Shopify Subscription Guide [Best App Comparison]

Last updated May 18, 2020
shopify-subscription

Searching for a more profitable ecommerce business model or just trying to decide if ReCharge really is the best Shopify subscription app?

If you like the idea of…

…predictable monthly recurring revenue

increased customer lifetime value

high customer return and retention rates

and reduced inventory waste…

Then an ecommerce subscription business could be just what you’re looking for.

shopify-subscription

In this complete guide to everything Shopify subscription you’ll learn:

  • Shopify subscription app comparison table
  • Pros and cons of a subscription business model
  • Industry statistics & leading companies
  • Types of subscription products
  • Best Shopify subscription apps [SKIP HERE]
    • ReCharge vs Bold
    • Subscriptions by ReCharge Review
    • Bold Subscriptions by Bold Review
  • Marketing tips for ecommerce subscription business
  • Best Shopify subscription app pick: ReCharge vs Bold

Let’s get started!


Subscriptions by ReCharge Bold Subscriptions by Bold Recurring Payments & Orders by PayWhirl Recurring Order & Subscription by SpurIT
Shopify App Listing
AcquireConvert Rating 9/10 8/10 6/10 7/10
Pricing From $39.99 USD per month (+1% + 5c per transaction) NB: Billing starts after $100,000 USD in processed transactions. From $39.99 USD per month (+1% processing fees on transactions) From free (+3.0% Successful Transaction Rate (Stripe Only)) From $15.95 USD per month (0% commission for subscription billing)
Free trial 60-day free trial 60-day free trial 14-day free trial 3-day free trial
Shopify Store Rating (As of March 2020) 4.8 4.8 4.5 4.8
Total Shopify Store Reviews (As of March 2020) 1647 1511 85 81
Best for Sbuscription businesses Subscribe & save add-on Shopify Basic Customer support
Shopify App Listing

Pros and cons of a subscription business model

Let’s start by looking at all the reasons you’d want to choose a subscription business model and recurring billing software:

Pros

With a subscription model business you can (as close as possible) predict the future, thanks to these key metrics:

  1. Monthly recurring revenue
  2. Monthly churn rate (cancelled subscriptions per month)
  3. Net monthly growth rate (new customers – cancelled subscriptions per month)
  4. Customer lifetime value (AOV X subscription length)

The more uniform your offerings in terms of revenue and costs and the fewer SKUs, the simpler predicting cash flow becomes.

This means you can

  • Focus on a niche market, which is typically cheaper to market to and acquire customers
  • Hire with confidence and at the right time
  • Budget effectively for marketing
    • As you’ll know how much you can afford to spend to acquire a customer profitably
  • Discount heavily on customers first purchases and grow more aggressively
    • As you’ll know the tail end value of a subscriber
  • Batch Shipping: Monthly orders shipped on the same day, in the same box, same weight and cost, can keep shipping costs and logistics predictable and consistent
  • Get ahead on cash flow by creating offers for those who subscribe for 1 year in advance and pay upfront for larger discounts.
  • Increase customer retention, as it’s baked into your business model
  • Reduce waste with predictable stock level needs, removing the need for clearance sales

Cons

Of course, subscription business models can have drawbacks.

  • High churn rates can occur without prior warning, like in the economic downturn due  to COVID-19 most recently.
  • Just like the january fitness industry peak, some niches can see seasonal churn as people drop off subscriptions due to changing weather or economic factors.
  • Retention can be hard if you’re not constantly innovating and maintaining your edge on the competition or freshness for the customer.
    • Can you source new products before competitors or exclusively?
  • While it’s cheaper to retain customers, acquisition costs can increase due to the friction of commitment. Sales will require social proof, testimonials and other final reservation removing tactics.
  • Increasing average order value is hard in a fixed price system. You can experiment with upselling and cross-selling, however insure this doesn’t hurt your overall conversion rates and profits. Larger stores with 600+ monthly transactions will want to statistically test changes to the core ecommerce funnel to ensure revenue doesn’t drop.

Industry statistics & leading companies

Mckinsey stated that by 2018 15% of online shoppers had signed up to subscriptions to get products monthly. (Although this is skewed by streaming media companies like Netflix in my opinion)

The largest companies created $2.6 billion USD in revenue in 2016 up from $57 million USD in 2011.

That represents a 100% year over year growth over five years.

Having said that Google trends is showing a flattening growth curve for ‘subscription box’ search volume.

Screenshot 2020 03 29 13 53 02

The industry saw a lot of VC money creating companies in more or less every category.

M&A activity saw Dollar Shave Club be purchased for $1 billion USD by Unilever and Plated for $200 million USD by Albertsons to mention just a few.

Subscribers tend to be 25 to 44 years old, with income from $50k to $100k.

60% are women and live in the northeastern states in the US market.

The median number of subscriptions is 2 but 35% percent have 3 or more. Men skew to have more than women.

The most dominant product type is the Shopify subscription box. With now more than 10k subscription box businesses in the market.

Fast Company estimates 4k of the 10k boxes are on box aggregator Cratejoy.

The leading companies as seen below are Amazon subscribe and save and Dollar Shave Club.

Screen Shot 2020 03 29 at 12.45.49

Source

What Mckinsey learned in a 5 thousand person survey was users want great customer experience. Only where lower costs or increased personalization exists are they willing to subscribe.

 


Types of Subscription Products

There are typically 3 preferred product types. However a few newer entrants are disrupting the market further.

Screen Shot 2020 03 29 at 12.48.43

Source

Replenishment

Commodity automation aka replenishment has seen the most revenue. Unsurprisingly as these are consumer packaged goods with larger markets. These types of brands still require enormous investments into brand equity and recognition.

Curation

Product discovery aka curation sees the customer receive different items each month. With varying levels of personalization and decision making needed. (Warning: decision are frictions to sale)

Access

Exclusive deal aka access sees customers subscribing to get VIP treatment and unique offers.

One newer category is:

Product / Content Hybrid

Peloton is a great example of this model. First you buy their exercise bike, then you subscribe to classes and monthly content.


Best Shopify subscription apps

Finally we get around to the Shopify subscription app comparison. The question on everyone’s lips:

“What is the best Shopify subscription app?”

There are 2 main contenders. Subscriptions by ReCharge and Bold Subscriptions by Bold.

With a couple of up and coming apps, Recurring Payments & Orders by PayWhirl and Recurring Order & Subscription by SpurIT.

Charge Rabbit used to be the third place choice but is now not listed in the Shopify app store.

Subscriptions by ReCharge Bold Subscriptions by Bold Recurring Payments & Orders by PayWhirl Recurring Order & Subscription by SpurIT
Shopify App Listing
AcquireConvert Rating 9/10 8/10 6/10 7/10
Pricing From $39.99 USD per month (+1% + 5c per transaction) From $39.99 USD per month (+ 1% processing fees on transactions) From free (+3.0% Successful Transaction Rate (Stripe Only)) From $15.95 USD per month (0% commission for subscription billing)
Free trial 60-day free trial 60-day free trial 14-day free trial 3-day free trial
Shopify Store Rating (As of March 2020) 4.8 4.8 4.5 4.8
Total Shopify Store Reviews (As of March 2020) 1647 1511 85 81
Best for Sbuscription businesses Subscribe & save add-on Shopify Basic Customer support
Shopify App Listing

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ReCharge is the chosen Shopify plus app partner for subscriptions, due to their sole focus on this niche (unlike Bold who develops many apps alongside running an agency). Also due to their advanced features, which we’ll get to later.

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Bold has a large team of inhouse developers and product managers. Choosing an app developer with a robust and established team over an indie developer typically works out better for longer term business needs.

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SpurIT runs a large development team out of Belarus. Finding real success with their stellar customer service teams. It’s the best value for money with dedicated managers and development time for just $20.83 USD per month (billed annually).

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PayWhirl is the only free account app.

For the sake of simplicity and because in our opinion, they’re the best solutions on the market, we’re going to focus our comparison on ReCharge and Bold.


ReCharge vs Bold

Let’s review what features both apps support.

Features both apps support:

  • Embed a recurring order form to your product pages
  • Allowing customer to process Shopify subscription payments
  • Customer subscription management in accounts area
    • Payment information
    • Shipping information
    • Remove products
    • Add new products
    • Switch products
    • Change quantities
    • Cancel subscription
    • Edit delivery dates
    • Skip a single delivery
    • Change delivery frequency
    • View past orders
    • View future delivery schedules
  • Create different types of subscriptions, single items, multiple item, boxes, “build-your-own”.
  • Mixed cart content with subscriptions and one time purchase in a single checkout
  • Customer accounts
  • Shipping and taxes integrated from Shopify
  • Subscription product switching without canceling
  • Syncing inventory with Shopify
  • Churn reduction flows, collect qualitative data as to why customers want to leave
  • Customize look and feel on product pages and subscription management views
  • Delivery frequency control

Subscriptions by ReCharge Review

Because of the ReCharge teams laser focus on subscriptions, they’ve left all features that fall outside of this to other apps. And to bring those features to their plus customers, they’ve built deep useful integrations and a rock solid API.

ReCharge API

Developers Recurring Billing Subscriptions for Ecommerce ReCharge 2020 03 30 10 47 50

The ReCharge API allows a Shopify expert developer to achieve more or less anything in terms of UI and UX.

Like Kettle&Fire bone broth who have created beautiful product pages.

Desktop 2020 03 29 14 38 58

Check out the ReCharge API Guide for more information.

ReCharge Dunning Management

Dunning is a great way to reduce churn. Update payment details, retry failed transactions and send reminder emails for credit cards that will expire in the near future.

ReCharge Workflows

Recurring Billing Subscriptions for Ecommerce ReCharge 2020 03 30 10 49 19

Workflows are like Zapier for ReCharge. You can automate offers like free trials, samples, discounting first or repeat orders and activating paid subscriptions when free trials expire.

ReCharge Customer portal customization

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Different to the normal custom CSS form field Subscriptions offers the ReCharge Theme Engine that lets you customize your subscription area’s in detail.

You can again customize the look and feel and functionality to more or less whatever you want, budget and time depending of course, as with all development projects.

ReCharge Shopify App Integrations

ReCharge integrates with a lot of other Shopify apps, including:

  • CartHook
  • Churnbuster
  • Glew.io
  • Google Analytics
  • Gorgias
  • Klaviyo
  • LeadDyno
  • Littledata
  • Loqate
  • LoyaltyLion
  • MailChimp
  • Octane AI
  • One Click Upsell
  • Product Customizer
  • ReferralCandy
  • Refersion
  • Smile.io
  • Sublytics
  • Submetrics
  • Swell
  • Tradegecko
  • Ultimate Upsell
  • Zapier

To learn more read their integrations support guide.

ReCharge Analytics

The analytics are a little lite, however you can apply for Enhanced Analytics here. Not sure on pricing here.

ReCharge Payment gateways

Your four options for recurring purchases on ReCharge are Stripe, BrainTree, and Authorize.net, Apple pay and Paypal as a secondary provider.


Bold Subscriptions by Bold Review

As suggested Bold is a larger team and can offer long term solutions for future proofed development.

Bold Gifting Subscription Features

Screenshot 2020 03 30 10 50 44

The Bold subscription app is better suited for gifting. ReCharge needs custom code to get gifting right. Bold does this without extra developer costs.

Bold Analytics

Bold analytics is better than the standard ReCharge analytics. Enhanced analytics by ReCharge is more comparable, but also more expensive.

Bold Analytics

Bold subscription options

Bold allows customers to add typically one-time purchased products alongside subscription products and include them in their recurring order. This can help increase average order value. It can also confuse the customer and over complicate shipping and logistics.

Bold customer portal customization

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Bold’s personalization of the look and feel can be done with CSS. This means you don’t need special tools like the ReCharge theme engine. You are then faster at changing core elements CSS, but more limited overall in the level of customization possible. It’s also easier to hire Shopify experts to help with customization, it will be fiddly due to Shopify’s caching settings.

Bold app integrations

Bold integration list is smaller than ReCharge’s and the depth of integration is shallower.

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Autocomplete
  • Facebook Pixel
  • Referralcandy
  • Refersion
  • Addressy
  • Klaviyo
  • Shoelace

Bold payment gateways

You don’t have to have the subscription payment gateway match your normal payment gateway. Bold has many more options than ReCharge.

  • Stripe
  • BrainTree
  • Authorize.net
  • Beanstream
  • Checkout.com
  • Conekta
  • CyberSource
  • Elavon
  • eWay Rapid
  • Fat Zebra
  • MasterCard
  • Moneris
  • PayPal
  • QuickPay
  • SagePay
  • USAePay
  • WorldPay

Marketing tips for ecommerce subscription business

First and foremost, customer experience. As we learned from the Mckinsey study, customers want stellar end-to-end services. So make the subscription product an experience. Like TrunkClub who present their boxes in a beautiful manner.

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Allowing personalization is also key, like Pupbox, this is where the ReCharge API comes into play.

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Grow aggressively by breaking even on the first subscription. This allows you to spend more marketing dollars on your customer acquisition costs and drive growth faster. If you know your customer lifetime value is $X USD per month for 4 months (based on average churn rate). You can make profit on the tail end. Like a lead magnet.

If PPC is your initial growth channel (let’s be honest SEO takes time) then consider partnering with a celebrity. If they have an existing audience you can retarget their traffic at a fraction of the cost of buying acquisition traffic. Plus the brand recognition takes away years of brand equity building work.

That’s how brands like Truvani rose to success in such a short time, working with influencers like FoodBabe.

Truvani 2020 03 29 14 23 10


Conclusion: ReCharge vs Bold

Whether you choose ReCharge vs Bold, both tools will allow you to run a subscription business.

My team at Whole Design Studios have set up both solution for clients like AthleticGreens, TantalizeMe and more.

Choose ReCharge if:

  • Subscription products are the core offering in your business and your positioned as a subscription business
  • You want to hit a large scale of orders and with need dunning management
  • You want to heavily customize the UX (with the ReCharge API)
  • You’ll need to also heavily customize the portcal (ReCharge Theme Engine)
  • You need deep analytics with the ReCharge enhanced analytics
  • You have a larger budget and it warrants paying ReCharge’s commissions to get subscriptions right

Choose Bold if:

  • Subscription products are not your core offering
  • You want to mirror the Amazon subscribe option on your Shopify site
  • You want more payments gateways out of the box
  • You don’t need integrations to be deep
  • You want better analytics out of the box
  • You use other Bold apps a lot and want them to integrate well together
giles thomas

Author:

Hi, I’m Giles Thomas. Founder of AcquireConvert, the place where ecommerce entrepreneurs & businesses go to learn how to increase conversions & profits. I’m also the founder of ecommerce growth agency Whole Design Studios. I’m a head marketing mentor at the Google Launchpad Accelerator & Google Marketing Expert. Ps. Check out my new blog RisePro.co

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