And here is is: the conclusion to our series The Essential Foundations of a Subscription-based company! Over the last two articles we have discussed the need for any subscription service to have a USP and an energetic pre-launch campaign. The former can give a company the ability to stand out in a crowded market, but only when supported by the latter - the two really must go hand-in-hand. In this final episode we will complete the triangle of essential foundations with a step-by-step guide for building an intuitive e-commerce experience, specifically designed for subscription-based selling.
it is vital to have a site that is specifically designed with subscription-based selling in mind
As we have seen in parts one and two, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages that specifically apply to companies selling products through a subscription service. As a result of this, there are a number of features that are essential to any subscription-based company because they either overcome these disadvantages or capitalise on the advantages. Such features are often necessary components of the e-commerce platform and therefore it is vital to have a site that is specifically designed with subscription-based selling in mind.
The question then is how to go about creating an intuitive, slick, super smooth e-commerce experience that will overcome all obstacles and keep customers coming back again and again:
1. Brand identity - Before diving into the deep-end of e-commerce sites it is important to have a strong idea of your brand identity. The first step of building your website is to start thinking about what you want your brand to look like (colour scheme, typeface, logo etc.) and how you want your brand to interact with the public - i.e. start sourcing the boxes for your subscriptions, the products themselves and any other items related to the subscriptions. The process of unboxing your subscription package is a key moment of interaction between your brand and the customer, so it is important to have a clear idea in mind of what you want this experience to be like.
You should develop these ideas before you begin to design your site to ensure a strong continuity between the products, the subscription boxes and your e-commerce experience. Having a strong continuity between these three areas will solidify your brand identity in the minds of your customers and build stronger relations, increasing brand loyalty.
2. Choose your platform - The next step is to choose the platform upon which you will build your site. It is a choice you will want to spend some time researching and deliberating because in 2018 there are a plethora of options to pick from, each with their own pros and cons. Try to think long-term, some platforms may be perfect for the first 12-months of your business endeavour but after this time you may find you have outgrown their limits - transferring from one platform to another is not always a simple task!
Here at Ask Phill we believe Shopify is the best platform on the market. It is the most flexible in terms of the number of features it has, allowing you to really customise your site anyway you like. It has the most professional looking templates, the best additional apps and is the best price when compared to all other options. This article will look solely at building an e-commerce experience through Shopify, however we still advise you to look into the other platforms and decide which is best suited to your specific needs.
Unless you have a product they desperately need and cannot acquire anywhere else, most people will not bother trudging through slow, difficult or mundane websites
3. Design and develop your site - Once you have a strong idea of your brand identity and you have chosen an e-commerce platform to use, you are ready to design your site. Remember that in a lot of instances your website is the first point of contact a customer will have with your brand. You want this experience to be smooth and seamless. Unless you have a product they desperately need and cannot acquire anywhere else, most people will not bother trudging through slow, difficult or mundane websites - they will simply look elsewhere. Your e-commerce experience can make or break potential sales.
In addition, it is at this stage that you must consider the specific advantages and disadvantages that a subscription-based company faces and make certain your site is comprised of the relevant features. The disadvantage has already been discussed in part two of this series - subscription services always run the risk of becoming stale. As we have seen, an effective pre-launch campaign can temporarily address this issue. If enough information can be generated about potential customers during the pre-launch, you will have an idea about who your average target audience is. With this in mind you can make some predictions about how to keep your subscriptions fresh for this audience, but only for so long.
Image taken from Birchbox facebook page
The best way to keep your subscriptions in tune with people’s tastes and changing trends over a longer period of time is to include a review system in your e-commerce experience. Birchbox is a prime example of a subscription-based company that makes good use of a review system on their website. They encourage their customers to review the contents of each month’s box, in order that the following month they can send similar products to those that received the highest ratings. As a customer’s taste begins to change, the reviews of the products will change accordingly and hence Birchbox are able to adapt the contents of the subscription boxes and keep them feeling fresh and on trend.
it is important to create a sense of belonging, a community atmosphere around a product, and the best place for this is through the website or app
One of the many advantages to subscription-based selling is the high customer retention as few people will subscribe for just a single month, but instead will complete multiple purchases from the same company. In order to benefit from this, however, subscription-based companies must create an environment that keeps their customers engaged over a longer period of time. Hence it is important to create a sense of belonging, a community atmosphere around a product, and the best place for this is through the website or app. As we saw in part two the community aspect of a subscription can play a role in the pre-launch campaign, but it is important to continuously update this through a designated area on the website.
Image taken from Shopify facebook page
4. Payment cycle - The next step is to decide on a payment cycle for your subscription. Will your boxes be sent out every week, every fortnight, every month...? Obviously this is necessary information for determining how much stock is required and how quickly the boxes must be assembled, but in terms of constructing the e-commerce experience, the payment cycle will require a payment system that can process recurring orders from customers. This leads us into the final stage of the process.
5. Appropriate solution to manage payments - The final stage in establishing your subscription orientated e-commerce experience is to find an appropriate and effective way to manage payments. Taking payments for a recurring subscription is a different process to one-time sales, and one that should be as simple as possible - both for the customer and the company. Luckily there are a number of apps supported by Shopify to enable recurring billing. Bold and ReCharge are two of the best - both give customers a good level of control and flexibility to manage their subscriptions and offer a seamless integration into to Shopify to make things as simple as possible.
It is important for your customers to be able to pay with their preferred payment method
Neither app, however, can accommodate the iDEAL payment method which, published in findings from Adyen, accounts for 60% of all online transactions in the Netherlands. It is important for your customers to be able to pay with their preferred payment method and that is why here at Ask Phill we have developed our own private recurring payments app - RePhill. The idea behind RePhill is complete flexibility. All of the features can be tweaked to suit the specific needs of each client, simply tell us your payment schedule and which payment providers you would like to integrate and we will refine the app to accommodate your needs. If there are any other online software connections you would like to see (e.g SaaS software - dashboard tool, email scheduling, data analytics tool etc.) these can be added as well. To find out more about RePhill and the benefits it could bring to your business, do not hesitate to get in touch.
So there we have it: a complete run-through of how to establish your own subscription-specific e-commerce experience, and with it a conclusion to our series The Essential Foundations of a Subscription-based company. Our discussions have taken us from the very products themselves and establishing a USP, through the pre-launch campaign and all the way to the e-commerce experience. We hope that you now have a better understanding of what it takes to get a foothold on this ever-growing market, and have started to put together a plan of how to get your subscription service off the ground. If you have any questions or need any further advice concerning subscription-based companies, you can always drop us an email. We look forward to seeing what subscription boxes you will bring to the table in the future!