Dose #97: The Art & Science of Subscriptions (Part 2)

The science of testing subscriptions

Matt here with your weekly Subscription Prescription 💊

This week’s dose is a continuation of the Art & Science of Subscriptions. While we covered the art last week, we will dive into the different parts of subscriptions you should be testing to improve growth and retention.

Have you ever thought about where you and your team could find subscription training? Something that equips you with the tools you need, answers your questions, and empower you to tackle your subscription challenges?

Then don’t miss out on our new workshop series, The Art & Science of Subscriptions.

We’re hosting nine sessions over the next several months, covering topics like:

  • Creative and Ads

  • Subscriptions offer - what to sell and how

  • Product page design

  • Fighting churn and building retention

All are geared towards helping you grow subscriptions. Each session will start with training and end with a group discussion. Come armed with questions or just be ready to learn.

Join live or access past workshops on-demand. Access the workshop here:

Would you prefer to listen or watch? This week’s newsletter is available via YouTube or podcast. It discusses the science of testing subscriptions in-depth for 22 minutes.

Knowing how to grow subscriptions comes down to science as much as art. In the second part of this two-part dose, we dive into the different elements you can test on subscriptions.

Remember that getting lost in the sea of ‘tests’ you can run is easy. For any brand under 1,000 subscribers, you should stay completely focused on the art - what people buy and what they get when they buy. This can include emails and upsells.

After you cross the 1,000 subscription threshold, you can start worrying more about boosting retention and tests to lower churn. But even as you grow past 1,000 subscribers, you should continue to test the art. Improving your offer will impact your business more than anything you can run for retention.

Keep that in mind as we dive into the tests you can run.

Start Testing Offers

This is the heart of your subscription. Why people buy - the compelling reasons behind your offer - and how they buy it - bundle, single-item, starter kit, etc. - is the offer.

Keep things simple, but think about testing what is in the subscription. Even if it’s a single item, you can test price (try going higher, not just lower) and discounts. You can test additional offers, like free add-ons or gifts. You can include access to content too.

The trick here is making an offer too valuable to pass up. These can be discounts, but adding other things can demonstrate even more value (and may cost you less).

In addition to what is in the subscription, you can test how it is bought. Bundling multiple months at a time - like three months of pills on a quarterly subscription - can look more valuable with 10% off than doing it one month at a time.

You can try a starter kit for people new to your products or subscription. You can use a bundle system where users build their subscription boxes.

For all this, consider ways to add more value and make the purchase experience easier for your customer. Don’t be afraid to do something counter-intuitive either; sometimes, raising the price increases conversions!

Testing Upsells

Upsells can happen in a lot of places, so I’m going to outline the main ones. Remember that upsells are very much part art and part science for subscriptions. The larger you get, the more you can focus on this as a science. But early on, keep the art form alive - you can make a simple upsell process and check in on it occasionally to make adjustments.

Upsells can start on the product page. You can place ‘popular items’ below the buy button.

Once a product is added to the cart, the immediate upsell opportunity is in a cart fly-out.

You can also put an upsell on the confirmation page once the purchase is complete.

Upsells can also occur over the life of the subscription but focus on after month 1 or 2 so you know you have someone past the initial phase of trying out the product.

For any of these upsells, keep it simple. If you sell protein powder, offer them creatine, glutamine, or preworkout. Highlight one or two products, but no more. Think of it as offering something that supplements the purchased product well. That’s the art.

As you scale, there will be more opportunities to test. You’ll have more subscribers and traffic, so you can iterate through upsell tests faster. But I cannot emphasize this enough—the best upsells are simple and thoughtful like a friend in the checkout line telling you that when you buy A+B together, they work way better.

Testing Unboxing

This is still mostly an art form, so if you’re not picking up more than 100 subscribers each month, this is hard to test.

But one of the most impactful things you can test with unboxing relates directly to retention. Are you putting inserts into the box? Linking out to videos or how-to manuals? How do you give someone that first experience with your product?

Is your product hard to use? Does it take time to see results?

Then explain that to people.

Don’t go overboard here; help subscribers get immediate wins with your product or understand how long it will be to see results.

Email Order Notifications + Upsells

Most brands leave upcoming order notifications alone. This is a mistake.

You can take them into Klaviyo and invest in them, even just a bit. This is art. But with more subscribers, you have an audience looking at an email from you each month (or before the renewal date).

Make this email more on-brand. Testing different statements to demonstrate value for the product. Also, test upsells here as well.

Tests to Improve Retention

If you have less than 1,000 subscribers, your only ‘tests’ to improve retention should be collecting cancelation reasons and talking to customers about what’s working and what isn’t.

Think of it like this. If you have 1,000 subscribers, you may be losing 100 per month. Making small changes that boost retention 10% means you keep 10 more subscribers.

But tests on offers and upsells can be even stronger, especially when you’re starting out. So again, don’t worry too much about retention when you’re smaller. If you have retention issues, I can guarantee you that it is something to do with your offer or who is buying it.

The most common test for retention comes down to ‘surprise and delight.’ What can you offer someone at a critical touchpoint to keep them on the subscription? Brands test this by sending a gift or a bigger discount than expected. You need to notify the customer this is happening in the upcoming order email so they don’t see that and cancel.

You can also test gifts in the month before a dangerous drop-off point, as a total surprise.

While ‘surprise and delight’ methods can be effective for bumping up retention, the biggest opportunity is at the point of cancelation. Running different offers for different cancelation reasons lets you refind the process and determine what works best.

Keep in mind that the more you learn about your subscribers and what they value, the better armed you’ll be at fighting churn.

That’s it for this week’s dose! Be sure to join our workshop on subscriptions starting March 28th. Dose #98 is out next Tuesday.

 - Matt Holman 🩺

The Subscription Doc