starting to see them everywhere. Boxes arriving in the mail with samples of
gourmet food, specialty razors, or even cosmetics. According to Fast
Company, smart business owners are diving head first into starting a
subscription box business.
Because they want a slice of a $5 Billion (with a B!) and growing industry.
Are you looking to start a Subscription Box business? Or are you thinking about adding subscription boxes to your current existing business?
If so, that’s a great business move, but there are plenty of confusing options out there for you to research. You’ll be glad to know that you’ve come to the right place if you want to save yourself some research time. I have done a lot of the legwork for you right here in this article to help you choose the best Subscription Box platform to meet the needs of your particular situation.
You’ll really want to get the platform selection right because the right Subscription platform can make or break your business goals.
Even small differences between platforms may have a massive impact on your monthly profits or your ability to scale beyond offering a Subscription Box if that’s what you want to do.
I’ve put together what I feel is the most complete and unbiased discussion about the platforms and options available for you when selecting a platform for your business.
Let’s dive in!
Priced at $39 per month, Cratejoy is an all in one SaaS (Software as a Service) solution for starting and growing a Subscription Box enterprise. Cratejoy will help you get your business up an running with great templates, analytics, and a customization interface that is very easy to use for even non-techies.
- Hosted Website: Cratejoy allows you to build a complete website on a custom domain using a relatively straight forward website builder. You can customize it if you know how to code
- Manage and take subscription orders on a monthly cycle: Subscriptions can be taken with a cut-off window too so that your customers won’t be billed twice in a month by accident.
- Accept pre-paid subscriptions: So you can sell gift subscriptions or pre-paid orders (eg; a discount for pre-paying for 6 months).
- Integrated eCommerce: Sell one time products in addition to your subscription offerings.
- The Marketplace: Cratejoy hosts the worlds largest marketplace for subscription boxes. This allows customers to find and purchase from you without you needing to do any marketing.
- Detailed customer data: The backend of Cratejoy is perfect for managing all aspects of your customer data and allows users to update their own information
- Integrations: Has some decent integrations with Carthook, Picreel, Shipstation, Mailchimp and SumoMe so you can implement popups, fulfillment, cart abandonment campaigns.
- Community: Subscription School on Facebook plus the higher tier group of 100 plus subscriber business are amazing resources.
- Transaction Fees: Cratejoy charge a 1.25% + 10c transaction fee for every order placed on your website. If you get orders through the marketplace then the transaction fee is 11.25% + 10c. This fee recurs every month. For a low-margin business, this is far from ideal in the long term.
- Limited Integrations: Cratejoy did have a Zapier integration for a while, however, this doesn’t seem to be supported anymore. This is a basic feature that more mature platforms have that I would like to see. The Cratejoy App Store is limited in its offerings and the monthly fee’s on the apps can be quite high for new businesses.
In my eyes, the Pro’s outweigh the cons considerably which is why this gets my recommendation. It provides real value for the money, great support and will easily grow as you grow.
Subbly entered the Subscription Box platform business not long after Cratejoy and is really competing hard to be the best platform for Subscription Boxes as well.
What I like about Subbly is that the company has been boostrapped from humble beginnings into a serious player in the Sub-Box platform world. It’s founder Stefan Pretty, who despite being Scottish (jokes jokes) has a serious knack for marketing subscription products. This is really evident by the support provided to his customers.
Subbly charges $29/month + 2.0% transaction fee at their lowest price point.
- Hosted Website: Subbly also offers a website designer and builder on a hosted domain with themes you can use to get started.
- Ease of Use: A user can get up and running almost instantly with limited technical knowledge just by following the easy setup flow.
- Subscription Billing and day of the month cut off (this is in Beta at the time of writing): Secure and accepts major credit cards.
- Highly Regarded Customer Support: Subbly prides themselves on great customer support.
- Transaction Fees: Subbly charges a 1% transaction fee (at the lowest price point) for every order placed on your website. If you get orders through the refer-a-friend tool then the transaction fee is 5%. This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you start getting to the point where you are doing lots of sales volume.
- Customization is Tricky: Yes, as stated above you don’t need skills to get up and running. But if you want things to be “just so”, you will probably need to hire a developer.
Overall, Subbly is a well-respected player in the Subscription Box platform game. However, it is general consensus that they lag just slightly behind Cratejoy in terms of overall customer experience.
Known first as a Shopify e-commerce alternative, Lemonstand has also tried to brand itself as a great choice for subscription box entrepreneurs. Pricing starts at $19/Month (up to 75 Orders per month) with zero transaction fees.
However great Lemonstand may be for e-commerce, just be aware that they are simply pivoting their marketing and haven’t really designed anything new specifically for the subscription box wave.
In other words, you still have to do the work to figure out how to efficiently manage subscription orders, unlike Subbly and Cratejoy given that the current extent of the subscription is just a 30-day automated billing cycle. For many new to the subscription box idea, this additional complexity is a deal-breaker.
- Brand Your Own Store: You can build a store on the platform and brand it any way you like.
- High Customizability: You can really get your store to be “just so” if you know what you are doing.
- No transaction fees: This is a big deal. If you have the platform working how you want it you can really save some serious cash long term.
- Managing Discounts is Easy: If you need to have a variety of discounts for a variety of box types you can easily manage them in Lemonstand.
- One-off Purchases A Breeze: Being an e-commerce platform first you would sort of expect this, but it is nice to not be so rigidly locked into only selling things by subscription.
- Accept PayPal: The world uses PayPal and accepting subscriptions on PayPal is pretty easy. The only issue in my eyes is it’s damned risky as PayPal can be a colossal sized pain-in-the-rear if you start to get a high number of chargebacks. However, the majority of people have access to PayPal so…
Lemonstand was originally designed as a shopping cart builder for world-class (i.e. Big) companies. As such, it is safe to say that this platform might be a tad…complex… for many solopreneurs. Nearly everything outside of adding products is very complex to achieve with no technical knowledge.
Once you get some legit sales traction going, the price quickly becomes expensive, as in $199 per month up to 1000 orders. Ouch!
Shopify is an entry-level e-commerce platform that has thousands of stores hosted around the world. It’s extremely easy to use and customize however it should be noted that out of the box it is not designed for Subscription Boxes.
Instead, like an iPhone, it’s the Apps that provide this additional functionality.
Shopify Basic Price $29 +2.9% and 30c per transaction. *note – the transaction fee’s do not apply when you are using an app to accept subscription orders. Instead the app may charge a fee.
Suggested Shopify Subscription Apps
Bold Recurring Orders and Subscription Box App
$19/month + 1% transaction fee on all subscription orders
Bold Recurring Orders is a fully featured subscription box app with all the basic features you want:
- Day of the month cut off
- Build-A-Box Customisation: Gives your customer the ability to create a custom box. This is great because it allows the customer to tweak the box contents to maximize satisfaction.
- Cancellation Saver: Promote coupons and discounts to customers who are about to cancel
- Customer Accounts: so they can manage their subscriptions.
- Single product orders in addition to subscriptions.
I used this app when I migrated my store to Shopify however I found that I
didn’t like the interface. So I switched to….
Recharge Recurring Billing & Subscriptions App
Additional $19.99/month + 1% transaction fee
This app is the most used Shopify app for recurring billing subscription plans. It allows for single product purchases as well as box subscriptions. Plus it allows customers to manage their subscriptions directly from your Shopify store.
It has the same features as Bold plus the following:
- Abandoned Cart integrations: using Carthook (an additional fee)
- Customer can select a different frequency: eg, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly.
- Referral Programs: Referral Candy, refersion, Smile.io
- Integrations Galore: One click upsells, affiliate programs, analytics, data tracking.
It also has a much cleaner user interface + deploys on your product pages a bit cleaner for my liking.
Note: I’ve found that the code base that is installed into your store is
a bit cleaner/lighter than Bold. This can cause faster loading time on your
CartFunnel is not exactly an app within the Shopify app store. It is a full on external shopping cart customization tool that can integrate with Shopify. It can allow you to offer things like upsells as well as subscriptions while allowing maximum customization. It’s a bit complicated though…and expensive.
(from $49/Month to $249/Month)
Once you get past the pricing sticker shock, Paywhirl allows your business to process subscriptions as well as other types of payment plans on Shopify. It is heavily customizable and they pride themselves on being user-friendly by minimizing the need to have a developer when you want to change anything.
Overall comment for Shopify Subscription Box Apps
know when you get big enough that Shopify could be a better solution for you.
If you are just starting out, I really don’t suggest going with Shopify – there
are better options that help you maintain focus into being the best
Subscription Box store you can be.
WordPress + WooCommerce Subscriptions
$199 One time fee + Yearly update cost for one site
Are looking for the absolute bare bones package that can get you into the subscription box business? A WordPress install (free) plus Woocommerce Subscriptions can help you break the ice without breaking the bank.
WordPress is known worldwide as a content management system that is pretty easy to learn to use. WooSubscriptions is an add-on that can give you the ability to create residual revenue from subscription boxes.
While going this route is financially cheaper upfront, you are on your own when it comes to support. You still need to pay for things like:
- SSL Certificates
Conclusion on selecting your Subscription Box Platform
So there you have it. A week’s worth of research and recommendations at your fingertips. I recommend that the average beginning solopreneur starting a subscription box business go with Cratejoy or Subbly. It’s reasonably priced, requires less work to get started, and you can literally be selling by the end of the day.
Let me know what you think in the comments section!