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The ultimate guide to subscriptions onboarding

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The way you approach customer onboarding can make or break your future success. The same is true for selling subscription products.

Having a strong subscriptions onboarding flow can increase customer lifetime value (LTV or CLV), reduce your churn rate, and turn happy customers into valuable referrals.

Onboarding is the first experience a customer has with your brand. Just like all first impressions, it better be a good one if you want to create a lasting customer relationship.

Today we're going to look at some Shopify merchants who are doing an awesome job at subscriptions onboarding, while highlighting some of the key areas to focus on.

By the time you're done reading this, hopefully you'll have picked up some tips to fine-tune your own onboarding process and increase recurring revenue.

Let's start with an easy one:

1. Collect data about your customers

Have you ever glanced at a hiring manager's social media page before going to a job interview? Chances are you wanted to find out something about them to help you make a great first impression. It's called gathering data.

Subscription businesses often gather data about customers as part of the onboarding process to help ensure they make a great first impression. A customer who has a positive onboarding experience is more likely to continue to subscribe past a trial period (instead of dropping off after their first payment) or recommend your product to a friend.

Teeth whitening gurus Glowup do a nice job of easing customers into their onboarding survey:

The quiz is fun and doesn't overwhelm customers with difficult or lengthy questions. Most importantly, they learn something about each customer and are able to tailor an approach to onboarding that leaves a great taste in their mouth - literally!

Check out 6 Shopify stores that are crushing it with subscription boxes and products.

2. Create a personalized onboarding experience

Another reason why data is important is because it allows you to create a personalized experience. Personalization is the secret to any great subscriptions onboarding experience!

This means making the customer feel like their specific needs are being taken into consideration.

KONG Box does a great job of creating a personalized experienced right out of the gate with their "paws-itively perfect" custom toy and treat subscription doggy boxes. 

What makes their onboarding flow great is they make the experience all about your pet.

They don't just ask for your dog's name and breed. They actually dive right into the personal challenges your dog might be experiencing.

The questionnaire is enjoyable, easy to fill out, and makes your feel like you are getting personalized treatment — just like when you bring your dog to a toy store or veterinarian.

Keep up the good woof — er, work — KONG Box!

3. Ease your customers into your subscriptions funnel

The sales funnel is a tool marketers and business leaders use to envision how customers move from their first touchpoint with your brand up to actually making a purchase.

When customers are eased gently through your funnel they are more likely to end up as advocates for your brand. Sure, aggressive sales tactics might result in a single sale. Think of a pushy, door-to-door salesperson who sells you a set of knives you never wanted.

Even if you are content to keep the purchase, you might warn your neighbours about them. You certainly aren't exactly giving them a glowing testimonial.

Olympia Coffee Roasting does a great job of easing customers into their coffee purchase with convertible subscription: a free trial that turns into a full-time subscription. 

Sending a free coffee sample is a great gesture because it shows they are willing to eat some overhead costs before you even become a customer. Plus you get a free coffee in the mail. Not bad!

From Olympia Coffee's perspective, it's also a way for customers to set their shipping and payment settings, so continuing to subscribe is on autopilot after the sample goes out the door. Plus, customers can cancel anytime so there's no pressure to continue buying if they change their mind.

If their product and onboarding flow looks great, it tastes even better! They know that once you have a taste it will be tough to say no to the convenience of a subscription.

4. Keep customers from being overwhelmed

We've all been in a busy store on a Saturday afternoon.

The aisles are packed.

The lines are long.

The product you are looking for doesn't seem to exist.

You end up walking out in frustration because you get overwhelmed. You might never step foot in the store again!

This is the opposite experience we want people to have when they browse on your Shopify store.

Little Wolf Coffee Roasters has designed their site in a way that makes customers want to keep calm and shop on.

First you choose your subscription:

Then, you choose your frequency:

Finally, select your size:

It can be overwhelming to the customer to have to answer a bunch of different questions on the same page. This is perfect example of how to make onboarding, and subscriptions in general, feel less overwhelming.

Their coffee is also really good, so they have the beans to back up their offer.

5. Onboarding is an opportunity to upsell

Upselling comes up a lot in any conversation about ecommerce.

That's because it's one of the best ways to explode your average order value (AOV).

Generally, upselling refers to the act of asking a customer who is making a purchase if they would like to spend a little bit more for a bigger or better version.

Upselling can also involve offering customers a complementary item to go with their purchase. This is usually called a cross-sell.

So how does upselling work with subscriptions? It's easy.

Sock Fancy uses a subscription model to sell their colorful socks around the world. 

Their onboarding process has two subtle upsells that really work!

The first one asks you if you'd like three pairs of socks instead of two, while saving 5%.

This is an awesome upsell because it increases the average order value, and also has a chance to exponentially increase in value should they accept the second offer:

The customer may be planning to sign up for two packs over six months. However, seeing the money they can save, they spring for three packs over a year. You've just increased their order from 12 pairs to 36!

The customer is happy because they are saving a few bucks on each pair, and you get a much larger order value. Great upsells always feel like a win-win!

Learn how to treat your subscribers to an unforgettable unboxing experience.

6. Cater to different customer needs and requirements

It's important to offer a personalized onboarding experience, especially when it comes to food, health, or beauty products.

It can be a little difficult to shop for these kind of products online, without feeling you can talk to someone directly about any concerns you might have.

Health-conscious or allergen-sensitive shoppers want to see that you are taking their requirements into consideration from the get go. The onboarding process is a great opportunity to reassure customers that all their needs are taken care of, even online.

SoCal Fresh is a meal delivery service that specializes in nutritious food and lifestyles.

At the start of their onboarding flow. customers are able to choose from a number of dietary preferences, including Dairy Free, Keto, and Plant-Based.

Once customers choose a diet, they are only shown meal options that fall into that category. This way a vegetarian is not shown a meat options; or a lactose intolerant customer shown something with dairy.

Their perfect meal plan is packaged in a box and shipped to the satisfied customer who knows exactly what they are getting. That's how you onboard subscriptions for success!

7. Use onboarding to nurture leads

Lead nurturing is an important part of onboarding. This refers to the process of gathering data and forming a relationship with the customer at every stage of the sales funnel.

Remember — not every customer who takes a quiz, subscribes to your mailing list, or adds a product to their cart is necessarily going to complete their purchase. That's ok!

Onboarding is a great opportunity to gather data about the customer — their name, date of birth, email, or some of the products they might be interested in. This information will allow you to run an effective targeted campaign later.

Vitamin and supplement subscription box, Vitally, does a great job nurturing leads from their onboarding flow with their "health hero" quiz.

Customers are asked a series of questions about their health, fitness, and any supplements they are taking. They can then submit their email to receive a personalized recommendation from Vitally's in-house doctor and nutritionist:

This is a great approach to lead generation, because it offers customers extra incentive — genuine curiosity or interest in the result of the quiz — in return for filling out their onboarding form.

Vitally also benefits by collecting insights about which supplements people need the most often or most frequently, allowing them to build content or campaigns around how those specific, popular supplements provide lasting health benefits.

That's some smart marketing!

8. Show off your brand

You have an awesome brand, and you want to make sure everyone knows it from the get go.

Don't wait until after the onboarding process to hit your customers with your best marketing. Treat them to a branded experience from the first touchpoint.

Premium dog food pros, Petzyo, have created an irresistible onboarding experience for their subscription box, with strong design, thoughtful branding, and some cuddly friends who walk on to your screen and start chowing down.

Pet owners will want to click on the colorful create-a-box button to start customizing their best friend's food kit.

Again, personalization is king! Before we even get to picking the food it asks for the dogs weight and activity level. This shows the customer that their dog's individual traits are being factored into your custom subscription box.

Don't feel bad if you find yourself eyeing up your pet's perfect meal kit. Great branding can make even dog food seem delicious!

Onto our last example:

9. Give them a reason to get 'on board'

We do enjoy the occasional pun, but our final merchant's subscriptions onboarding flow is serious business:

Wine merchant Tasting Room does a great job of incentivizing customers to fill out their 30-second onboarding survey. 

Customers are asked about their favorite type of chocolate, how they take their coffee, what kind of fruits they like best, to receive $30 off a wine tasting kit subscription.

If you are going to offer a deal or a giveaway, make sure it is a tempting enough offer to grab their attention. The above offer seems too sweet to refuse, especially for just 30 seconds of your time.

The other stroke of marketing genius here is that customers have to pay $10 to redeem the offer, as they are saving $30 off a kit that usually sells for $40.

Once they have redeemed the onboarding offer, all it will take is a few clicks to sign up for a wine subscription that is "personalized for their palate."


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