Subscription Apps in eCommerce platforms

Subscription Apps in eCommerce platforms

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With the plethora of Apps on many eCommerce platforms when looking at the cloud-based ones, there are certain challenges when it comes to the customer experience that several stores might have discovered too late. It isn't so much the desire to offer the subscription business model that's the challenge, it is all about the User Experience (UX) and the architectures of PCI compliant cloud platforms that restrict their core transactional code from recurring payments. Obviously, banks and payment gateways want to avoid abuse in that space, so what are the solutions for a more seamless user experience? This is what we will explore in this article.

Subscription Apps and how do they operate

If you have a Shopify store, or BigCommerce store you will find that the Apps operate by replicating the products you have in your inventory, and when a customer adds them to their subscription basket, it isn't part of the normal store basket. This happens with Recharge App, Ribillia, and several others - their systems capture what the customer is going to have as their subscription in that store, and insert the products and value of the items from their basket to the eCommerce platform basket for the transaction. Once the first subscription transaction has taken place, all is well. It is the changing the subscription that has the pitfalls, and user experience (UX) issues.

Challenges with Subscription Apps

There are several areas where it gets cumbersome for customers to get through their "managing their subscription" - the subscription model would make it seem easy, but the realities of cloud-based eCommerce make it such that some items aren't obvious.

  • Email required before adding to basket: In the case of Ribillia, the requirement to have an email address entered before you add to the basket takes you away from the normal shopping mode of collecting the items you would find worth considering without giving away your information. Most people don't want to commit their email address before they go about adding to a basket and could be a turn-off to some privacy-conscious shoppers. The reason this is required is as you proceed to checkout, Ribillia creates a mirrored basket by taking the goods into its own basket and creating a parallel account - once you get through the checkout, your subscription is recorded with the items and the interval.

  • Credentials to login into My Account: A lot of Shopify or BigCommerce type stores allow for guest checkouts, but that leaves the needed credentials out of the equation when it comes to managing your subscription. in the case of Recharge App on Shopify, it will send you an email to request you to come back to the store to create your login/password so that you do have an account created. This especially will occur when you chose PayPal as your payment provider (which skips part of the transaction process of Shopify). While your monthly subscription has started, you have to "manage" on managing your subscription before even needing to look at it again. The token can expire, and your email may end up in Junk mail - what could go wrong? The result is you might require a support interaction to see how to get into your account.

  • My Account: The likes of Shopify or BigCommerce will show you your previous transaction, what products were transacted, and on what date. Most subscription apps will have an additional tab in My Account to manage your subscription. At this point, your ability to manage by adding, subtracting, or increasing the number of products is where it all gets interesting. Some subscription apps require a new basket if new products are desired for the existing subscription which would mean canceling your subscription first and starting a new one. Other subscription apps require products to be variants to keep your subscription transaction intact so you can swap out items within the current basket. Your product strategy has to be in line with the subscription app when it comes to managing items in your subscription basket.

Reaching a good UX

When you start out seeking out Subscription apps in the App Store, at first it seems like a great idea to have an automatic payment as recurring revenue, strong customer loyalty, and a good customer experience, while increasing your customer base. Customer satisfaction is automated with a store full of products and services that customers are looking to receive in a continuous fashion. Then when the user experience is explored with the Subscription apps, scrutiny is a dire requirement as different business models of operation are in play, different architectures driving different business rules - finding one that aligns with your business is the first challenge. However, if you aren't satisfied with the user experience and flow of their integration, your options are going to rest with the API (Application Programming Interface).

With the API you have the ability to inform the subscription app of additional information at various points of the journey as it becomes available, as well as prompt the user at the right time for information that's pertinent to the subscription journey. For example, having the subscriber enter credentials at the conclusion of a transaction during the conformation stage will reduce the likelihood of forgetting, misplacing, or getting confused when managing the subscription is needed.

Within My Account, managing the experience in that space can be night or day as you can pull up the subscribers' current subscription, and have them make the necessary updates right away. The customer expectation to interact for just the right reasons and go, with simplistic and minimalized steps delivers a customer-centric experience.

Your customer experience strategy must be at the forefront to ensure the scope of your subscription model measures the customer's interactions with your interface, making it easy to use and manage. Only then your subscription model will deliver a competitive advantage at the store level, preventing customers from canceling their subscriptions, and getting that customer loyalty in place.

What to look for in a Subscription App

Store owners looking to have subscribers on email for their email marketing, but having them as recurring buyers gives a revenue stream that has a strong outlook for the future and income to grow from. If your product is a popular commodity at the right price and quality, word of mouth usually attracts friends and family to try out your service. Getting the right scalability within the app such as having the API available in the lower plans, can give you the facility to provide that user experience. Credit card handling will always be the eCommerce platform's responsibility, so understanding how the basket logic operates is crucial for your product architecture. Finally, getting demonstrations, having prepared questions, and going through a sample store are all part of ensuring that your business model is a good match to the subscription flow they are offering.


There is a lot to go through when choosing a subscription app. Price structure, architecture, scaling costs, security, ease of use, support, and many other fronts that can match the type of business model you operate in will need to be compared to with other subscription apps. This is a considerable amount of homework and requires some diligence to meticulously get through it. If you feel you need assistance in evaluating a subscription app, feel free to reach out to us at

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