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6 Changes You Can Make to Improve Conversion and Retention in Your Subscription Ecommerce Business

Experts chime in on the best ways to solve common subscriber retention and acquisition problems.
September 6, 2022

Your subscription ecommerce business may face some these common challenges when it comes to winning subscribers and keeping them around:

Subscribers aren’t finding your product via search engines

Your site frustrates visitors

Your discount popups aren’t getting the results you expected

People leave your site without making a purchase

Existing subscribers don’t spend more money with your brand

Your subscribers have too much stuff and it’s hard to adjust the cadence


We talked to 3 experts—Katharine McKee, Jon MacDonald, and Brandon Amoroso—about how to tackle them and come out winning.

Learn how to overcome 6 of the top problems ecommerce brands experience that lead to poor conversion and retention rates.

Problem #1: Subscribers Aren’t Finding Your Product via Search Engines 

On an episode of Subscription Ecommerce Live, Morphology Consulting founder Katharine McKee said that ecommerce brands often misunderstand what they’re getting when they sign up for Shopify. 

“What Shopify sells you is 85% of a commerce website,” she said. “It is a real website… but it is not searchable. It is not indexable. It’s not rankable. Those are all the places you make money.”

She compares this to buying “the shell of a house” versus buying a real home. You can decorate the shell all you want with nice pictures and fancy furniture, but it won’t function until it gets all the backend pieces put together: sewage, plumbing, and the other less-exciting aspects of homeownership. 

In the same way, you can decorate your Shopify template with cool graphics, CTAs, and images. But until you put effort into the backend pieces, you’re just decorating a nice-looking shel of a website. And the results affect your brand in the following ways: 

  • High CAC
  • Low traffic
  • Bad organic rank

Katharine went on to explain that this not only costs you potential customers, it also costs you money. 

When you buy Google ads, she says “you're buying up the difference between what you said you do and what Google confirmed you do." The more your site can eliminate that difference; the less expensive your ads will be. 

Solution: Make Your Shopify Template Scrapeable and Indexable 

Katharine has a few recommendations for brands facing this problem. Each of them involve making your site more scrapeable and indexable for search engines. 

She says this starts when brands are hyper clear about who their customer is and what those people want. From there, you can position yourself as the best option to give them what they need so that Google will recommend you to those facing the problem you solve.

Here’s how you do that:

  1. Know the specific problem(s) your customers face.
  2. Show how you specifically can solve their problem through clear copy.
  3. Choose a template that allows you to deliver clear content that tells Google what you provide in the order it crawls your site (top left to bottom right).
  4. Let go of some of the image-heavy approaches that have become popular in Shopify templates. 
  5. Exchange excessive imagery for things like actionable information, less brand-focused content, and a greater emphasis on how you’re solving problems. 

Each of these will make it easy for the search engine to know what you’re offering. The more you make that information easy for Google to scan and index, the more you make it make sense for Google to recommend your site to the people searching for the solution you sell. 

Problem #2: Your Site Frustrates Visitors   

Potential subscribers don’t want to wait for your site to load, and search engines won’t recommend ones with high bounce rates.

So what causes your site to slow down? 

Things like:

  • Chatbots
  • Popups
  • Tickers
  • Poor navigation

These features often feel necessary, but they usually don’t achieve enough results to make them worthwhile. Instead, they contribute to slow load times that frustrate visitors and scare away search engines. 

That’s no way to attract customers.

Solution: Simplify Your Website

Practical tips to help your site function better so that people stay on it long enough to buy something or subscribe.

  • Monitor the number of images
  • Trade your chatbot for better copy and information on the page
  • Get rid of popups
  • Lose the ticker tape
  • Reduce movement 

Problem #3: Your Discount Popups Aren’t Getting the Results You Expected   

Offering discounts is the OG marketing strategy for subscription ecommerce companies, but Jon MacDonald of The Good says he’s ready for them to step aside for new methods.

It’s not that discounts have no value. They do, but they’re not the only strategy anymore. Especially when you offer them before the customer even has the opportunity to look at your site.

When we interviewed Jon, he said, “if there are two things I could eliminate from the internet, one of them is email popups.” He points out that they often create false leads because “they work for collecting emails, but the quality of emails is pretty poor.”

He even goes on to say that you’re actually hurting your brand by including discount popups. You may think it’s a nice offer to nudge people to conversion, but it can imply that your product isn’t worth what you charge. 

“Once someone knows they can get 20% off the next order, they never want to pay 100% again,” Jon says. Katharine isn’t a big fan of popups either, stating that they’re not worth the hit you take from Google and that they “focus on the wrong KPIs.”

“Once someone knows they can get 20% off the next order, they never want to pay 100% again,” Jon says.

Solution: Offer Something Better Than Discounts (Without Using Popups)

While discounts can create an incentive for customers to start the subscription, Jon MacDonald provides other creative solutions that won’t leave you stuck with always having to take 10-20% off the product:

  • Free gift with purchase
  • Free expedited shipping
  • Free shipping no matter the size 
  • Buy one, get one

For Jon, the key is looking for ways to add something to the purchase rather than to subtract something. 

Problem #4: People Leave Your Site Without Making a Purchase 

Jon MacDonald explains that when consumers come to your site, they want to know if you can help solve their pain or need. If the answer is yes, they want to know how they can convert.

But they don’t give you a ton of time to answer these questions. They’ll skim quickly and make assumptions. And according to Jon, they get their information from a surprising source:

The navigation bar.

“Consumers use navigation items to understand what you sell and what you’re going to solve for them.” So if your navigation bar is unclear, your product will be, too. He says a lot of navigation bars focus more on the brand than the customer. They invite the visitor with a call to action like “shop” or “bundle and save,” but they don’t actually say anything about what they sell or the problem they solve.

Solution: Make the Navigation Bar About Your Consumer, Not Your Brand

Jon MacDonald helps his clients optimize their sites for conversion by getting them to think like a shopper when creating their navigation bars:

  • List main categories at the top
  • Simplify the categories 
  • Move the “About” page and “top of funnel” content, like blogs, to the footer

These quick changes make it easier for your customer to find the answers to questions they’re looking for more quickly, leading to more conversions. 

Problem #5: Existing Subscribers Don’t Spend More Money With Your Brand

Most subscription ecommerce businesses share these goals: 1) Get customers through the door and try the product. 2) Get them to subscribe. 3) Get them to buy more or add more subscriptions. 4) Get them to tell their friends how great your product is and get your more subscribers (who, hopefully, go through the same flow).  

Going from one step to the next isn’t always easy. You have to keep customers and subscribers engaged with and excited by your brand. Those goals can be tricky to measure, but you can tell you aren’t accomplishing them if you notice issues like:

  • Average order values stay flat 
  • Lifetime values go nowhere 
  • Little to no upsells or cross-sells

The worst-case scenario is that your subscribers get bored and move on to another brand.

Psst! You might want to check out these core subscription metrics merchants should track.

Solution: Be More Strategic with What You Recommend and How

One of the best ways to continually delight customers with their purchases is to offer strategic recommendations. Katherine McKee says these can make your customers feel “loved and cherished.” 

Good data is at the center of this, according to Katherine. You have to be able to suggest options that will intrigue the subscriber if you want to build that trust with them. Otherwise, they’ll just ignore your recommendations (you know you’ve gotten bad product recommendations before and can relate: “why would they think I’d want to buy this?”).

“You should be in a feedback loop with your consumer’s behavior on what they want and that is what you should be adding to these experiences,” she says. “You can’t do that until you have clear data.”

Jon McDonald says that timing also plays a role in this and suggests offering subscription upsells combined with a renewal notice.

Another expert we spoke to, Brandon Amoroso of Electriq, discussed how merchants should be more thoughtful with their loyalty programs. He suggested ditching the points systems so many brands rely on and focusing more on offering truly meaningful rewards, like heavy discounts or free items for customers with high LTVs.

This can be achieved by changing the upsell discounts in that renwal email (also known as an upcoming charge or shipping soon notification) based on a Shopify tag indicating the LTV tier a subscriber belongs to.

Regardless of where you offer them, strong recommendations and exclusive perks that reward loyalty can help boost lifetime value and help you retain customers for longer periods. 

By the way: ARPU makes it easy to customize your shipping soon emails with 1-click upsells and easy delays. You can trigger upsell offers by subscription product, renewal count, Shopify tags, or all 3.

Problem #6: Your Subscribers Have Too Much Stuff And It’s Hard to Adjust Cadence

The subscribers you’ve won over want your product. But they don’t want more than they actually need.

One challenge subscription ecommerce businesses face is getting their delivery sizes and timing just right. You have to find the right balance to ensure customers get what they need, when they need it. 

A person can only store or use so much protein powder, vitamins, dog food, or whatever subscription product you offer. 

Sending out a pound of coffee every week, for instance, might be too much for some.

If you’re not making it easy to delay or adjust subscriptions, you’re taking the risk that a subscriber will resort to canceling to stop the flow. At best, you can try to win them back when they want the product again. At worst, you lost a customer that actually liked what you offered and just needed a little less of it. 

Solution: Offer Easy Delays 

The best and easiest way to solve this problem is by offering flexible subscriptions that let your subscribers pause or delay their shipments.

At ARPU, we’ve seen how our delay option has allowed our top merchants the ability to retain over 80% of the subscribers who chose to pause their orders. Instead of losing them, they were able to hold on by simply moving the delivery date a few weeks.

Delays also give your subscribers more control and better experiences, which can help you build trust and relationships with them.

Learn how Jimmy Joy cut “too much product” churn in half with easy delays.

Conclusion

Conversion and retention can feel like mysteries, but they don’t have to. With good data, solid strategies, and the right tools in place, you can encourage your subscribers to stick with your brand. Audit their experience and make improvements one at a time until you’re satisfied (hint: chances are this will be ongoing, never complete, and that’s ok). 

Each expert quoted in this article spoke at length about these challenges and others on Subscription Ecommerce Live. You can find each episode and others or even tune in for a live event here. Looking to tackle numbers 5 and 6 from this article? At ARPU, we’re obsessed with helping merchants increase AOV, improve LTV, and reduce churn by providing the ultimate subscription experience. Learn how we can help your brand.

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