The COVID-19 pandemic led to an incredible rise of ecommerce subscription marketplaces. While things were already trending that way, people valued the ability to get repeat items sent to their door without having to interface in public spaces. As the world has reopened, many consumers continue to embrace the subscription model.
The business model saw a 41% growth rate in 2020. Although that number has leveled some, experts still see a consistent rise in physical and digital subscriptions over the coming years.
This can be good news for anyone operating an online marketplace. The rise brings new opportunities to expand your business and increase revenue.
We want to help you succeed with your subscription marketplace, so we’ve put together this brief guide that covers everything you need to get started.
What is a Subscription Marketplace?
A subscription marketplace builds on the traditional online marketplace model while incorporating subscription services for vendors. Customers still have the ability to make one-time purchases, but they can also sign up for recurring orders from products they love.
For vendors, the value proposition revolves more around the potential for recurring revenue. Instead of having to win back customers with new products, they can focus their efforts on creating items that customers want more of on a predictable basis.
Advantages of a Subscription Marketplace
- More predictable revenue
- Deeper customer relationships
- Increased recurring revenue
- Improved community and loyalty programs
- Ability to create a better customer experience.
Finding the Right Kind of Subscription-Based Business Model
Not all subscription services are created equal. There are three main revenue models in the subscription space, each one with its own set of benefits and challenges.
Marketplaces that know the different kinds of subscriptions can identify the right vendors for their niche and their audiences. You might partner with vendors with different models, or you could also see how you can find creative ways to get your marketplace to offer subscriptions, too.
We’ll outline the three major categories below.
Replenishment subscriptions are made up of items that customers use often and repeatedly. Items like
- Dog food
- House cleaning items
- Baby products
- Pre-workout powder
- Gardening supplies
- Coffee beans.
This list is wide-ranging but hardly exhaustive.
Customers subscribe to these products because they need them frequently. They may not want to place a new order every time their stock runs out, so instead, they subscribe and get the product delivered before they need more.
Curation is another popular form of subscription service. Maybe you’ve heard of different “box of the month” products or special meal packages with recipes delivered to customers’ doors.
Those are great examples of curated subscriptions.
Customers like these products because they get a collection of products carefully selected just for them. The challenge is to consistently create awesome customer experiences with every box. Your buyers trust your brand to know them well enough that each purchase will bring something exciting they’ll enjoy.
Access and Membership Subscriptions
This type of subscription service has the most potential for marketplaces to draw subscribers directly to themselves rather than to their vendors. It basically involves customers paying a premium to get exclusive discounts, deals, and other perks.
You don’t have to think that hard about examples. Every marketplace owner (and pretty much everyone else, too) knows about Amazon Prime. You pay a certain amount to become a “member” and then you get things like
- Free shortened delivery
- Access to streaming services
- Special discount days
- Early access to certain products.
Other marketplaces can follow this model by identifying a loyalty program and pricing structure that works with their customers. It’s a pretty good deal when it works right because they’ll pay the membership fee and keep shopping with you because of the perks they get. It’s really a win-win if you can do it right.
The challenge with this is that you risk alienating your shoppers and scaring away potential “non-members.” If you can make sure the membership perks really draw people in, and that non-members still have good experiences, it should still work out nicely.
What You Need to Get Started with Your Subscription-Based Marketplace
It takes a little bit of prep work to bring subscriptions into your online marketplace. You can’t just flip a switch and start taking care of subscribers. You need to get a few things in check first.
Here are some of the foundational elements of a successful subscription marketplace.
A Clear Business Plan
As with any online marketplace, your subscription marketplace starts with creating a great business plan. It should include items like
- Target customers
- An appropriate revenue model
- A standard pricing model
- A plan for attracting vendors
- A marketing plan.
As you expand to include subscriptions, you will also want to consider what type of subscriptions you’ll offer and how you can help equip your vendors to succeed.
The Right Digital Tools
You can’t really have an online marketplace without digital services helping you behind the scenes. Different tools accomplish different tasks. Some improve CX while others just give you a firm foundation to build from.
WC Vendors is a tool that helps customers start, launch, and manage their marketplace business. Handle all your products, vendors, and shipping information in one dedicated dashboard so you don’t have to toggle through countless tabs and windows. We’ve also got a ton of additional plugins, including a built-in subscription add-on that allows you and your vendors to quickly set up subscriptions without any hassle.
Check out the features page to learn more about our offerings.
In addition to the front-end software for your marketplace platform, you’ll need some backend help as well. You’ll want to ensure that your site stays secure and updated, avoiding any potential threats from hackers or malware.
On top of that, you’ll want to look at things like
- Site Speed
Working with a trusted solution like WC Vendors or other similar tools will save you a ton of time setting this up.
Building an online marketplace from scratch or using a tool that doesn’t specialize in marketplaces can be frustrating and risky in the end. Plus, you won’t have the support needed when things go wrong.
The marketplace model has a unique problem that looks a lot like the classic “chicken or the egg” question:
What comes first, customers or vendors?
More customers will show up when you have vendors they want to buy from, but more vendors will come when they think they can attract new customers. Your job is to work on getting both at the same time.
Since marketing is covered in your business plan, you can make a separate plan for how you’ll attract vendors. You’ll want to incentivize them some way at first, especially if you haven’t proven your value to them quite yet. Once you have a more established brand and presence, it should get easier to bring them in. At first, you may need to sell them on the vision a bit more.
Subscription businesses have taken off in recent years. Marketplaces can capitalize on that momentum by offering subscriptions on their platform.
Building a subscription marketplace has a lot of overlap with a traditional one, but there are some nuances worth looking at that we’ve outlined above. Having a tool like WC Vendors can help you work through those issues and establish your presence in the market.