6 Of the Best Subscription Ecommerce Platforms for SMBs

Subscription ecommerce

Feed the dog. Make coffee. Head to work, school, soccer practice, and your Steve Buscemi fan club’s monthly potluck. And don’t forget to change the blades on your razor. 

Our days are full, so it’s no surprise that time-saving services like subscriptions are becoming more and more popular with consumers. The subscription ecommerce market is projected to increase from approximately $80 billion in 2021, to over $120 billion in 2022—and to over $900 billion by 2026. 

Business owners also benefit from a subscription-based business model, which can allow them to generate a continued revenue stream from a single sale. From billing to shipping, the logistics of executing a subscription business can be complicated. Using a subscription ecommerce platform can help reduce your administrative labor and increase customer satisfaction, saving you time and (hopefully) increasing your profit margins.

What is subscription ecommerce?

Subscription ecommerce is an online business model in which customers sign up to receive a product or service on an ongoing basis. Subscriptions can have a specific end date or continue until your customer cancels their subscription. Customers either pay upfront, agree to pay invoices on a predetermined schedule, or authorize recurring payments to your business.

For the business, subscription ecommerce can offer a way to increase revenue and the lifetime value of each customer from a single place. 

What to look for in a subscription ecommerce platform

Starting and operating an ecommerce subscription business requires a variety of specialized tools, such as subscription management and recurring billing functions. Ecommerce subscription platforms like Shopify are designed to meet the needs of subscription-based businesses.

Many ecommerce subscription platforms offer the following features:

  • Accepts multiple payment methods. Many subscription ecommerce platform payment systems support multiple payment options, including credit cards, digital wallets, and global online payments.
  • Advanced analytics. Analytics tools allow businesses to monitor sales data and evaluate the performance of individual products and services. Some also provide keyword data, which includes search volumes for specific words and phrases that can help your storefront and product pages appear higher in search engine rankings. 
  • User-friendly interfaces. A good ecommerce subscription platformwill make it easy for customers to make a purchase, manage their account, and track incoming orders or subscriptions. Many also have subscription management functions that allow your customers to renew, cancel, or pause a subscription online.
  • Recurring billing and invoicing. Subscription businesses often charge their customers using recurring billing, where a customer agrees to pay a set amount at predetermined intervals for continued service or for ongoing deliveries of a product. Many subscription ecommerce platforms offer automated billing and invoicing functions to make those recurring payments easy for both business owners and customers.
  • Integrations. Subscription ecommerce platforms can integrate with different payment processors, customer relationship management systems, billing software platforms, and ecommerce store websites. 
  • Customer support. Sometimes, things break: your website goes down, customers can’t check out, your payment processing systems stop working, etc. A good ecommerce subscription platform will offer 24/7 customer support to business owners. Strong customer support can resolve issues quickly and support revenue generation by minimizing downtime at your ecommerce store.

6 popular subscription ecommerce platforms 

Many ecommerce and software companies offer subscription management services. These six companies are popular with small business owners for their reasonable pricing, flexible integration options, and variety of features provided. 

1. Shopify

Shopify is an ecommerce company that serves over 1.7 million businesses in more than 175 countries. As a full-service ecommerce platform, Shopify provides subscription management services, online storefronts, shipping support, POS systems, payment processing, and 24/7 customer support services.

Shopify’s subscription management capabilities include the following features:

  • Recurring payments
  • Accepts credit cards and digital payments 
  • Accepts mobile wallets 
  • Accepts global payments 
  • PCI compliance 
  • Customizable billing intervals
  • Flexible subscription billing
  • Membership features
  • Advanced analytics
  • 24/7 customer support

Shopify offers multiple plans for business owners. Pricing starts at $39 per month for a basic plan, which includes business support features like payment processing and an online storefront. Shopify provides subscription management capabilities through app integration. This means that in order to sell subscriptions with Shopify, you’ll need to first purchase a Shopify plan and then add a subscription management application. The Shopify App Store offers both free and paid subscription extension options. 

2. Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento)

Adobe Commerce is an open-source ecommerce platform that offers a range of features designed to meet the needs of online businesses. Like Shopify, Adobe Commerce provides subscription management capabilities through extensions offered in the Adobe Commerce marketplace, which means business owners need to purchase an application in order to access Adobe Commerce’s subscription management functions.

Subscription management extension features include:

  • PCI compliance
  • Recurring billing
  • Payment integrations
  • Subscription management dashboard for customers
  • Custom billing intervals
  • Accepts credit cards and digital payments 

Adobe Commerce is open-source software, which means the platform is free to use but there is very little in the way of a centralized support system. Setting up an online store using Adobe Commerce, however, requires a greater degree of web development expertise than is required to use many other platforms. Unlike Shopify, Adobe Commerce requires some knowledge of PHP (a programming language) to create a storefront, and other coding languages may also be required to further customize your site. Additional expenses can include web development costs, hosting costs, and the cost of extensions. To operate a subscription business using Adobe Commerce, you’ll need to purchase service through a third-party Adobe Commerce extension, which can cost between $299 and $420. 

3. BigCommerce

BigCommerce is a full-service ecommerce platform that provides online storefronts, POS systems, payment processing, and a mobile app. BigCommerce also offers subscription management functions through app integration, which means that business owners need to add an application in order to access BigCommerce’s subscription management features.

BigCommerce’s subscription management capabilities include:

  • Recurring billing
  • PCI compliance
  • Accepts global payments 
  • Accepts credit cards and digital payments 
  • Accepts mobile wallets 
  • 24/7 support

The BigCommerce basic plan costs $29.95 per month, and its app store offers 13 recurring billing and subscription software options with price points from free to $500 for a one-time license, plus $99 per month. Many apps also offer custom pricing that combines a monthly fee with transaction fees. 

4. Square

Square is a payment processing company that offers POS systems, invoicing, and billing services to small and medium-sized businesses. Square is not a full-service ecommerce company, and the platform does not support virtual storefronts or offer shipping support. 

Square offers the following built-in subscription management capabilities through Square Online Checkout:

  • Recurring billing
  • Accepts credit card payments
  • Accepts mobile wallet payments
  • Cash flow reporting
  • No charge for unpaid invoices

Square’s free plan offers recurring invoices and automatic payment reminders. Per-transaction costs range from 1% for ACH payments (with a minimum $1 per transaction) to 3.5% plus 15¢ for card-on-file transactions. 

5. Stripe

Stripe is a payment processing company that accepts recurring payments through Stripe Connect. Like Square, Stripe is a payment provider and does not provide a full suite of ecommerce services (such as online storefronts or shipping support).

Stripe’s subscription management features include the following:

  • Recurring billing
  • Flexible integration options
  • Customizable reporting
  • Automatic tax calculation 
  • Accepts online and in-person payments
  • Accepts global payments
  • Accepts credit card payments
  • Includes PCI compliance
  • 24/7 support

Stripe Connect offers subscription management under its free monthly plan and charges a transaction fee of 2.9% plus 30¢ per successful credit card charge. 

6. Recurly

Recurly is a billing management platform specifically designed to meet the needs of companies that operate on a subscription business model. Recurly’s software integrates with your existing website, payment processor, payment gateway, and customer relationship management systems. 

Recurly’s features include:

  • Recurring billing
  • Advanced analytics and reporting
  • Flexible integration options
  • Automated invoicing
  • Accepts credit cards payments and digital payments 
  • Accepts global payments 
  • Accepts mobile wallets 

Recurly’s Core plan costs $249 per month and is recommended for businesses with up to $1 million in annual subscription revenue. The first $40,000 in monthly revenue is included in the Core plan, with additional revenue charged at 0.9%.

Subscription ecommerce platforms FAQ

What is a subscription ecommerce platform?

A subscription ecommerce platform is an online platform that allows your business to set up and manage product subscriptions and recurring payments. This typically includes automated invoicing and recurrent payment processing. 

Subscription ecommerce providers can be ecommerce companies (like Shopify), payment providers (like Square), or billing platforms (like Recurly). 

How do I set up subscription billing using Shopify?

Setting up subscription services with Shopify is simple:

  1. Sign up for a Shopify account.
  2. Set up your online store.
  3. Add a subscription management app.

Shopify’s basic package costs $39 per month, and the Shopify App Store offers both free and paid subscription management applications. 

What are the benefits of a subscription ecommerce platform? 

Subscription ecommerce platforms can save business owners time through automated billing and invoicing functions and help increase revenue by increasing customer satisfaction, reducing attrition, and making it easy for customers to pay.