Hey retailers: Is your website a glorified business card?

What information should your website convey?

Almost every retailer has a website. It’s a basic business necessity and often one of the first things an entrepreneur creates when starting a business. And for good reason – you’re starting a salon or a brewery, yoga studio, or apothecary and you want everyone to be able to find it. But it’s also worth considering how people find your business to begin with. Indeed, the internet has developed in ways that help your potential customers engage with your business without ever having visited your website. 

Want to see a salon’s business hours? Check Google Maps. Looking for a new restaurant to check out? Search on Yelp. Want to check the vibe of that new business down the street? Creep their social media. When a visitor lands on your website, they likely already know a fair amount about your business. 

So what does your website actually do? It’s precious real estate and it’s time to rethink what function your website should provide. 

Most businesses rush to put up pictures of their store, explain what they are all about, list their business hours, perhaps link out to a reservation booking website or to their social media. Many websites will have a “shop” tab where they sell merch and have the obligatory catalogue view of their products. This gives the visitor all kinds of options, but wouldn’t you rather just turn them into a long term customer? Why give any and all options, when you could just create a long term relationship with them right away? 

Subscription retailers offer a view into the future

The retailers of the future know a secret that is hiding in plain sight: your website can sell products and services that you don’t necessarily offer in your store. And it can still be fully compatible with the rest of your business.

Take these two different coffee shops for example. 

The Coffee Bean

The first one is the large American cafe chain, The Coffee Bean. Viewing their website, it’s clear that The Coffee Bean’s sales intent is to bring you to their physical stores, encourage you to download their mobile app or convince you to make a delivery order. If you had to guess – how is this working out for The Coffee Bean?

To buy a subscription, you first navigate to the top menu and click on “coffee”. Then you land on a new page, navigate to the top menu again and open the drop down “subscriptions” menu. The Coffee Bean is making it really difficult to buy a subscription at the same time they’re making it easy to take other actions that are likely to take place on other platforms like Yelp, Google Maps, or DoorDash. It’s possible this is intentional and it serves the business well, but you do wonder how many people actually visit The Coffee Bean in-store or order delivery as a result of visiting their website. And then you also wonder how many more subscriptions Coffee Bean could sell by reorienting their website around their subscription offerings? Would reorienting this way take away from mobile orders or in-store visits? Probably not.

Go Get’em Tiger

The second one is a regional mini chain in Los Angeles called Go Get’em Tiger. This business recognizes that their website visitors are not the same as their in-store customers, and they have created a customer experience that reflects that. The express purpose of the Go Get’em website is to sell a subscription. Their subscription offering is the first thing you see and it’s the easiest part of their business to engage with. If you want to find information that is widely available on other platforms like locations and store hours, or if you want to buy one-time products like merch or a single bag of coffee, you can use the top navigation. Go Get’em Tiger prioritizes subscription above all else. Subbly calls this a subscription-first business. 

How to turn your retail shop into a thriving subscription-first business

  1. Select a product or service that serves an ongoing customer need. Coffee is a great subscription product because people tend to drink it daily or semi-daily, and when it’s used up, they need to buy more. However, there’s many retail businesses that have a clear path to becoming subscription-first: barber shops can sell unlimited cuts/services for a fixed monthly fee. A car wash can do the same. So can a dry cleaner. Same with a yoga studio. A restaurant can sell at-home meal kits or wine subscriptions. A craft brewery can sell beer subscriptions. A gift store can sell seasonal gift cards, gift bags and wrapping paper. You get the idea.
  1. Actively sell your subscription. Don’t just link to your subscription products in your top navigation or hide them in a menu on your website; make selling your subscription the express purpose of your website and deprioritize the lower value information. You could even go a step further and also actively promote your subscription in your physical store. 
  1. Search for high-intent buyers. Your potential subscribers aren’t afraid to commit to an ongoing relationship with your business. Target these customers and use messaging that caters to the type of person who wants the benefit of a subscription (convenience, predictability, savings, ease, never run out). 
  1. Create a customer journey that is an extension of your retail business. Send inserts with your regular shipments that promote your retail business. You might offer your subscribers benefits to visit you in person or invite them to special events. You could host virtual events that integrate their subscription products with you and your employees (like a virtual wine tasting or cooking class). 
  1. Integrate other products into your subscription sales funnel; subscription-first doesn’t mean subscription only. A barber shop could upsell hair products in their subscription buying journey. A carwash might sell windshield washer fluid and air fresheners. Most retail businesses sell complementary products in-store, maybe near the checkout counter, so offer the same thing during your online subscription buying experience. This allows you to be subscription-first but still sell your other transactional products. 
  1. Treat your subscribers like you would your in-store “regulars”. Most retail businesses thrive on regulars, and they treat them differently than the foot traffic customers. Retailers know their regulars and give them discounts, samples, and special access to the company – both for gratitude and to keep them coming back. Treating your subscribers in the same way will keep them happy and subscribed for as long as possible. 

To be subscription-first, use a subscription-first platform 

Many retailers set up their website a long time ago and don’t change it very often. Or they use platforms that are designed to simply display content (like WordPress) or sell one-time products (like Shopify). Selling subscriptions through these platforms is sometimes possible but never optimal. Platforms like Shopify, WordPress, or Squarespace aren’t built for subscription so they require other software integrations and plugins to work. Why would you use a platform designed for a different use case? Stringing together multiple technologies is unnecessarily complex and expensive. 

Subbly is the only subscription-first platform. Each feature is designed intentionally to support subscription products and services without the need for plugins or integrations (although you can use them if you choose). Subbly allows you to build a subscription-first website, maximize lifetime value, upsell one-time products, easily set up and experiment with sophisticated billing and shipping intervals, analyze business metrics, understand cancellation reasons, and much more. 

Join the subscription-first movement

So, you should ask yourself two main questions. First, “what is my website really doing for my business?” And second, “why is my website just a digital reflection of my retail store?” If these questions leave you with a blank stare or shrugging your shoulders, you might consider grabbing the subscription-first lifeline and positioning your retail business for the future.