Choosing the best technology for a subscription business

Choosing the best technology for a subscription business

The subscription businesses model is enjoying rapid growth at the moment and with its promise of regular, stable income it is easy to see why.

There are many strategies and platforms that you could use in order to get your subscription business off the ground. Most can be divided into four categories:

  • Convert an existing eCommerce platform (e.g. Shopify) into a subscription store.
  • Sign up for a specialist 'subscription box' platform.
  • Convert an existing WordPress website using plugins.
  • Invest in a bespoke subscription solution.

This article looks at the benefits and disadvantages of each of these methods:

Converting Shopify into a subscription business

Shopify is one of the most well-known eCommerce store providers and any Shopify store can be adapted to fit a subscription-based business.

The benefits:

Shopify offers plugins which will enable any merchant to turn their store into a subscription businesses. Shopify integrates well with numerous shipping carriers and payment processors, including Stripe, PayPal and Authorize.net.

Shopify users can also enjoy a free SSL security certificate, plenty of themes and applications and a good standard of support.

The disadvantages:

Despite the number of themes available, customisation is not easy and this can mean needing to hire extra help to get the look and features you want. Even specialist Shopify developers have commented that it is hard to achieve a high level of customisation inside the Shopify platform.

Building your Shopify store may require a lot of third party integration which can create complications with data sharing and ownership.

CrateJoy and Subbly: reviewing the subscription box specialists

In 2013, two companies sprung up offering an all-in-one, subscription 'business in a box': CrateJoy and Subbly.

There are several differences between the two platforms. For example, CrateJoy actively promotes its users subscription sites through its proprietary marketplace and affiliate scheme. Subbly, on the other hand, is often praised for its simplicity and community focus.

The benefits:

Designed specifically for the subscription sector, these platforms come with everything that a start-up subscription business could need. They offer fast and simple onboarding and customisable themes.

The disadvantages:

It is very important to know exactly what you get for your money with platform-based subscription businesses. Having worked on a CrateJoy site we know how hard it can be to add relatively simple customisations. There is a significant risk therefore that you will out-grow the platform. Migrating your data and developing a new platform can then cost you significant time and money. Worse still, your recurring customers may have to sign up again when you migrate to a new platform. This inevitably causes a high level of churn.

WooCommerce: the WordPress plugin solution

It is not only specialised eCommerce stores that can be adapted for subscription-based businesses. Providing a suitable theme is chosen (or built) any WordPress website can also be customised using plugins such as WooCommerce.

The benefits:

As a popular, open source platform, WordPress offers more flexibility than dedicated eCommerce or subscription sites. The free WooCommerce plugin effectively turns your website into a subscription site.

The disadvantages:

WordPress was never designed as an eCommerce platform. Customising WordPress themes and adapting Wordpress to handle subscriptions elegantly can work out almost as expensive as building a subscription website from scratch.

Taking control through a bespoke subscription website

The alternative to all of the above is to have a completely custom built subscription business website.

The benefits:

In the words of Subbly founder Stefan Pretty, “True long term value should not be coupled with a platform. By opting for a bespoke subscription website, you are free to adapt your features and design in line with evolving customer needs and tastes."

A bespoke subscription website will offer you:

  • A completely customisable purchase/checkout process.
  • The ability for customers to customise their subscription as much as you would like them to.
  • Flexibility to integrate with 3rd party systems such as marketing, accounting, ERP or logistics platforms.
  • Complete ownership of your data and recurring payment profiles.

The disadvantages:

Designing and implementing a tailor-made subscription solution is never going to be as quick or easy as signing up for a platform and the initial investment will be higher. However, having been through the process with four diverse subscription companies, at Eyes Down we are in a great position to advise you on the issues around a bespoke platform.

Making the right decision

Each of the four business models above can work in certain circumstances but only one will suit your specific business goals . Specialised platforms offer a fast and easy way to get started but you must weigh this up against possible platform 'lock in' and hidden costs.

Adapting your Shopify or WordPress site is a valid alternative if you are familiar with those platforms and are happy to either accept the existing themes or pay to have them customised.

However, only one model guarantees complete flexibility. If you want a subscription business website which contains only the features you need and that can scale and adapt alongside your business plan, consider opting for a bespoke design from Eyes Down.

Topics: Subscription websites, Web applications


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