eCommerce subscription fatigue: what it is and 6 ways to combat it

David Cross  |  

Are consumers suffering from subscription fatigue? After a pandemic-fueled 41% surge in subscription sales from 2019 to 2020, most brands would have answered no.

Inflation forced brands to reconsider. In a March 2022 Momentive survey, 35% of respondents said they had canceled a monthly subscription within the last year, thanks to inflation-driven costs of living.

But were consumers canceling for other reasons too? Mass cancellations of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max were often blamed on customers hopping from one service to another for better content. These cancellations put eCommerce subscription brands on notice.

With a growing number of subscriptions and customer expectations constantly evolving, brands have to be on guard against subscription fatigue like never before. For example, consumers can now choose from dozens of “subscribe and save” coffee promotions. The sheer number of options can cause customers to tire of their existing coffee subscriptions but feel too overwhelmed to search for another. This situation is at the heart of subscription fatigue.

While subscription experiences still make good business sense, the only way to keep your hard-won customers from succumbing to subscription fatigue is through value and increased convenience. Here are six ways to achieve both.

1. Create innovative content to build community

Engaging content can build community and reduce fatigue around subscription products. According to Parse.ly’s 2022 Content Matters Report, 43% of marketers said that content designed to “retain and expand existing customers” helped drive revenue. 

Content can include articles, videos, podcasts, short-form LinkedIn posts, and more. The content helps subscribers get the most out of their products and engages them in between orders.

After all, getting a bottle of vitamins delivered to your door each month is only so engaging. With the right content, the recurring shipments become part of a more significant experience, not the experience itself.

CLIF Bar, a plant-based food company, knows their customers are health-conscious. To provide value to customers, the company created a library of articles on nutrition. But they go a step further.

Their content focuses on societal health as much as physical health. CLIF Bar contracts with famous athletes to promote organizations that focus on societal change. For example, they highlight tennis player Venus Williams and her work with an organization that connects people of color to nature.

how to combat eCommerce subscription fatigue

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So how does this emphasis on content combat subscription fatigue? CLIF Bar subscribers realize they’re investing not just in their health but also in something much greater than themselves.

While you may not have the resources to ink a deal with celebrities, you can still create content that connects your subscribers with causes you care about.

2. Make it easy for the subscriber to try new products

If you make it difficult for subscribers to purchase additional products, you could face bouts of subscription fatigue.

A 2022 Klarna study shows that half of the surveyed consumers want eCommerce companies to improve their frictionless payment methods. The second most desired improvement? Personalized product recommendations. Offering one but not the other might cause customers to tire of your subscription experience.

Suppose a customer has opted in to monthly “subscribe and save” coffee shipments but suddenly wants to try a different roast. If it’s not easy to add the extra coffee to an existing shipment, they might find it easier to head to a coffee shop.

Equator Coffees starts recommending products at the moment of subscription enrollment and continues recommending products via email when a shipment is about to go out.

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Subscribers can add a blend they want to try to their upcoming shipment with a few clicks.

If Shopify is your eCommerce platform, their Rebuy app uses artificial intelligence to analyze your customers’ past purchases and generate personalized product recommendations. Subscription platforms such as Ordergroove also make it simple for them to add recommended products to their scheduled orders.

3. Gamify customer retention with a loyalty program

Loyalty programs prevent subscription fatigue by rewarding subscribers for ongoing engagement with a brand.

McKinsey found that top-performing loyalty programs can boost revenue by 15-25% annually from customers who redeem points. The revenue boost comes from increasing their purchase frequency, average order value, or both.

Yankee Candle awards loyalty points for a variety of customer activities, from writing a product review to a social media follow. The more points one earns, the greater the benefits.

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Yankee Candle’s loyalty program is open to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. To address subscription fatigue, they could create a separate rewards tier for subscribers only. A certain number of points might earn a complimentary add-on or monthly shipment.

Yotpo is a Shopify and BigCommerce app that awards points for the types of activities mentioned above. If you’d rather not have a points-based loyalty program, Yotpo lets you attach incentives to the number of purchases or customer referrals.

4. Give subscribers as much control as possible

A customer “suffering” from subscription fatigue doesn’t have to churn if the control you give them over their shipments amounts to more than enrolling and canceling. Our research found that subscribers last 71% longer when they can swap a product and 135% longer if they can skip an order.

When subscribers swap or skip, it also gives you the chance to collect valuable customer data to offset fatigue later on. You have an opportunity to build anticipation for their next shipment. When it’s about to go out, notify them that you’re including a free sample of something they haven’t tried to welcome them back.

KIND Snacks lets subscribers customize shipments with bars they like, and they can skip shipments without having to cancel.

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Not only does KIND give subscribers the ability to swap, but they include free samples in each shipment to help customers decide what to swap.

5. Offer several enrollment plans based on subscriber interest

Ward off subscription fatigue in less-confident but interested customers by offering multiple enrollment options.

A 2021 McKinsey study reveals that 21% of U.S. consumers enrolled in a subscription because it had a variety of products and pricing options.

Customers are savvier than ever, which means they might not want to be locked into an extended membership until they’ve had the chance to “test drive” your subscription experience.

Companies such as Birchbox offer prepaid plans offering the same services for different membership tenures. These services include two to six items per month and product customization.

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Many customers aren’t willing to commit to a subscription for 12 months, and locking them in before they’re ready can lead to fatigue at best and resentment at worst. 

Offering three- and six-month plans aids customer acquisition. Once these customers see the value in your subscription experience, they’ll be more confident renewing for 12 months.

6. Send regular – but concise – satisfaction surveys

One of the best ways to manage subscription fatigue is to ask subscribers to rate their satisfaction levels with the experience you offer. You might get ideas that end up improving the experience for all subscribers.

But how do you get your customers to complete the survey? For starters, keep them brief. According to SurveyMonkey, customers are more likely to abandon surveys that take more than seven to eight minutes to fill out. They found that completion rates dropped as much as 20%.

Underwear and sock subscription business MeUndies routinely sends members emails asking about their experience. Note that they mention how much time the survey will take to complete.

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While they don’t include an incentive to complete the survey, offering a discount or a bonus item in their next shipment could incentivize responses.

Many enterprise-level eCommerce companies send customer experience surveys through platforms such as Qualtrics. They can further integrate Qualtrics with email providers like Klaviyo to give the surveys more consistent branding when you send them out.

Using a customer experience hub like Qualtrics means that you can quickly calculate results and respond to fatigue-related issues faster. If you see consistently low scores, you can follow up with those customers individually for more context. 

Reduce subscription fatigue with a focus on customer satisfaction

Startups with subscription business models often assume that customer satisfaction is something static. The reality is that customer expectations evolve, making customer satisfaction a work in progress. The tips above are a jumping-off point, but reducing subscription fatigue means keeping close tabs on what customers read, click, and buy.

To learn more about how Ordergroove can help you build community in your subscription experience, click here for a free demo.

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