Starting a Subscription Program | Part 3: Managing Growth

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This is part three in a three-part series offering best practices for eCommerce stores looking to build out a subscription program. Check out Part One: Define the Product here. and Part Two: Know Your Customers here.

A subscription program can take off quickly and it’s important that a business plans ahead for growth before launching.

Determine the Level of Flexibility You’re Going to Allow

Because subscriptions services are a newer innovation, there is room for creativity in how you choose to shape yours. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all branch within the eCommerce industry.

There are clear benefits to allowing your customers to customize their subscriptions, however, each customization introduces a new range of complexities to your system and process. In each case, you need to determine whether the benefits are worth the cost. Out-of-the-box subscription plugins don’t always offer exactly what you need and it’s important to recognize that customizations affect each step in your process. However, customers adore the opportunity to control their experiences and allowing them to, for example, adjust the frequency of their shipments, can be a huge selling point.

A few common customizations:

  • The ability to select from a range of items
  • The ability to switch to larger or smaller subscriptions
  • The ability to adjust the frequency of subscriptions
  • The ability to include special, one-time add-ons to boxes

Implement Transparent Billing, Payment and Invoicing Systems

More so than with normal eCommerce transactions, subscription programs are susceptible to the pitfalls of dealing with expired or changing credit card numbers. Without a system in place for dealing with this eventuality, you might find yourself scrambling at every cycle to collect new billing information from your subscribers.

Make sure your billing schedule is clearly communicated to avoid panicked emails and phone calls. Consider including customer accounts on your website so your subscribers can easily log in and see when they were last billed, when their next charge will occur, update their billing information, and view or edit other details about their subscription.

Create a Strategy for Shipping

One of the most challenging aspects of running a subscription program is getting the shipping right. You will constantly be receiving, packing and sending out products. Depending on your business model, your items could also be different for every cycle. As we discussed above, attractive packaging is an important element of the subscription model. This makes the shipping process difficult to automate, making you dependent on your warehouse workers. Testing is vital. Creating a schedule that’s realistic and considers the natural ebb and flow of work that comes with subscription programs will also make everything flow smoothly and keep your workers from pulling their hair out.

Set Guidelines for Clear Metrics and Reporting

Many people start businesses with the intention of keeping clear reports and tracking metrics each step of the way, but once things start getting crazy and the work piles up, those plans can be the first thing to go. Stay on top of your reporting! This will allow you to understand what is working and adjust quickly when strategies are not successful. Going too far down the wrong path is costlier than redirecting at the first signs of trouble.

Don’t Forget About Scalability

For subscription programs to be successful, they need to be scalable. Solutions that work with a small number of subscribers do not always translate once a subscription base has grown. It’s important to keep one eye on the growth of your company and consider whether you’re getting your customers acclimated to services and products that aren’t sustainable at a larger scale.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Are the products you’re including available at larger quantities?
  • Does your shipping process translate to a larger scale?
  • Are you relying on too many manual processes that can’t be easily automated?
  • Can your website handle large amounts of traffic?
  • If your software is up to snuff, do you have the trained staff in place to keep up with it?

The Importance of Reliable, Technical Support

Launching a subscription program, or a new feature for a subscription program, comes with a unique set of technical challenges. Having a developer at hand with deep, technical knowledge is invaluable.

coolblueweb has worked with a number of businesses on their subscription programs. We’ve seen the errors and issues that come up at smaller and larger scales and we know how to create solutions that automate processes, saving you time and allowing you to grow. If you’re looking for a web development partner to help iron out the bugs and get your subscription program purring, send us a note at info@coolblueweb.com.

Sarah has been with coolblueweb since 2012. She enjoys dance, movies and laughing at inappropriate times.