How to Sell Subscriptions: A Guide to Growing Recurring Revenue

15 min read

According to The Subscription Trade Association, by 2023, 75% of businesses selling direct-to-consumer will offer subscription services. Don’t be surprised: it all makes sense when you look at subscription benefits for both shoppers and sellers.

While customers always want convenience, online sellers need reliable, recurring revenue to succeed in a highly competitive ecommerce environment. A subscription business model checks all these boxes!

Even if you didn’t launch your business as a subscription service, you can incorporate it into your online store to reap the benefits and keep your customers engaged and satisfied. Consider this blog post your guide to accomplishing just that.

And if you’re an Ecwid merchant ready to sell subscriptions in your online store, click the button below to learn about how to enable subscriptions right away.

Set Up Subscriptions

What Are Subscriptions?

With a subscription business model, a company provides ongoing products or services on a regular basis in exchange for payment.

It’s highly likely you’ve already bought a subscription yourself—be it for a physical product or access to content or service. Netflix, Amazon Prime, and various subscription boxes have become a part of our everyday lives. So why take advantage of the model’s popularity to benefit your business?

Customers are charged for subscription products regularly as opposed to a one-time purchase

Benefits of Selling Subscriptions

As a consumer, you might already have an appreciation for the unique perks of buying subscriptions. Convenience is king: you don’t have to re-order products or services, as they restock and renew by themselves. Plus, you can save money in the long term, as services often offer discounts for annual subscriptions.

But what are the benefits of selling subscriptions as a business?

Recurring Revenue

We’ve already mentioned it, but it’s an advantage worth repeating. When customers purchase subscriptions, they’re locked into buying products and services for specific periods — up to several months or a year. That allows you to forecast your sales, which makes running a business way more predictable and sustainable.

If you run a business in a highly competitive niche, recurring revenue is especially important for staying afloat and getting ahead of your competitors.

Easier to Manage Inventory

Apart from a predictable revenue stream, selling subscriptions allows you to better manage your inventory. Since customers subscribe for extended periods of time, you can better understand the amount of product you need to fulfill orders.

Customer Retention

Above, we’ve mentioned the benefits of buying subscriptions for customers: convenience and cost-effectiveness. That means that the longer a consumer uses a subscription service, the more value they get out of it, and the more likely they are to stay a repeat customer.

Retaining customers can really guarantee long-term business success. Loyal customers tend to buy more over time, as they’re familiar with your business and trust it.

Selling subscriptions also helps grow the customer lifetime value (how much profit you have earned from a single customer throughout the entirety of your business.) The more often a customer buys from you, the higher the CLV is.

What You Can Sell as Subscriptions

There are lots of products and services you can sell as subscriptions. The chances are you’re already selling some of them as items for a one-time purchase. Check out the list below to see if you’re missing out on growing recurring revenue for your store.

Subscription Boxes

Subscription boxes are curated, niche-oriented products packaged in a box that are delivered to customers on a regular basis. They are great for trying out new products, taking up a new hobby, or just treating yourself to a fun experience. Subscription boxes often contain a new, “mystery” item which creates anticipation and excitement (a gift idea to suggest to your customers.)

Beauty boxes are popular subscription box products

Subscription boxes are often based on the customer’s individual preferences, but the range of products you can sell as subscription boxes is endless. Cosmetics, clothes and lingerie, accessories, food, crafts for DIY projects, pet food, you name it. Boxes can contain different options of the same product (say, socks), or various items united by a common theme (a box of cosmetics.)

Apart from attracting customers who love the rush of new product deliveries on a regular basis, subscription boxes are great for selling products that need regular replenishment. Do you own a bakery? Deliver weekly packages of fresh bread and buns. Run a coffee shop? Sell bundles of coffee beans delivered monthly.

As you might have guessed, food makes a perfect product for a subscription (replenishment, if you will) box, from curated gourmet items to regular fresh produce.

McNabb Microfarm offers microgreens on a monthly or bi-weekly basis

Memberships and Access to Services

When customers buy a membership, they pay a recurring fee to access an online or offline service. This works great for services that are provided for an extended period. Say, a cleaning service that is paid weekly, or educational courses that are provided monthly.

Just like subscription boxes, memberships vary. They can provide access to a service as a whole, or additional services. For example, you can sell memberships to attend offline language courses or offer extra lessons to members only.

Memberships also might provide access to exclusive content or events and conferences.

Apart from workouts, FIT subscription provides access to the FIT community

“Subscribe and Save” Products and Services

The Subscribe and Save model allows customers to save on items they buy regularly. Online stores that use this model often offer both one-time purchase items, and the option to “subscribe” to a specific product. Customers then receive it regularly at a reduced price.

Just like subscription boxes, the Subscribe and Save model works best with products that need replenishment, like toiletries or food. But what distinguishes this model from subscription boxes is the focus on savings instead of feelings of discovery and delight.

Digital Subscriptions

Businesses that sell digital subscriptions provide access to content on their website (to all or a set of content.) It may include exclusive content for subscribers or access to the app.

This model works great for online magazines and stores that sell digital products. For example, an educational resource might sell a monthly subscription to student workbooks.

Also: 18 Digital Product Ideas For Almost Every Small Business

Recurring Donations

While this option might not come to mind right away, regular donations work just like subscriptions: customers “subscribe” to donating regularly, say; weekly or monthly.

Nonprofits can offer subscribe to regular donations on their website

If your business supports an important cause, you can set up regular and recurring donations for your online store. Or, you can allow customers to support your small business in case something unexpected happens, like the COVID-19 pandemic (fingers crossed you won’t need this feature for that, but still).

How to Get More Subscription Sign-ups

As you can see, there are plenty of options for how you want to run the subscription model in your store. Now let’s dive into how you can attract more repeat customers for your subscription products.

Your ultimate goal is to make sure your customers know that your product is a better value for them when bought on a regular basis. To achieve that, use the ideas below or combine them to suit your business better.

Offer a Special Deal to Subscribers

The Subscribe and Save model is popular for a reason: a discount gives shoppers a clear incentive to buy a subscription product. However, there are lots of other ways to show customers they can get more for their money.

Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Offer free shipping on subscription products
  • Lower the price for a limited time to create a sense of urgency
  • Offer “Buy One, Get One Free” deals
  • Add a gift or bonus for the first 100 subscribers
  • Offer a free entry to a loyalty program
  • Run a giveaway for subscribers only
  • Send free educational content to subscribers (for example, if you sell beauty products, send a checklist for choosing cruelty-free cosmetics).

Make sure to list the benefits of subscribing to your product on your site

If you offer products for a one-time purchase along with subscriptions, make sure you differentiate the promotions in your store.

Add a Subscription-Only Product

Offer a product that only subscribers can get, just make sure it’s an item in demand. For example, an exclusive product or a bestseller with a deep discount.

Or, turn a whole box into an exclusive offer by launching a limited edition offer

Another option is to include a surprise product in the subscription. That creates excitement and a feeling of discovery, as customers get their regular order and something new.

Add Seasonal Offerings

Seasonal specials can also attract customers to subscribe to your product. In this case, you combine two incentives: a limited-time offer and a new or exclusive product.

If you sell services, you can also incorporate seasonal offers into your subscriptions. For example, if you teach foreign languages, you can include lessons with holiday topics into an annual subscription.

Offer First Access to New Products

The feeling of discovery can stimulate customers to buy a subscription. This offer can also attract shoppers if you sell products that take a lot of time to make and deliver. For example, hand-crafted jewelry or exclusive items from overseas. Let subscribers skip the line!

Pay attention to this option, especially if you already have a solid customer base interested in your upcoming products. That creates an opportunity for upselling, or inviting customers to purchase a more expensive item — in your case, a subscription.

Throw Events for Subscribers

Not only can events for subscribers attract more shoppers, but they also can help grow a community around your brand and promote customer engagement and loyalty.

For example: if you sell flowers, invite subscribers to an offline workshop on floral arrangements. Or, a meal prep company can organize an online Q&A with a nutritionist.

But that’s not all, folks! For more ideas on making your subscription product attractive for repeat customers, listen to our podcast with in-house ecommerce experts:

How to Start Selling Subscriptions

Ready to grow your recurring revenue with subscriptions? We’re here to help!

With Ecwid, you can:

  • Sell popular subscription-based products such as food, cosmetics, subscription boxes, access to memberships, replenishment items.
  • Set the billing cycle to daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually.
  • Collect recurring donations for your store or non-profit.
  • Enable recurring subscriptions along with one-time purchases to provide more options for your customers.
  • Easily manage subscriptions. All of them are preserved in your Ecwid admin, including active, canceled, subscriptions with failed charges, and the ones that need to be confirmed.
  • Contact subscription customers if you need to specify the delivery address or clarify subscription details.

Here’s how it works: after you enable subscriptions in your Control Panel, you create a product in your store that customers can subscribe to and receive on a repeated schedule.

Customers can choose between a one-time purchase and a subscription

Once shoppers subscribe to your product, they’ll be charged automatically according to the subscription period. Customers can cancel their subscriptions or change payment details in the customer account.

The payment history is also displayed in the customer account

Every time a customer is charged during the subscription period, you will receive an email, and a new order will be placed automatically. If the subscription is canceled or there’s an issue with payment, you’ll be notified about that too.

We’ve set it up so that everything should work smoothly: you set up a subscription product once, and it starts generating sales. Customers don’t need to re-order items. You pack and ship the orders. It’s all so simple!

Ready to sell subscriptions with Ecwid? You can get started in no time:

  1. Sign up with Ecwid. You’ll be able to set up an ecommerce site or add an online store to your existing website.
  2. Add policies for purchasing subscriptions in your Terms & Conditions. Make sure to cover your refund/return/cancellation policy and delivery details.
  3. Add a subscription product to your store using this step-by-step instruction.

To learn more about setting up and managing subscriptions in your Ecwid store, read our in-depth instructions in the Help Center.

Start Selling Subscriptions

We’ve done our best brainstorming, but we bet you have some even better ideas for selling subscription-based products and services—so share them in the comments!

Need help with setting up your subscriptions store? Don’t hesitate to reach out to our Customer Care team. And if you’re a seasoned subscription seller yourself, feel free to share your experience with our readers.

Next week we’re going to dive into one of the most popular products sold with this business model — a subscription box. We’ll share dozens of ideas for in-demand subscription boxes you can start selling. Stay tuned!

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About the author

Anastasia Prokofieva is a content writer at Ecwid. She writes about online marketing and promotion to make entrepreneurs’ daily routine easier and more rewarding. She also has a soft spot for cats, chocolate, and making kombucha at home.

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