How to retain e-commerce subscribers?

There are many ways you can retain more customers for your e-commerce subscription business. In this blog, we'll share the 9 most important tips to help you retain more customers.
Cristina Quijano
September 24, 2020

Reading time: 5 minutes

The subscription e-commerce business has grown by more than 100% in the last 5 years. Companies in the food, fashion, and wellness industries are adopting this approach as a way of recurring revenue. According to Mckinsey, in 2016, e-commerce retailers generated more than $2.6 billion in sales. While the e-commerce subscription business is growing, companies face challenges retaining their subscriber base and having sustainable growth. 

What is an e-commerce subscription business?

An e-commerce subscription is a business model in which a company provides products/services for recurring payments. E-commerce businesses sell and ship the products on a monthly or quarterly basis. Customers can acquire products now on a regular basis rather than on a one-time purchase. 

Types of subscription businesses:
  • Pay as you go (or convenience model): users pay for the product/service only when they use it. 
  • Replenishment: customers automatically purchase the product. These are products like personal care, diapers, flowers, or coffee. 
  • Unlimited use: fixed price for unlimited usage of products/services. 
  • Freemium: basic products/services offered for free in exchange of a user's information.
  • Fixed price: one price for a specific product/service for a defined time. 
These are some of the largest e-commerce subscription companies are:
  • Hello Fresh
  • Stitch Fix
  • Techstyle
  • Blueapron
How can your e-commerce business retain more customers?

There are many ways you can retain more customers for your e-commerce subscription business, but in this blog, we'll share the 9 most important tips to help you retain more customers. 

  1. Nurture your customer base 
  2. Keep track of your retention metrics
  3. Exceed customer expectations
  4. Offer flexible and automated subscription payment methods 
  5. Have a reward system
  6. Implement retargeting strategies
  7. Personalize your messaging
  8. Recover failed payments 
  9. Coordinate your payments and billing with your product shipping.

1. Nurture your subscriber base

Engaged subscribers are more likely to stick around. You can have an active subscriber base by inviting people to review your products, giving you feedback and social profs on social media channels. One way to do this is by encouraging subscribers to share pictures of the unboxing experience to generate more excitement when receiving your products. 

How unboxing experiences can help your e-commerce business?
  • It helps your brand share your story. Don't miss the opportunity to give your customers a wow experience that they can share with the world on social media to create more excitement and tell others why your brand is so unique. You never know if one of these unboxing experiences will go viral. 
  • Turn customers into loyal ambassadors of your brand. Unboxing experiences are a great way for customers to have a different experience than normal shopping. Give them some excitement, and they will buy again from you or refer you to others. 

Birchbox nurtures its subscriber base by offering packaging and surprises experiences that customers can't resist. 

2. Keep track of your retention metrics 

Tracking retention metrics is crucial for subscription businesses. Think of these metrics, not in terms of just numbers but the overall business health and performance; for this, you need to have a clear understanding of how to properly track some key metrics. 

These are some of the metrics you need to be aware of:

  • Customer lifetime value (CLV): How much are your customers spending during their life cycles. 
  • Churn rate: The rate at which your customers cancel their subscription.
  • Repeat customer rate: The rate at which customers come back for another purchase. 

By tracking your retention metrics, you'll make sure that you have a better picture of what's happening in your e-commerce business so that you can make all the necessary adjustments. 

3. Exceed customer expectations

Happy customers are also great at becoming brand ambassadors referring you to their friends and other potential customers. When subscribers indicate they are interested in your product/service, the response time is crucial. Offering immediate response to customer inquiries or complaints by solving customer tickets fast are two of the ways you can provide better customer service.  

If you create a good experience for your customers that is consistent and predictable, then you might be heading to set a good customer experience. When customers are delivered constant service, they are delighted and more inclined to develop a loyal relationship with your brand. 

4. Offer flexible and automated subscription payment methods

What do the biggest e-commerce subscription businesses have in common? They offer scheduled billing or payments as a way of billing collection. Subscription billing or recurring payments are automatic debit payments that go on a schedule. 

E-commerce customers prefer to have some flexibility when it comes to paying. You can give customers options to pay via different automated payment methods as well as payment gateways. It is important to invest in the right subscription management system that allows you to have different payment gateways to offer the best experience from the beginning. 

Our platform offers the flexibility you need for your recurring payments. Once your customers sign-up to your product and provide their payment mandate, they will automatically be charged on a monthly, quarterly, or by usage basis. 

5. Have a reward system

Many companies use reward systems to remunerate customers that regularly buy from them. You can use a system with points or give products away for free after a certain number of product purchases. 

Reward systems help customers to feel part of your community and maintain your subscribers engaged. The best is that the reward points can be expended in your business and they have the possibility to try new products. 

6. Implement retargeting strategies

Retargeting strategies allow you to track and retarget customers that have visited your website or searched for something. 

When using retargeting don't forget to:

  • Have an exclusion list: Instead of targeting everyone that visits your website, have ads for those who didn't make a purchase on your website. 
  • Segment your audience: Have a list of people who fit under certain demographics, characteristics, interests and products.
  • Track your audience response: don't bombard people with ads all the time, understand the numbers and which types of ads (or content) lead to the best click-through rate and adapt your campaigns from there. 
  • Website traffic: Place a Facebook pixel on all of the pages of your website. This will allow you to have the ads to those visiting your store on their news feed on Facebook. 

7. Personalize your messaging

Have a special welcome message that makes them feel engaged from the beginning. One way to do this is by sending an email from the CEO (makes it more personal) once they sign up for your product or offering a free trial for a period of time. If possible, add testimonials and what other people are saying about your brand as that will increase your accountability and trustability as a subscription business. 

8. Recover failed payments

Failed payments are a common challenge to e-commerce subscription businesses. After all, some customers may not necessarily be choosing to leave. There is a good chance that around 40% of your churn comes from unresolved billing issues. Luckily, this is easy to solve, and it will help you retain customers that don't want to leave. 

Failed payments can happen for many reasons; whether your customer doesn't have sufficient funds in their bank accounts or their cards have expired without them even noticing it. 

Failed payments are one of your hanging fruits for churn and for retaining more customers. Dunning campaigns can help you recover lost subscribers. Dunning is a process of communicating with customers when payments are failed to ensure that the billing collection is done successfully. You should make your dunning campaigns as personalized as possible rather than spammy. 

In Firmhouse, we provide your business with an email setup so that you can have the right methods for you to act fast when a payment fails. With automated messaging, you and your team can be relieved from chasing all customers individually and rather focus on selling or providing the best experience to customers. 

9. Coordinate your payments and billing with your product shipping

Delivering products within an e-commerce subscription business can be challenging. Every time you have to deliver a product, you have to make sure it is sync-up with your payments and billing cycle for each customer. 

In Firmhouse, we have a return logistics process and billing cycle, meaning that subscribers cancel in two-steps, preventing fraud and risks in the operations. 


The subscription e-commerce business continues to grow at a fast pace, and businesses are looking for ways to retain their subscriber base while providing the best customer experience. 

There are different ways for you to retain customers, but we believe these 9 ways are some of the most crucial ones when it comes to retaining customers; nurture your customer base, keep track of your retention metrics, exceed customer expectations, offer flexible and automated subscription payment methods, have a reward system, implement retargeting strategies, personalize your messaging, recover failed payments and coordinate your payments and billing with your product shipping.

While there isn't a straight line for retaining customers, if you have a mix of strategies in place, you can make sure that customers are retained for longer and that you have a healthy e-commerce subscription business. 

Are you interested in starting your e-commerce subscription business? 

Firmhouse is the online platform for product subscriptions & recurring commerce. We enable you to offer product subscriptions with no hassle. 
You can connect your existing e-commerce store and start offering subscriptions from today. Contact us to schedule a demo or start your free trial.

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