Recent data tells us that not only do more than half of U.S. adults pay regularly for online services, they’d do so more often if the enterprises behind those services ramped up features and premiums. What consumers want is greater subscription flexibility, and more options in general, when it comes to functionality on almost every level.

To help you tap into that additional revenue stream, we’ll look at five steps ecommerce entrepreneurs can take to boost their online store’s sales. We’ll break out strategies with the help of one startup founder who has made a successful run with selling subscriptions since he got his foot in the door a few months ago.

Meeting ‘needs and desires’: Five key ideas for subscription services

Dan Oleson, founder of Ankle Swagger, has built a growing enterprise within a swiftly expanding market for online men’s sock subscriptions.  With a subscription to Ankle Swagger, every three months a customer receives three pairs of dress socks. Bright colors and edgy designs, all designed to sync seamlessly with the well-dressed businessman’s ensemble.

As blogger Liz Cadman recently asked: “Are sock subscription boxes the new subscription box trend?” It looks like they might well be. In fact, sales in the sector increased 29% over 12 months, as measured in the fourth quarter, last year.

But what Oleson knows is that a one-and-done model isn’t optimal in the online-services space. He understands that accommodating the numerous ways people purchase services like his is key to what drives success.

“The thing that I’ve come to find, and something we can improve on, even now, is providing the customer options when it comes to what level of service they’d like to subscribe to,” Oleson said. And that prompts the first item on our list.

1. Flexibility is a tool for the customer and the enterprise.

Consider Harry’s, for example, an online service that delivers blades and shaving cream to subscribers every two, three, or five months. That’s fairly flexible. But for customers who keep track of how rapidly they use up those products, they can set their own quantities and delivery schedules—now that’s accommodating the consumer.

In another example, Ankle Swagger’s model suggests that flexibility can also prompt favorable deals on both sides of the table. Oleson’s company lets you set your sock-delivery duration at twice per year, four times, or as an ongoing plan. The price, however, gets better for the customer the longer they choose to sign on. “Basically, a customer is rewarded, through a lower cost, by committing to a longer-term agreement with Ankle Swagger.” Smart business. Everybody wins.

 2. Customer reviews help define the service experience.

Ankle Swagger uses Bigcommerce functionality to automatically send customers a prompt for feedback. That happens after every order, 15 days following processing. The review is then integrated within the Ankle Swagger website. Later, potential subscribers can see what their predecessors had to say. “It allows customers to relate,” to the service, Oleson said. “It shows there’s an emotion behind not only making the order but receiving the order — confirming that it’s everything they thought it would be, and more.”

When your enterprise is asking its base to sign on to a periodic service, this kind of validation can be crucial.

 3. Quality content turns resources into community.

When it comes to creating a reason to rely upon an online-services company, Julibox is leveraging the power of content.  The curated cocktail-ingredients subscription service offers a mix of how-to videos and expert commentary. That’s a tactic of which Oleson says enterprises would do well to take note. “We can really socialize the business,” he said. “I think when companies do that they find their sweet spot…to not just provide a service but find themselves to be a resource for information, a soundboard for needs and desires.”

If online-service business leaders are listening they’re getting a message: Their success is based on a kind of conversation. What customers want, and how to link them to not only your products but to rich-content resources—and each other—is deeply a part of the recipe for success.

 4. Customers want a spectrum of available payment types.

If a buyer wanted to pay with PayPal, but they can’t, then the service enterprise has just stopped offering its very namesake. Making your checkout as customer-friendly as possible is about acknowledging that not everyone wants to use a debit card, credit card, or online transfer option to the same degree. And it’s about capturing that commerce, not watching it go elsewhere because your site failed to provide.

5. Three words: mobile, mobile, mobile.

“If you can pull a customer onto your site while they’re sitting on the bus, on the way to work, you could gain an additional 30% in sales,” said Oleson, “if you have a mobile-optimized website.” Fulfilling orders in a car, on a bus, everywhere the mobile-savvy consumer might be—that’s also essential to the services-enterprise proposition.

Incorporate these five strategies, and your online services enterprise will be poised to get your subscribers talking to the next prospect, and the next, about what it is you’re doing right.

Photo: Flickr, Howard Lake

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  • Oisino

    I am one of the cofounders of we allow stores to sell recurring products. We just launched an integration for Bigcommerce so now all Bigcommerce store owners can seamlessly integrate a recurring solution for their store. If you need any help with setup let us know and we can do a free integration call to get you going.

  • The subscription box industry continues to expand into new trends and niches, offering many opportunities for revenue growth. It’s important for companies to differentiate themselves both in terms of value/quality & customer service. When building your community, encourage customers to share their experience and leave box reviews on subscription box directories (like Find Subscription Boxes – and your site. The sub box subscriber community can be very vocal and influential for companies that provide a great experience.

  • Dave

    No, it’s not. They’ve been dodging this question for *three years.*

  • @julie_neumann:disqus you say that it isn’t currently built into the platform. Is the facility on the roadmap for future development?

  • Jim Brewer

    Look at how many sales come from mobile on most e-commerce sites and you’ll realize how untrue this comment is. Yes, many sites are viewed on mobile but conversion rates on mobile (not including tablets) are minimal.

  • Well said Customer reviews help define the service experience. Online reviews have always been a part of Search Engine and good business management. It is important part to increase the trust of customer and great platform to know views of different person regarding to your business.

  • well said James O’Brien , nowadays the site which is not optimized for mobile is merely waste of time for doing a business .

  • While it isn’t currently built in to the platform, several clients are successfully leveraging the platform to make it happen. The best way to do it is to set up recurring payments through your payment gateway or a third-party app. Stripe is popular on the payments side and the app RecurHub is an option as well. Hope that helps!

  • ProgenyPress

    You are using subscription products as the base for this article, but you do not offer subscription product options… Is this a new feature coming soon? We would love to offer customers subscription products (monthly, annual, etc.) as an option.

    How is Ankle Swagger doing subscription products??? Nice article, but using features that aren’t offered to BigCommerce users is frustrating.

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