6 Steps for Quickly Building a Successful Subscription Service in a Crisis

07/05/2020, Marketing, Sophie Selvey

Inspired by our recent Tips in Ten collaboration with ReCharge, check out these six simple steps to build a successful subscription service during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

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Following the recent launch of our Tips in Ten YouTube series, we’re back with another round-up of simple, actionable tips to help you weather the COVID-19 retail storm. This time, we’re exploring the hot topic of subscription ecommerce!


Our UK Head of Growth, Matt Abbott, recently caught up with Rob Barr, Partnerships Manager at ReCharge, to discuss how online retailers can leverage the power of subscriptions during this uncertain time


ReCharge is the leading platform for merchants looking to power a subscription service. 


They work with thousands of Shopify merchants, powering some of the largest subscription stores in the world, including Dr. Axe, Death Wish Coffee and our very own Swanky clients, Friction Free Shaving and YuMove. Find out more about ReCharge and its benefits in our Ecommerce Spotlight Series.


We’ve hand-picked six key lessons from Matt and Rob’s Q&A session. Check them out below, or keep scrolling for the full ‘Tips in Ten’ video!


#1 Start with a simple subscription model that works for your business


If a subscription service is something which could align with your audience, brand, products and vertical, now is a prime time to consider branching out and leveraging the power of subscription ecommerce. 


Start simple and don’t invest too many resources until you’re sure a subscription option is feasible. By starting with a ‘minimum viable’ subscription service, you can discover what works and doesn’t work, and then advance your offering from there. 


For example, if you’re in the consumables sector, consider offering customers an Amazon-style ‘subscribe and save’ service as an alternative to one-time transactions. This is a quick and simple way to introduce a new subscription service to your store (not to mention an effective retention tactic!).


Shopify Plus powerhouse Death Wish Coffee offers customers a simple ‘subscribe and save’ option – a cheaper alternative to a one-time purchase.


For consumables and non-consumables alike, another quick entry route into the subscription arena is introducing a subscription box. With this model, subscribers can receive a selection of curated products on a regular basis.


BarkBox is one of the most popular subscription boxes on the market, serving over 2 million pups! Each box includes a curated selection of toys and treats, personalised to your dog.


#2 Communicate with subscribers regularly and be transparent


Informing customers about how your subscription service works is hugely important. By clearly explaining the premise of your subscription model, like how and when  subscribers will be charged, users will be more inclined to become long-term subscribers. 


Customers should understand exactly what they are subscribing to and how flexible they can be with their regular order, in order to reduce any potential uncertainty.


Powdered food brand Huel provide a high level of transparency in their dedicated subscription guide, which clearly communicates to customers how they can create and manage their subscription.


An automated email journey is a great way to keep subscribers in-the-know — from confirmation post-purchase, to reminding subscribers of their ability to update their subscription box. You can also use reminders to create anticipation around a customer’s upcoming delivery.


As well as email, you can also leverage other communication channels. Consider SMS, Facebook Messenger and other avenues to communicate with customers and keep them informed.


#3 Be flexible and offer alternatives


Allowing people to skip, pause or edit aspects of their subscription is essential. Although it might seem counterintuitive to let customers skip or pause a subscription box, it will secure subscriber loyalty and advocacy, and therefore boost customer retention. Short-term dips in revenue will transform into higher lifetime value down the line! 


Another tip for ensuring flexibility is to include one-time add-ons within your subscription service.


Be sure to leverage this flexibility if customers are considering cancelling their subscription. ReCharge merchants can use the platform’s native tools to respond to subscribers and recommend alternatives to cancellation. For instance, if the customer wants to cancel because they have too much of a product, you can automatically recommend skipping an upcoming delivery rather than pulling the plug completely.


#4 Put convenience at the forefront of your subscription messaging


Right now, people are seeking convenience more than ever. With consumers relying heavily upon deliveries for their at-home essentials and other goods, the regular arrival of a subscription box on customers’ doorsteps might just make your box the highlight of their month.


Be sure to promote the convenience of your subscription service in your marketing, on your homepage and product pages. And why not offer free shipping for your valued subscribers?


Beauty box provider Birchbox promote the convenience of their subscription service across their ecommerce store.


#5 Optimise your subscription portal depending on customer interaction


Ensure you’ve got the tracking tools in place to find out how consumers are interacting with your brand, and then use that data to provide a streamlined, optimised experience – reducing any potential barriers to subscribing.


For instance, if the majority of your customers are viewing your site through mobile, make sure your subscription portal works flawlessly on hand-held devices. You want to make it as easy as possible for subscribers to do their shopping in the way they prefer.


#6 Prioritise and reward loyal subscribers


Consider offering store-wide benefits as part of your subscription model, in addition to (or even instead of) physical products. These benefits might include free shipping, access to exclusive content, early or guaranteed access to products, or improved loyalty point redemption.


At a time when many brands are selling out of certain items in a flash, giving subscribers premium, prioritised access to high-demand products will secure their loyalty and improve your retention rates.


Freshly Picked’s subscription-based membership gives subscribers first access to new items – a great reward for loyal, hyper-engaged customers.


Watch the ‘Tips in Ten’ video


Check out the full Q&A session with Matt and Rob below!



Stay up to date with our informative Tips in Ten series by subscribing to our YouTube channel here!


Looking to update and grow your ecommerce store?

Swanky is an end-to-end Shopify Plus partner agency, with offices in the UK and Australia. As a leading ecommerce agency for design, development and growth services, we have spent years delivering innovative digital solutions that elevate our clients to the forefront of their industries. We’re committed to accelerating the growth of ambitious brands through the delivery of creative digital solutions and outstanding customer experiences.


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About the author

Sophie Selvey

As part of Swanky's Agency Marketing team, wordsmith Sophie enjoys crafting engaging, informative content about all things digital and people-focused! Outside of her internship, she can be found getting stuck into her course texts, socialising, or working in production at local events.

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