The Secret To Subscription Success: Five Priorities Of Top Performers


They used to say, “There’s an app for that.” Now they’re saying, “There’s a subscription for that.” With the rise of subscription commerce, it seems there’s a subscription for everything: Meals, movies, cars, contact lenses, fitness, fashion, fragrance, even feminine hygiene products all can be delivered to consumers’ doorsteps, with invisible monthly payments that recur automatically.

However, just because there are many different types of subscriptions doesn’t mean that every subscription-based platform is a success story. As shown by the PYMNTS Subscription Commerce Conversion Index, a collaboration with Recurly, there are some key differentiators between top and bottom performers.

Speed and features are two of the top determiners of successful platforms. Reducing the time and effort it takes to subscribe along with offering customers flexibility to try, customize and cancel as they need  can go a long way toward giving people the confidence they need to commit to a subscription.

Here’s who’s doing it right and what it takes.

Success Stories

Gym memberships have long been a thing, which has primed consumers to associate health and fitness with a subscription model. Now, digital fitness services are starting to hone in on this previously-brick-and-mortar-dominated category. takes a Netflix-like approach, wherein subscribers can access various health and fitness items. Exercises, yes, including yoga and Pilates, but also weekly meal plans and social forums where members can connect, share and support one another. It is this content, according the company, that traditional gym memberships don’t always provide. The social aspect of a digital fitness subscription can fill that gap to create motivation to continue, which is key for any subscription-based model aiming to bring customers back for more, time and again.

Leasing a car is another familiar type of “subscription,” but some automakers are now taking this concept to the next level by offering greater flexibility: no need to sign on for 36 months at a time.

Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Cadillac and Jaguar Land Rover are examples of car companies dipping their toes or wheels, as the case may be in the waters of subscription commerce. The aim is to attract younger customers who may not want, need or be able to afford car ownership at this stage of their lives, but still need occasional transport. Vehicles can be ordered via app and delivered or picked up on demand.

Here’s one that’s a little less familiar: A fragrance subscription called Scentbird scored $18.6 million in Series A funding last month. The platform helps match customers to fragrances and sends them a sample vial each month for just $14.95 a nice way to try out a designer scent without paying top dollar for a huge container. Scentbird is enjoying a subscriber base of 250,000 and 110 percent growth this year, but there is a looming question before it: What happens when all its customers find their perfect scent and settle down with it?

Recipe For Success: Key Ingredients

What makes one subscription stand out over another? PYMNTS and Recurly research found there are five key categories in which subscription businesses must excel if they hope to become top performers: time, subscriptions, passwords, plan options and free cancellation.

In the first quarter of 2018, the average time to subscribe was 152.9 seconds, down 7.4 seconds from the previous quarter. However, the top 20 performers could move customers through the subscription process in 117.1 seconds, 35.9 seconds faster than the average. It’s clear that top performers made time to subscribe a priority, and it paid off.

All of the top 20 merchants implemented passwords, noted the Index. Among the bottom 20, only 40 percent did the same. Ninety-five percent of top performers also provided plan options, while middle and bottom performers were less committed to offering this type of flexibility.

Speaking of flexibility, all top performers gave customers the option to cancel their subscription for free. This has been an important distinction since Q1 2017.

These commonalities point to a grain of wisdom. With so many subscription commerce options on the table, consumers are turning to the ones that offer the most convenience, whether that’s speed to subscription time or flexibility surrounding plans and cancellations.

The only outlier here is passwords, but with data privacy top of mind for so many, it’s little surprise that customers would like the sense of security that a password creates.