Why subscriptions just don’t work for customers

For the past ~ 20 years, online purchasing has been filled with friction points for consumers. Long checkout forms, multiple pages, and slow load times have plagued the step in-between finding a product you like and actually purchasing it.

This frustrating experience is compounded every time you visit the website and purchase a product again, ultimately leading to customer churn:

To remove this step of friction for a customer, a subscription was created. Initially, a subscription model was a novel idea that offered both the customer and vendor a win-win situation in eCommerce. The model of a customer only having to purchase once, choosing a recurring order frequency and just forgetting about things. Easy. For brand owners and operators, the idea of guaranteed revenue gave them security to invest in growth, making it naturally appealing to employ a subscription on their business.

However, as time has progressed, the practicality for a consumer to use a product subscription started to wain and horror stories of consumers not being able to cancel or being billed continuously started to emerge. Very quickly, subscription models gained consumer reputation of being “locked-in” and not having any sort of the flexibility modern customers required.

There are 3 core principles as to why subscriptions are flawed, based around the above mentioned lack of flexibility, customisation, and commitment. Breaking down product usage, almost all categories that a subscription model would historically be thrust upon don’t have the linear usage patterns that a standard replenishment cycle would suggest. Haloed subscription model products like razors, tampons, and coffee are actually incredibly variable by nature and don’t fit a rigid timeframe. You have your ritual daily coffee, but at times you’re away with work, have friends round who also have coffee, or just fancy something else that day. Alongside the fixed order frequencies, most subscriptions have a distinct lack of customisation if customers want to add, edit, cancel, or skip an order. The idea of having to email customer support or go back to a website, login with a username and password and try and navigate to the right place is like going full-circle back to the issue we started with. Before you even get to a recurring shipment, subscriptions demand a high upfront commitment from customers to purchase the first order. Again, having to purchase a product you’ve most likely never tried, choosing a recurring timeframe that is based on little knowledge of your product usage, and sitting back to see the results doesn’t quite seem to add up. Although this issue of commitment is mostly concentrated on customers, the knock on effects are that vendors are having to spend more and more to acquire customers to their now notorious subscription model.

As modern consumer behaviour evolves, more and more solutions across their lifestyles are on-demand and flexible. Committing to a recurring purchase of a product that may not even work for you is starting to feel a little tired. Looking back, although a subscription model offered some utility to a consumer, it was only incrementally better than ordering in a single capacity online, lacking the flexibility and ease-of-use to truly solve consumer pain-points. This is where we are reaching an inflection point, and exactly why we created blueprint. For a modern consumer, there is a demand for speed, flexibility, and customisation within purchasing, where for a vendor there is a requirement for controlled revenue generation without the “big commitment” and “lock-in” tags a subscription carries.

By extracting the positives and removing the clunky features historically involved with single and subscription purchasing, you can create a modern purchasing experience blending ease of use, speed, and customisation for both a vendor and consumer using conversation. By merging 1:1 conversation and on-demand purchasing functionality, you break down the barriers of experience and communication that previously held both consumers and vendors hostage.

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For a consumer, by making purchasing as easy as messaging a friend, you remove the friction points of logging in and adding more details that previously held single transactions online back, whilst addressing the demands of speed, customisation and personalisation. On the other hand, by taking aspects that vendors previously loved, like a low-barrier to purchase and an element of control over future revenue, but phase out the big commitment and lock-in psychology of a subscription, you create a model that reflects both parties. Seamless 1:1 communication, purchasing and experience.

The shift away from traditional subscriptions will quicken pace, driven by the proliferation of on-demand solutions across all areas of modern life. Categories like content consumption (Netflix, Spotify), Travel (Uber, Lime), and food delivery (Deliveroo, DoorDash) are creating an atmosphere on everything on our terms, at all times. These category-disrupting brands all broke down something that was previously fragmented and cumbersome, and aggregated into a single channel to offer immediacy and flexibility. We are now seeing this exact model play out in purchasing.

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