5 Critical Conversion Essentials For Subscription-Based Ecommerce Stores

The differences between the traditional and subscription model ecommerce stores aren’t huge. At the end of the day, both sell goods online, and should have great pictures and product descriptions – ecommerce basics – to successfully have visitors convert.

That being said, does it mean that a subscription-based ecommerce store can copy exactly what a traditional ecommerce store does on their website and expect to succeed?

Absolutely not. The customers’ doubts, objections and questions will be different. The website’s UX needs to be adapted as well.

So, if you run an ecommerce store with a subscription model, how can you ensure it converts as much as possible?

Here are 5 essentials to get you started:

1. Ensure subscription details are clear

As a conversion optimization agency, we’ve helped dozens of ecommerce companies offering subscription options understand their customers and their questions to increase conversions. Through this, we found out that without a doubt, the biggest questions that are holding people back from buying that aren’t related to the products – are related to the subscription.

Too many companies assume that people know about subscriptions. They assume people know that they can pause or cancel at any time – but surprise surprise, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

By looking at the findings from qualitative surveys we’ve conducted, it became clear that the terms of a subscription are never clear enough. The biggest questions being (in no particular order):

  1. What if I still have products left from the previous month? Can I pause?
  2. What if I don’t like the products? Am I locked in for a year? Can I cancel?
  3. Do I need to receive the products every month, or can I change the schedule?

At the end of the day, these are questions and objections that are quite easy to answer. And those are the same questions that could be holding your conversion rate from increasing quite significantly.

Since not everyone is familiar with how subscription works, here’s how one of our clients, Kiehl’s skincare addresses this issue:

Skincare Subscription

Note how right next to the “Auto Replenish” feature, they have a question mark that when hovered over, displays a new window with step-by step instructions of how it works. They make it very clear that:

1. Products will be delivered automatically.

2. You can easily manage the whole order including frequency, delivery and quantity of your products.

3. That you’ll get extra benefits from subscribing, such as free shipping and a deluxe sample (we’ll get into benefits later).

4. That you’ll get an email reminder before every delivery to make sure you don’t get any surprises.

5. That you can cancel anytime.

This is super important. This simple window and 5 bullet-points instantly answer a lot of questions that could otherwise lead to visitors leaving the site without buying. It also reduces customer support inquiries, and even complaints if a customer orders without fully understanding how the subscription works.

In a completely different vertical, Loot Crate also makes the subscription details quite clear.

Cancellation policy for subscription ecommerce

Note that they’re not hiding this piece of information, or only making it visible during checkout. The fact that they allow people to cancel or pause their subscription anytime is listed as one of their main benefits. And this is not just a coincidence. It’s because people need to know this before subscribing in order to sign up, and buy with confidence and minimal friction.

2. Always offer a guarantee

No matter what you sell, note that it’s imperative to offer a guarantee to reassure customers that their purchase is risk-free. Even if most customers don’t end up returning their products, this creates trust during the purchasing process.

For companies that sell products where results are expected – such as skincare, beauty and supplements – people want to make sure the products will work, guarantees are even more important.

We’ve helped Nudu, a luxury skincare company, redesign their website for conversions, and at the footer of every page of the website, we added this section:

Money back guarantees

This guarantee works for two main reasons:

  1. Instead of just being called a satisfaction guarantee, it’s abundantly clear that if they don’t love the product, they will get their money back.
  2. The guarantee also talks about all the efforts the company has made to improve the products based on various factors. This shows that this is not just any product created overnight, but that it’s been formulated based on customer feedback and various other factors that a customers could worry about; thus reducing potential objection, and again, reassuring the visitor.

This is one of the major contributing pieces to Nudu’s conversion rate increase of 191%.

3. Remind people why they should subscribe

As a company, having your customers subscribe is great for you as it provides a recurring revenue. But if you want to be successful at subscription ecommerce, you need to answer an important question: why is a subscription great for your customers?

Customers won’t subscribe for the sake of subscribing, and not every product is ideal for a subscription either. This means that the benefits of subscribing must be abundantly clear to your website visitors, and it must be advantageous to do so.

For brands that allow people to both make a one-time purchase, and to subscribe, the main challenge is to make the advantages of subscribing clear compared to the option of making a one-time purchase.

Let’s take Kiehl’s again, who not only offer free shipping on all subscription purchases, but also offer deluxe samples that customers wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to receive.

Knowing that shipping is one of the biggest objections of customers buying online today (even truer if you ship internationally), offering this in addition to exclusive products (the deluxe samples), are attractive benefits. And let’s not forget that extra samples mean this might also increase the customers’ lifetime value by getting them to discover products they may eventually want to buy.

Kiehl's Auto-Replenish

Birchbox does something similar to Kiehl’s free deluxe samples in order to entice people to subscribe. With every subscription, they’ll gift a free product.

Smashbox's gift with purchase

And Whisky Loot, who only offers a subscription option does a remarkably good job of showcasing their benefits throughout their website. One thing they’ve done that I particularly like, is outline that you would have to pay $410 to taste the whiskies they’ll send you if you were to buy the whole bottles by yourself. This number screams instant savings.

Ecommerce benefits for subscribing

Closer to their main call to action button, Whisky Loot also re-summarizes the benefits; something I highly recommend trying. Not only are they mentioning the benefits again, but they’re answering what are probably some of their potential customer’s biggest questions, such as when the boxes ship, and if the shipping is free.

Answering customer's questions at point of purchase

Natural Stacks, a supplement company that offers both one-time purchases and subscription options for their products, provide flexibility to their customers by letting them choose how many bottles they want shipped. This is important, especially if you’re selling food or consumables that some people may run out of faster than others.

In this case, by offering people the option to buy multiple bottles, they get the chance to increase the average order value, while making it a benefit for the customer by offering package discounts. It’s a win-win.

Note that in order to entice people to subscribe, they’re also offering a 10% discount on subscriptions, and letting people chose the frequency of delivery. A textbook example of a subscription form well done.

Subscription frequency and options in ecommerce

4. Don’t compromise UX

If you’re offering a subscription with multiple options, such as different packages, different delivery schedules, or different quantities of your product, your order form may have slightly more fields than if you’re selling products on a one-time basis.

This means that there are more opportunities for visitors to get confused, and more UX issues that may arise – especially on mobile.

When creating your subscription forms, think about the actions your visitors will have to take in order to subscribe, and optimize those to make it as easy as possible for people to place an order.

Sock Fancy, a sock subscription service, asks multiple questions during checkout in order to get the customers’ order right. That being said, take a look at their subscription process below: the options to select are large and easy to tap from a phone. The options that were selected are clear.

Subscription ecommerce UX on mobile

Parachute Coffee offers multiple plans that people can subscribe to. Although this could create some confusion, they’ve made the options easy to understand by visually separating the different options, listing the differences of each plan underneath their price, and showing prepaid plans in a different color than the monthly plan.

This helps customers understand the differences at a glance, thus reducing ordering friction at the most important step in the visitor’s path to purchase: checkout.

Subscription plans

5. Don’t just know your customer, learn to read their minds

Subscription or not, one of the most impactful things you can do to increase your ecommerce conversions and sales is to understand your customers in-depth.

When writing copy for their website and creating marketing materials and ads, most marketing teams sit down and create buyer personas according to the team’s perception of who their customers are. They might have age range and location of their customers, but other than that, customer personas often end up being made up.

With 7+ years of conversion optimization experience, I can confidently say that if you’re serious about moving the needle conversion-wise, you need to have more than basic demographic data and made-up customer personas.

High-converting ecommerce stores, and the best landing pages, address the precise objections, doubts and questions their customers have. The brands know what’s going on in their customers lives, such as their type of job, where they shop, and the types of products they buy.

At the end of the day, high-converting ecommerce stores have customer personas that are backed by data, and not just any type of data, but lots of qualitative information about their customers.

The Testing Trifecta Conversion Method

We do this using our Testing Trifecta conversion process. This involves looking at qualitative data (your analytics) to identify your problem areas. For example, this could be a specific section of a certain product page.

Analytics tell you what is wrong, but they don’t tell you why. This is why you’ll want to perform qualitative research to dig deeper to understand the problem. This involves user testing, interviewing your customers, sending surveys and conducting polls, among other techniques.

One of the things you may discover if you have a food product, for example, would be objections related to the ingredients of your products. You might discover that people aren’t sure if your product is either Gluten Free, Vegan, GMO free, etc.

So in this case, you could run an A/B test to try remediating to this objection in a way similar to how Quantum Squares display the main health-related objections:

Design that targets objections

We recently utilized the same technique to understand conversion issues that P3, a natural deodorant company, experienced with their product pages.

By discovering 4 different types of customers through customer surveys, and finding out the biggest questions that were holding these people back from buying, we were able to create a whole new product page based on those insights:

Optimized product page for Primal Pit Paste

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the elements of this page:

“Actually Works, Without Using Harsh Chemicals or Aluminum”

Previously, the word “chemicals” was rarely used on the company’s product pages. Instead, the original focus was that the product is aluminum free. But after conducting some research, we learned that P3’s customers were much more worried about other chemicals than the presence of aluminum! This insight allowed us to shape the product page’s copy to this objection.

“What’s That Smell”

Some of P3’s products have original names that created confusion amongst visitors when it came to the smell of the product. Men wanted something that would smell manly, and thus didn’t know which product was best for them. Women wanted to make sure they would find the right scent for themselves as well.

By finding out that the scent was one of the leading factors influencing a customers’ buying decision, we added this section describing the scent of every product in detail.

“What’s In It”

Similarly to the other insights, even though customers knew the product was all organic and natural, they wanted to know all of the products’ ingredients in order to be convinced. Therefore, we added this section addressing all questions related to the ingredients.

After these changes, and a few more – all stemming from the qualitative research – P3’s online sales increased by 21%, earning them over a million dollars in additional revenue.


Subscription ecommerce is very similar to regular ecommerce. It’s important to understand the customers at a very deep level, address their fears, questions, and objections, and the UX must be optimized to make the customers’ journey and purchase as easy as possible.

That being said, a few other things must be considered:

  • Be very clear about the benefits someone will gain from subscribing instead of making a one-time purchase.
  • Allow customers to pause, cancel, and change their delivery frequency at any time.
  • Offer guarantees to communicate that you firmly stand behind your product, service and company.

Now it’s your turn. Based on what you’ve learned, go ahead and research, test and implement to grow your conversions.