Want to sell subscriptions? You’re not alone! Subscription services have become one of the most popular types of businesses these days, appealing to a range of consumers looking for convenience, novelty, or both.

💪 Why set up a subscription business?
From a business side, subscription services have earned their popularity for a good reason, focusing on offerings that prioritize long term recurring payments and customer retention, from online courses to subscription boxes.

There’s a lot of moving parts to starting a subscription business, but the platform you choose is one of the most important. Long story short, subscription businesses have different needs to traditional businesses, and not all platforms can meet them properly. These needs include:

  • Setting up highly specific recurring billing models
  • An online store optimized for subscription conversions
  • Compatibility with more than one payment provider
  • Being able to sell digital products as well as physical ones
  • And more…

Long story short… as many as possible!

As a subscription-based business, you basically have 2 options when you’re choosing a subscription ecommerce platform.

Your first option is to pick a platform built specifically for subscription ecommerce. These platforms will have the full range of features you need to start selling subscriptions built in without any need for plugins.

Your second option is to pick a platform that isn’t built specifically for an ecommerce subscription business use case. Sometimes they’ll be optimized for some kind of ecommerce, others, like if you use a WordPress website, will have been built for a completely different use case. In this case, you’ll need to rely on plugins to get all the functionality you need.

There is a third option – commissioning your own custom solution. However, the development costs of this are often out of reach for businesses without particularly deep pockets.

🔥 Pro tip: the problem with plugins
As they're not developed at the same rate as each other or the platform whose subscription capabilities they expand, there's no guarantee that they'll be as stable as you need them to be for maximum effectiveness. You need to think about the cost too - if each new feature requires a new plugin, your monthly costs could skyrocket!

However you approach it, here’s some of the most important features a top subscription ecommerce platform will have – all necessary to help your subscription business reach its full potential:

  • Subscription management tools
  • Customer relationship management tools
  • Recurring payments and subscription billing functionality
  • Support for multiple payment gateways and different payment methods
  • Support for global online payments
  • The ability to offer a free trial
  • Customer loyalty initatives and rewards
  • A no-code ecommerce website builder
  • Low transaction fees
  • The ability to offer flexible shipping options
  • Support for digital downloads

There’s a lot of talk about which popular subscription ecommerce platform is the best choice. We’ve assessed some of the biggest names out there to help you make the right choice – here’s the lineup for you to explore! Now, let’s dive in.

Subbly is the only platform on the market that offers every single feature your subscription ecommerce business could need in one place without requiring any plugins or coding ability, whether you’re selling online courses or running a subscription box.

From subscription management and recurring payments to more niche subscription features like offering tiered subscription plans and mid-purchase upsells, Subbly’s 100+ features have helped thousands of businesses to date launch and scale successful subscription businesses of all types. With 24/7 customer support and a huge community of users and product experts, Subbly is the best ecommerce subscription platform for subscription-first businesses looking to maximize retention and achieve stratospheric subscription growth.

Key features

  • Support for recurring payments
  • Compatible with multiple payment gateways (Stripe, BrainTree, PayPal)
  • Drag and drop ecommerce store site builder
  • Professional ecommerce store templates
  • Sell digital downloads and online courses as well as physical products
  • 24/7 human-powered support and a huge online community

Pricing: Starting at $14/month + 1.25% transaction fees (14-day free trial available)

More than any of the other subscription ecommerce platforms, Cratejoy’s biggest claim to fame is its marketplace. The marketplace somewhat simplifies your marketing strategy by providing a built-in marketing channel and online storefront for the subscription boxes that launch on its site, albeit at the cost of owning your traffic fully. Popular for those who want to start selling subscriptions with as little marketing spend as possible, Cratejoy comes with a functional ecommerce store builder and subscription management functions – as well as a range of help articles and other documentation to help less experienced subscription box operators get up to speed.

Key features

  • Marketplace-first approach focused on subscription boxes
  • Basic, simple to use features
  • Website templates available
  • Established online community

Pricing: Starting at $59/month + 1.25% transaction fees

Click here to read a more detailed comparison of Subbly and Cratejoy.

The grandaddy of online ecommerce platforms, Shopify doesn’t come with subscription features built in, but there’s thousands of subscription management apps available on the Shopify app store. We’ve shared our thoughts on the best Shopify subscription apps before, but the short version is that if you’re going all-in on subscriptions, it might not be the best ecommerce platform for you. That being said, if subscription products or the ability to collect recurring payments effectively are just a side thought for you, or you’re looking for other business functionality like POS systems and integrations with other plugin ecosystems, then Shopify might work for you.

Key features

  • Can be used as a subscription platform through plugins and third party apps
  • Huge amount of user-generated content about using it
  • Supports different third party payment gateways

Pricing: Starting at $39/month + 2.1% transaction fees

Click here for more insight on the cost of running your subscription business with Shopify.

Click here to read a more detailed comparison of Subbly and Shopify.

Recurly is a well-known solution for running ecommerce subscriptions, enabling its users to make subscription sales, take subscription payments on their online business, and set up flexible subscription billing frequencies. With the ability to handle subscription products from SaaS to monthly boxes, a whole host of extensions and integrations to further boost customer lifetime value, and reasonable pricing, Recurly has certainly earned a spot as a strong piece of subscription management software.

Key features

  • 30+ languages supported
  • 20+ payment gateways supported
  • Flexible customer support

Pricing: Starting at $0/month (no fees on first $40k revenue in first 12 months)

Although better known as a payment processing platform, Stripe actually has surprisingly robust subscription features too, mainly accessible through their API as well as through their ‘Billing’ add on. From recurring payment retries (i.e. dunning) to custom subscription products, Stripe is a solid option for people looking to sell subscriptions on their online store, or anything else where recurring payments are key to their business model.

Key features

  • Transaction fee based pricing structure with no monthly fees
  • POS integration
  • Smart churn recovery tools

Pricing: From 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction

In the end, the best subscription ecommerce platform for your unique business use case will be the one that allows you to most efficiently achieve your recurring revenue goals and maximize your customer lifetime value. However, it’s always important to think ahead.
Even if you don’t need every feature on day one, once your business starts to gain traction and momentum starts building, it can be hard to change subscription platforms midway, not to mention the stability risks and higher costs of having to tack on more plugins or subscription extensions to keep up with your needs.

Try Subbly for free for 14 days today and see the difference it’ll make. Already launched your subscription business on another platform and looking to switch things up? We’ll migrate you for free and cover your first year of fees!

By Zaki Gulamani
Editor-In-Chief at Subbly