What is e-commerce subscription selling and how can you use it?

Andrea Piacquadio
e-commerce subscription selling - couple shopping on a laptop with a credit card

In recent years, e-commerce subscription selling has become a major tool for entrepreneurs. It can help you bolster sales figures in quieter months, attract a different demographic, and solidify your brand as established.

E-commerce subscription boxes can be used for many different products if you know how to market them, and with platforms such as Subbly, Shopify and WooCommerce supporting subscription setups, it is easier than ever to branch out.

What is e-commerce subscription selling?

In e-commerce, subscription selling, or subscription boxes, are terms used to describe a monthly (or weekly) package in which a set fee is exchanged for product or perks. There are three main ways to implement e-commerce subscription selling:

  • Subscribe and save – this is used by brands such as Holland & Barrett but can be successfully deployed with any consumable product. Beauty products, groceries and household items are among those easily converted to this method. Customers sign up to receive a repeat of the items they have chosen automatically at an interval they choose, usually in exchange for a discount on their purchases.
  • Subscription boxes e-commerce subscription boxes are curated items that are usually influenced by the customer’s preferences, that are sent out at an agreed-upon interval. Graze is a particularly successful example of this and there are many recipe boxes and beverage clubs that have followed suit. Brands such as BirchBox have proven it’s not just foods that can be sent in this manner. Beauty items, fitness accessories and clothing have all been sent in this way.
  • Access or perksyou can also start subscription selling by offering exclusivity or perks. Amazon Prime is a great example of this, allowing unlimited next day delivery for members alongside its streaming platform. This is also the method used by membership discounts outside of the e-commerce sphere such as the Student Union card or even a Chamber of Commerce. Members pay a set amount for the year in exchange for discounts and exclusive deals and opportunities. This one is potentially harder to achieve buy-in unless your e-commerce store already has a strong following.

What are the benefits of e-commerce subscription selling for the customer?

With people becoming busier in their everyday lives, they no longer want to be trawling websites to find everyday items. Consumers are doing an increasing amount of their routine shopping online but they crave convenience (it is forecasted that by 2023, more than a third of shopping will be done online in the UK, and that was predicted before COVID-19). By setting up repeat subscriptions for their items, they take the legwork out of their purchases and can enjoy these items arriving on autopilot.

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Subscription boxes are fantastic for helping consumers to explore in areas where there are wide varieties, such as food, clothing, and beauty. Again, by offering new choices direct to their door, people avoid decision fatigue, which can result in them sticking to the same tried and tested products again and again.

Access or perks help people feel exclusive and pampered. Accessible price points mean that even those on a limited budget can feel like they are in the club and receiving priority treatment.


e-commerce subscription selling - lady dressed in red working at a home office desk in a minimal room

What are the benefits of e-commerce subscriptions for you?

Subscription selling is also highly beneficial for you! Customers on a subscription provide a more predictable steady stream of income outside of peak periods. You will also have more predictable stock requirements, minimising over- or under-stocking issues.

You will gain access to precious information about your customer’s preferences and trends in the market. E-commerce subscriptions give you ample opportunity to gain reviews and feedback from loyal customers.

Customers will be building a relationship with your e-commerce business. You can market new products and recommendations in regular communications without any potential backlash as they have accepted continuous contact with you.

Unsurprisingly, subscription customers also have a higher lifetime value than regular customers. Once their subscription is rolling, they have become loyal to your brand and will make relevant purchases from you by default. Additionally, people tend to be slow to cancel subscriptions, so even if they feel unsure of their need, they are likely to keep coming back to you out of habit.

What are the issues surrounding e-commerce subscription selling?

If your e-commerce business is new or small, it may be hard to convince customers to buy in at that level. Subscribe and save repeat purchases are likely to be the easiest method for your store to bring in.

People have become wary of subscription packages that aren’t upfront about the ongoing nature of the payment, so it is paramount that you clearly advertise the terms of the subscription and how people can cancel.

Both onboarding and cancellation need to be quick and easy. Minimise the hurdles for the customer signing up but also make sure it is easy for them to cancel, to avoid getting a bad reputation and disputed transactions.

If you are selling products through a subscription box model, it can be challenging to offer enough variety to maintain interest. If you offer 10 products and a customer only likes three of them, they are unlikely to stick around.

Next Steps

At Unicorn Accounting, we specialise in helping e-commerce entrepreneurs manage and scale their business through automation and planning. If you’d like to discuss how we can help your e-commerce business, get in touch with our team.

The best time to act is now.


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