Consumers and providers view subscriptions as a win-win business model. Consumers are offered flexibility, convenience, and affordability. Providers benefit from predictable revenue streams, higher retention rates, and deeper consumer insights. As of 2021, it is safe to say that the servitization of products and the corresponding shift from consumer ownership to access are irreversible trends. According to Zuora’s End of Ownership report, nine out of ten consumers will be subscribing to a service by 2022 while McKinsey’s Global Banking and Finance Review reports that seven in ten business leaders currently view subscriptions as their key business prospect.
However, not everything paints a rosy picture. Competition among subscription businesses is intensifying. No longer is Netflix competing with an out-of-touch Blockbuster for market share. Instead, Netflix is competing neck-to-neck with equally attractive offerings from Amazon, HBO, Hulu, Disney, Tubi, Peacock, and a dozen more movie streaming services. Parallels can be drawn in many more verticals. Subscription boxes, food delivery, car sharing, publishing, in-home fitness, software, music, and gaming are just a few examples of industries where launching a subscription service does not in itself guarantee success by any stretch of the imagination.
Acquiring and retaining subscribers in a market where incumbents and new entrants are rapidly jumping on the subscription bandwagon is only getting harder. McKinsey’s latest research on the state of the e-commerce subscription market shows that, as consumers go through the traditional funnel of awareness, consideration and purchase, businesses can hope for, at best, acquiring 13% and retaining 8% of their target market segments. In other words, by the time all is said and done, nearly nine out of ten consumers who heard about your subscription service never actually gave it a chance.
In such a highly competitive business environment, setting the “right” price is critical to success, but not sufficient. As we will see, price is just one among a dozen determinants of subscription adoption and subscriber retention, and often not the most important. As a result, pricing optimization (via conjoint analysis or other techniques) can take you only so far. Ultimately, your success depends on holistically understanding what drives behavioral intention and subsequent adoption, and designing services accordingly.