I’ve been selling things over the Internet for longer than I care to think about. I started out selling used video games on eBay that I was able to procure cheap from local garage sales. Somehow I managed to wind up in the beauty industry – many years later…
I love ecommerce, and I love customers. But every single month, there’s always that little seed of doubt in the back of my mind: What if we have no customers this month? It’s a possibility!
Last week I read a new book called The Automatic Customer – written by author and Inc contributor, John Warrillow. I like business books, and there isn’t exactly an abundance of books that relate to ecommerce, so I was excited to sink my teeth into this one.
Five hours later, I was done reading. My head was almost exploding with ideas.
Subscribers > customers
Before I read The Automatic Customer, the only real application of subscriptions I’d seen in ecommerce was on Amazon – their fairly inconspicuous “Subscribe & Save” option. I’ve never “subscribed and saved” with Amazon, or any other company for that matter. I’ve never had a reason to.
But that got me thinking, even though a subscription for a product doesn’t really appeal to me, it might appeal to some of my customers. We have customers on our websites who order two or three times a month – some even order a couple of times each week. Wouldn’t it be great if I could help them out by offering subscriptions, so they wouldn’t have to order manually?
If I could turn customers into subscribers, couldn’t that be a win/win?
There are lots of advantages to the subscription business model for your subscribers, but there are SO MANY MORE for businesses like yours and mine.
Here are just a few:
- Subscription models make it easy to forecast how much stock to order.
- Less wasted products and less spoilage = more profit.
- Business planning is easier in [nearly] every regard, because you’ve got accurate turnover, profit and general volume projections to work from.
- Predict peak periods easily, which makes planning the staff rota a piece of cake.
- In a lot of cases, subscribers are “sticky” – the chances of them jumping ship from your subscription website to another are slim. Contrast that with the fairly fickle nature of general customers, who will often buy from another website if it means saving a dollar or two. Subscription services foster loyalty.
- Long-term subscriptions like three, six or even twelve months allow you to collect your subscriber’s cash upfront, and use it before even delivering the product(s) – plenty of working capital available.
- Allows you to focus on providing great products and service, rather than worrying about where your next sale is going to come from.
How hard can it be to setup a subscription business?
Setting up websites is certainly not my forte. I have so many great ideas for online businesses, but the stumbling block is usually a website. The first problem is finding a reliable developer that doesn’t charge the earth – the second problem is actually articulating my ideas and concepts, so that the developer brings them to life exactly as I planned.
If the very thought of setting up a subscription business makes you shudder, it shouldn’t!
Cratejoy is a website content management system (CMS) that has been developed from the ground up, specifically for subscription businesses. It’s cheap, easy to use, customizable, and it’s constantly evolving as the online subscription business model develops.
But, that’s just a CMS. What about recurring payments? PCI compliance, PayPal recurring payments – I can sense another shudder going through your body! But look, seriously, there’s no need to worry – because Stripe have got you covered.
Stripe is a card processing company, they can also take care of re-bills (aka your customers’ weekly, monthly, annual subscription payments). From what I’ve established through playing around with CrateJoy and Stripe, the two platforms are a match made in heaven. A virtual shop front and virtual till – they work seamlessly when linked together.
Are CrateJoy.com and Stripe the cheapest tools to build a subscription business? Probably not. Are they easy to use, configure and cost effective? Yes, they are.
Setting up an online subscription business doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars. It can be an inexpensive process if you use these platforms to bootstrap your way to the big time.
That’s your online infrastructure taken care of – all you need now is a great subscription product idea to execute!
A real world example
While The Automatic Customer can be applied to both online and offline scenarios, it’s full of useful information and tips that can help you build a subscription business no matter what your niche happens to be. As you know, I’m specifically interested in ecommerce businesses – and I think you are too!
Not so long ago I stumbled across a super impressive Reddit post that looks at the inner workings of a subscription company. This Reddit post is as close as you’re likely to find to a complete blueprint for how to setup an online subscription business. You might not be selling razors, and you might not even ship to or within the USA – but the information and strategy in this Reddit post is spot on.
Each step of the subscription business process is outlined, and what’s particularly impressive is how the business has been able to hold its own against some industry giants, backed by millions upon millions of dollars of investment and funding. If The Wet Shave Club can make it, chances are that your subscription business can, too!
Don’t just skip over the Reddit post – brew a cup of your favourite coffee and read the entire post top to bottom, at least twice! It contains some of the most useful [free] advice you’ll ever find pertaining to setting up an online subscription business. It’s absolute gold.
Hey Nick, have you dabbled yet?
So here I am blowing smoke up the bottom of the online subscription business model – but have I actually put my money where my mouth is and given it a whirl?
The answer is yes. Although I don’t have anything to show you right now, I’ve got a simple subscription idea – and the service should be visible by the end of February, for launch on 1st April (not a great date for a launch… I know).
I don’t want to say too much about the launch just yet, but in my next post I plan to go over it in detail. I’ve got a great feeling about it!
Implementing a subscription model on our existing websites was a huge temptation, but unfortunately due to the way they’ve been developed it looks unlikely that we’ll be able to implement subscriptions without causing inconvenience to our existing customers – and that’s the last thing we want to do!
If you’re looking for a little light reading this week, I highly recommend John Warrillow’s The Automatic Customer – and I also recommend the Reddit post I mentioned earlier on. I promise they’ll make you look at your ecommerce business in a whole different light – and just like I did, you’ll ask yourself “why didn’t I think about doing that sooner?”