How to Start Selling Subscriptions Online

Written by Kathryn Marr on March 13, 2020 Blog, Sell Online.

If you’re thinking about starting an online store, you may be considering selling subscriptions. It’s a smart move: the subscription eCommerce market is growing by more than 100% a year, with companies selling everything from wine to crafts to toys. 

The lifetime value of a subscriber is much higher than the average shopper because subscribers generate reliable, recurring revenue. What business doesn’t want to make money every month without having to find new customers?

To be successful, put the right measures in place. Let’s take a look at six key steps for starting a subscription business with WooCommerce.

1. Pick a niche

Start with something you’re passionate about. What do you love to talk about with friends and family? Is there a problem you can solve? Do you have experience handcrafting or creating products? A beloved brand starts with you. Passion is contagious.

Cola Gourmet About page
Photo © https://www.colagourmet.com/our-company/

Chef Keith, founder of the Cola Gourmet healthy meal subscription service, says, “We started out searching for ways to improve our own health and wellness and during the course of our personal journey, we discovered the tremendous, transformative power of good, clean, food. For us, Cola Gourmet is more than a business – it’s our passion.” They took something that they love — ethically-sourced, nutrient-rich food — and turned it into a successful business.

2. Source and package your products

Next, determine how you’ll source and package your products. Are you going to sell handcrafted products like baked goods, wood crafts, or soaps? Will you hire a manufacturer to create your products? Or will you repackage existing products?

If you want your subscription service to be successful, you need to offer something unique. This could be your products, but it could also be the way you package them. 

Kawaii subscription box with plushies and stickers
Photo © https://www.kawaiibox.com/

Kawaii Box curates cute products like squishies, stationery, and plushies into monthly, themed boxes. While they don’t create unique products themselves, they package them in a way that stands out and makes customers excited about finding the box on their doorstep every month.

Learn more about exceptional product packaging.

3. Build your online store

WooCommerce provides everything you need to get your subscription store up and running. WooCommerce itself includes all the store basics, and a vast library of add-ons lets you create a completely customized website without editing a single line of code. Here’re the steps to get started:

  1. Follow our five-step guide. Upon installation, a setup wizard will walk you through the basics and get you ready to sell.
  2. Integrate with a payment gateway, which is a tool that enables you to collect payments online. You’ll need one that allows recurring charges.
  3. Set up tax calculations. WooCommerce Taxes enables you to automatically charge the right rates without any work on your end.
  4. Create any pages you’d like. At a minimum, you’ll want a homepage, About page, Contact page, and FAQ page. Navigate to Pages → Add New to get started. Then, use the block editor to add content like images, text, videos, and buttons.
  5. Install WooCommerce Subscriptions and create your subscription products.

You’ll also want to hire a professional photographer, or spend a little time learning how to take high-quality product photos. Since customers can’t physically touch your products, pictures will have to showcase them for you.

4. Choose a pricing structure

With WooCommerce, you can structure subscriptions several different ways:

Sell individual, recurring products

Selling single products as subscriptions benefits you and your customers. You get recurring revenue, and they don’t have to worry about re-ordering. This is especially valuable for products like dog food or coffee, which customers won’t want to run out of. 

Photo © https://kaneny.com

Offer one-off products with a subscription option

You might want to offer customers the option of purchasing your products one time or receiving them on a regular basis. Kaneny does exactly this, allowing shoppers to purchase their skincare products “this time only” or “now and Auto-Replenish.”

To add subscription plans to existing products, install the All Products for WooCommerce Subscriptions extension. You can also offer discounts as an incentive for subscribing, or include subscription plans on the cart page for impulse buying. 

Sell subscription boxes

Subscription boxes are a great way to keep things interesting and delight your customers. Typically, you would curate themed products that you make or purchase on a monthly (or quarterly) basis. Create boxes based on regions of the world, hobbies, interests, or diets — be creative! 

Photo © https://www.fairyloot.com/

Fairy Loot sells fantasy-based book subscription boxes full of treasures like bookmarks, pins, pencils, candles, and stickers. Subscribers don’t know exactly what’s in each box until it arrives, so unboxing is exciting — the anticipation is part of the purchase.

Build-your-own subscription box with discounted bundles

Shoppers can also create their own subscription boxes and choose exactly what they’d like to receive each month. This is a great way to let them pick sizes, flavors, or colors, and provides endless customizability. The Product Bundles extension is made for exactly this.

Other pricing considerations:

  • Frequency. How often do you want to deliver products? Weekly, monthly, quarterly? Do you want to provide multiple options? 
  • Discounts. Do you want to offer reduced pricing for recurring orders, or a discounted first box to encourage signups?
  • Signup fees. You might want to charge a signup fee if your first delivery contains a particularly valuable item. If you sell shoes and charge a quarterly recurring fee for colorful laces, you might charge one price for the first box of sneakers, and a different, ongoing price for laces.
Photo © https://www.boldsocks.com/

Bold Socks combines several options for a truly custom, flexible subscription process. When customers create their box of socks, they can choose the number of pairs they’d like per month, the length of their subscription, the types of socks they prefer, and the level of boldness they like. The first box in a subscription also includes a bonus pair of socks, along with free shipping.

Read the Subscriptions Store Manager Guide for details about setting up your pricing structure.

5. Set up shipping

Your next step is to determine how you’d like to ship your products. Two of the most common considerations are:

WooCommerce Shipping is a simple way to get started and allows you to print shipping labels directly from your dashboard. 

6. Reach new customers

Now that your store is live, you need to find subscribers. Here are a few ways to drive traffic to your new website:

The right combination of marketing strategies will vary based on where your customers spend their time and what they value. Remember that successful marketing requires consistency and experimentation — it might take time to find the perfect strategy.

Sell subscriptions online 

If you’re ready to sell subscriptions online and generate recurring revenue, there’s no better time than now! WooCommerce provides everything you need to create a fully-functioning store that’s as unique as your products. Get creative and build a business that you’re passionate about. 

Get started with WooCommerce Subscriptions, or take a look at some of the subscription businesses that are succeeding with WooCommerce.

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