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In 2021, more brands are investing in subscription models.

If you're wondering why, the answer is simple: not only is there more value and profitability in subscription-based companies because of recurring revenue, but inherent loyalty leads to greater retention. 

To understand more about subscription and membership programs, we asked a few experts these questions:

  • What subscription brands are doing it right?
  • What should brands be doing more of with their subscription model?
  • What are the subscription trends for 2021 that we think we’ll continue to see in the future? 

To find out, we spoke with Jay Myers, Co-Founder of Jay Myers, co-founder of Bold Commerce, a company helping brands customize their commerce experience (including over 20,000 brands who use them to run their subscriptions), Christopher George, the co-founder of SUBTA, and Robbie Baxter, subscription consultant and author.

We're sharing everything we learned in this article.


Cover image of Jay, Robbie and Christopher


Subscriptions and membership programs are here to stay

According to Robbie, while many companies lost business during the pandemic, subscription models were more resilient, retaining 87% of their customers, and actually gaining members rather than losing them. 


"I saw how powerful it was to focus on solving a customer’s ongoing problem or help them achieve an ongoing goal instead of being product-centric...that long-term focus justifies recurring revenue.” 

– Robbie Baxter, Strategy and Consultant at Peninsula Strategies 


“Subscription businesses are much more valuable companies than those centered on single payments. I think in 2021 we’re going to see a lot of investment in the DTC space,” Jay said.

Jay also sees the line between subscription and membership starting to blur. “Brands are changing it up from the ‘subscribe and save’ model...a lot of them are realizing that they can offer special benefits and have people pay more than they might for the actual products,” he continued.


Screenshot of LOLA's membership program page

Source: LOLA


More brands are investing in subscriptions for predictable revenue

Entrepreneurs led the way, but now big businesses are following suit as they see the value these smaller companies have accrued through subscriptions. 

Increased and predictable revenue along with enhanced relationships with customers are too good not to get in on, and Chris said we’ll see big brands becoming a part of this more and more.

“I think almost every brand could have a subscription aspect,” Jay said, and Chris agreed, suggesting even further that maybe every brand should have one.

The pandemic sped up an already occurring trend — people were less inclined to leave their houses and more inclined to sign up for services that delivered. As a result of COVID-19, retail shopping decreased, and many people discovered the convenience of subscription and membership services. 


“We’re not going back. The innovation that’s happened in the last eleven months has opened up consumers’ eyes to what they enjoy and what’s possible. It’s about the convenience.” 

– Robbie Baxter, Strategy and Consultant at Peninsula Strategies 


4 tips for creating an engaging subscription program

While Robbie, Chris and Jay see the value in more brands building subscription programs, these days subscription programs go beyond the standard subscribe and save model. In order to provide the best value for your customers and to keep them engaged after joining, here are several tips and tricks to consider.


1. Optimize the customer experience for personalization

“The successful brands are going to build an experience you can’t get on a retail level,” Chris said.

We now see companies considering the experience of their brand paramount and going to great lengths to build solid relationships with their customers. 

“Understanding what your best customers want more of and optimizing your subscription offering around them is important,” Robbie said.

In order to offer a truly personalized experience, you have to know who your customers are and what they're interested in. One way to build this level of personalization is with an ecommerce quiz, which many brands have started to use to learn about their customers' likes, dislikes, needs, preferences and even demographic information. 


Spongelle - Octane AI Shoppable Quiz-1

Source: Spongelle


Using a quiz as an interactive experience or virtual consultation will tell you tons of information about your customers, which you can then use to ensure you're providing the best content, products and offerings in your subscription program.


To learn more about how brands have been driving personalized experiences with a quiz, download our guide about turning your store browsers into buyers.

Get the personalization guide


2. Collect customer feedback to learn what customers want

Surveys are essential.

For example, Chris developed the Gentleman’s Box. Way back when, they wanted to understand why people were cancelling, so they sent out a survey and realized customers were canceling for one of two reasons: either they couldn’t afford it, or they felt they were getting too many items. 

Once discovering this, Chris and his team introduced a quarterly box option to solve both problems. The key lessons here is if you don’t know why a customer is canceling, you won’t know how to fix it.


“A lot of the time we think we know, as entrepreneurs, what the customer wants, but you need surveys to get feedback and pivot.” 

– Chris George, Chairman and Co-founder of SUBTA


Screenshot of an Instagram photo of Gentlemen's Box

Source: Instagram


3. Find ways to increase engagement and focus on the customer benefit

According to Robbie, engagement is important with your subscription program. Getting customers to sign up is one thing, but if they’re not engaged with the majority of the content they’re paying for, they’re more likely to cancel.

There are a variety of ways you can increase customer engagement, but Robbie says onboarding is your opportunity to introduce customers to the benefits you offer right away. That way, customers understand what to expect from you and they'll look forward to that special content.

“The first seconds, minutes or days after a customer signs up are the most overlooked place in the customer journey... If you want to improve your retention, start there,” she said.

Something to always be conscious of, Jay emphasized, is the value, or the perceived value, of what your customer is receiving. Ask yourself, "if the product central to this subscription goes away, are my customers getting enough benefit and value from everything else to stick around?" 

If you’re doing it right, the answer should be yes.


“A few years ago you wanted to fly people to the checkout stand. Now you’re learning about the consumer to delight them.” 

– Chris George, Chairman and Co-founder of SUBTA


Screenshot of Gentleman's Box Subscription page

Source: Gentleman's Box


4. Get creative with your subscription program

The three essential C’s for Robbie in maximizing value in subscriptions are commerce, content and community. 

As subscription services increase, so does the sophistication of services offered. No longer just about the single product, now it’s about exclusivity, access to information and other people.

Robbie said she loves to see brands layering content, hitting all three C’s and going beyond product and into complex offerings involving community, access to experts or advice.

As for Chris, he’s sure the future will hold more enhanced payment options, such as QVC-style live representations of products you can buy then and there, like Amazon Live.


Subscription programs bring untapped revenue opportunities 

“Historically, we’ve limited consumers in the way we package value. If you have to buy a car and that’s the way you access car-ness...that leaves some consumers with needs that aren’t yet met,” Robbie said.

Because subscription services focus on the long-term payment goal rather than the immediate, they have begun to meet the needs of those particular consumers. When asked where she thinks subscriptions will be in five years, Robbie said she “hopes to see much greater choice and variety in how you pay to achieve your goals.”

So when it comes to subscriptions, keep the big picture in mind. Be thoughtful and strategic and identify what the consumer wants but can’t access yet. Know that in the subscription-based economy we’re likely heading towards, there are unlimited possibilities. 


Key takeaways:

  1. The subscription model is the way of the future. Because they generate recurring revenue, subscription companies are more valuable and stable than their single-payment counterparts. This is why big businesses are starting to follow the lead of the smaller DTC companies. If your brand hasn’t gotten into subscriptions yet, now is the time.
  2. Get the customer experience right. Differentiation is key. There are a lot of subscription companies out there, and many more on the horizon. Know what your customer wants and engage with their feedback to learn what you can do differently. Adjust and expand into those areas. Not only improve your offerings but improve customer engagement with those offerings.
  3. Think creatively. It’s not just about the single product now, it’s about the big picture: customization, convenience, value and overall experience. Maximize the perceived value of your subscription, whether that be through exclusivity, access or product. To succeed, you must offer something your customer won’t want to give up. There is flexibility with long-term subscription payment models, so be creative in how you help your customers achieve their goals.


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Commerce Club events are hosted by Matt Schlicht and Ben Parr: the co-founders of Octane AI. Giving Shopify brands the ability to offer conversational commerce to customers on their sites, Octane AI helps brands replicate the experience of an in-store consultation by leading customers to curated product recommendations.

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