Want to get into the subscriptions game? We at SeaMonster Studios applaud you. We think it’s a great idea. Yes, there are some things to take into consideration, as we pointed out in our last post, but overall subscriptions offer a great chance to compound your sales in a relatively easy way. Here’s how you get started.

As with anything in business or life, the first thing you need is a plan—a playbook for the subscriptions sport. What would you like to offer as a subscription? This is easiest to answer if you sell consumables, or items that need to be replaced after a certain period of time. That’s why HelloFresh (consumables) and Dollar Shave Club (replacements) do so well. But just because you don’t sell consumables doesn’t mean that you can’t score some subscriptions.

Whether you like it or not (I don’t, particularly) we live in a society where obsolescence, planned or otherwise, is the standard end for most products. The products I referred to in the previous paragraph as “consumables” and “replacements” have a particularly short life-cycle, but today most products have a generally short life-cycle.

Whether the producers of products deliberately plan for the products to break or become obsolete on a shorter cycle than is necessary is a matter of academic debate, and probably isn’t something that you have any control over as a seller of their goods. Long or short, though, nearly every product today does have a discrete life cycle, and you should take some time to figure out how long that lifecycle is

Armed with this knowledge, you should set up your products to be subscribable so that your customers can have the option to automatically get a new product to replace their old at the end of its lifecycle. Some percentage of your customers will take advantage of this offer, and many others will at least appreciate the offer, and the thoughtfulness you demonstrate by making it. On the other hand, if you sell a product with a lifecycle that truly measures in the span of years, you may need to take a different approach. You can still plan your play for subscriptions, though you may need to do it in the form of ancillary products or products to scratch the itch of novelty in your customers.

By ancillary products I mean those used to maintain your main product—the metal polish or oil used to keep the watches you sell in good order, for example. By the itch of novelty, I mean that the watch you sold a customer last year may still keep ticking for many years to come, but you might still sell him or her a subscription that will send a watch with a new face every six months. In this case you’re selling the novelty more strongly than the product itself.

So now you’ve got your playbook. Time to play ball. Your next step is to choose a subscription service you want to work with. We feel that Recharge Payments is the ideal subscription management software for Shopify, Bigcommerce, and Magento, though there are other companies that offer subscription management too. Let me tell you about some of the features that make Recharge a particularly good choice for your subscriptions, though if you can find the same features elsewhere you’d be in a similarly good position.

Easy setup

One of the benefits we explored in our first post on subscriptions was that it was a fairly easy option for you to add to the mix to compound your sales. This only really remains a benefit if it actually is easy to set up. If it takes you ten hours to set the option up, and three or four hours a month to troubleshoot and keep it running, it quickly loses its appeal. It still may be worth it from a financial perspective, but if it takes a lot of effort, you may decide that you would rather spend your effort somewhere else.

Fortunately, Recharge and the other subscription management services know that this is the case, so they make your setup and management tasks as painless as possible. Usually, it’s just a matter of choosing which products you want to make subscribable, and at what interval. If you’ve formulated your playbook as I suggested you do earlier, this should be fairly easy to accomplish. Just huddle over your playbook as you set it up.

Easy Management with a Customer Portal

While ease of use is pretty important for you, it’s vitally important for your customers, at least if you want to keep their subscriptions over the long run. To this end, your subscription service should offer a powerful and user-friendly customer portal where your customers can go to adjust their subscriptions for themselves when they need to. Some subset of your customers will come directly to you to make changes to their subscriptions, but most would probably prefer to do it themselves, which is also a great benefit for you because then you don’t have to do it.

view of Recharge customer portal: home, subscriptions, upcoming orders, purchase history, shipping, payment methods
click to expand view of a Recharge customer portal

At the most basic level, customers should be able to cancel their subscriptions in their customer portal, though a more fine-tuned level of control is much better. For example, it’s pretty common for subscribers to come to the end of their subscription periods and find that they still have plenty of products left. In such cases, given the option, they might want to skip an order, or even better, adjust the frequency of their orders to better match their needs. The more capable the portal, the more likely the customers will fine-tune their subscriptions rather than cancel them

A bonus here would be the ability to adjust the look and feel of the portal to match your brand. This contributes to the seamless experience you want to give your customers which makes things more pleasant for them, and further promotes your brand to them.

Automated Communication by Email and SMS

One reason customers may be leery of committing to a subscription is that they may be uncertain what it looks like from month to month, or even week to week. A way to help overcome that unease is to communicate with your customers frequently about their subscription: when it will bill, when it will ship, what’s coming, etc.

options page for Recharge notifications
Click on image to expand view of Recharge notification options

For this purpose, we recommend that you pick a subscription service that offers highly customizable customer communication. Recharge, for example, has options to email customers when subscriptions are activated, three days before charges, if their cards are declined, when the store is temporarily out of stock, when charges have been refunded, and half a dozen other options. Customers appreciate knowing what’s going on with their subscriptions, particularly in the early days. This also has the added benefit of keeping your brand in mind and building brand loyalty.

A bonus, for communication options, is to offer that these go out to your customers via SMS. Inbox bloat seems to be unavoidable today, and one of the results is that important messages are pretty easy to overlook. A simple transactional alert sent through SMS to your customers who want it won’t clutter up their text messages much, but could give important information to them that they’d appreciate.


A final area to consider when deciding on a subscription service is whether and how well it can integrate with your existing tools. There are services you use for customer support, marketing, shipping, productivity, reporting, and others. Make a list of the various tools that you use, and make sure that the subscription service provider can integrate with them. The more seamless this integration is, the less time you’ll have to spend duplicating your efforts.

Game Time: Go Do It!

After picking your subscription service, the last thing you need to do is actually set it up. Set your products up, and their subscription periods. Enable the customer portal and decide how much control you want your customers to have when they enter it, and set up those options. Decide on a communication strategy with your customers and set it up in the service. Integrate it with the various tools you use in your business and test it out to make sure it’s all working as you’d like. And last of all, sit back and relax as some of your customers decide to compound their purchases without anything further from you. Congratulations: you’re in the subscription game!

Want to get into the subscriptions game? Contact us for a consultation and we'll help you put together a playbook and play like a pro.