription is the gateway to more consumption to your company’s products. Whether it’s upgrading from Bronze to Gold or buying some add-on products, you want to make this as seamless as possible. Again, you will want marketing to define upgrade path and typical upsells programatically, so that each subscriber see the most relevant offers to them. The purchasing experience should be as close to 1-click as possible, as you already have all the data you need.

8. Conversion and retention analytics.

If you were on a diet, committed to eating less and exercising more, you would weight yourself to track progress. In the subscription world, it would make no sense to put in place conversion and retention strategies without analytics. You must make informed decisions about what works and what doesn’t. A solid, flexible analytics tech stack should be in place before you even start your optimisation experiments.

9. Omnichannel experiences.

Today, subscribers will expect to hop from shop, to phone, to web, to an app. With different experience layers run by disparate tech stack, it can rapidly get tricky to provide a consistent experience. Can a customer service views the browsing history of a subscriber? Can the customer see in their self-service an order they’ve made over the phone and edit it? Subscriber expectations are higher than ever, and they will expect for you to connect the dots.

10. No-code changes.

Delivering state-of-the-art subscriber ecommerce is incredibly hard. And while technology can help a lot, the true masters of great experiences are your product, design, marketing teams. Teams that cannot code but needs the agility, speed, flexibility to deliver on subscriber’s expectations shouldn’t get bogged down in sprint planning, QA testing and release discussions. No-code tools gives non-technical teams the ability to rapidly iterate, optimize, test new subscriber experiences, pricing, promotions in minutes, not weeks, and deliver on the most important work: increasing acquisition and retention rates. 

Ten strategies might feel overwhelming. But you’re not alone. While the business of selling subscriptions online has become more and more complicated, the availability of modern, cloud-based solutions such as has increased dramatically in the last decade in line with the popularity of the subscription economy. By investing in better, smarter systems, subscription companies can achieve state-of-the-art subscription ecommerce that meets subscribers’ expectations without breaking the bank.

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