Selling coffee is a business that lends itself to subscription based models. People who order coffee online are typically repeat customers and they tend to look to order their coffee at regular intervals. Since roasted coffee beans taste better when they are relatively fresh, the subscription model also works because it's not as though anyone once to do a one off purchase for a 6 month supply.
In this article we'll walk you through the more important steps and considerations you'll want to keep in mind if you're interested in selling coffee through a monthly subscription.
Determine Pricing and Positioning
Consider pricing and presentation of the subscription model very carefully.
Aside from the subscription based purchase cycle making sense intuitively another benefit most customers will expect are discounts, since purchasing coffee through a subscription usually means ordering more coffee at once.
I would argue the subscription discount is more than just an "opportunity" to market your coffee, but rather should be seen as table stakes to get customers to even consider purchasing the coffee in this fashion.
For instance, "Ethical Bean" does a good job of positioning their subscription even when customers are checking out a single product by suggesting customers "Subscribe and Save":
Note: They quantify the savings ("5%") to incentivize a larger commitment.
Address Questions About Order Quantity
One tricky part of coffee subscription models is they sometimes leave some ambguity in the eyes of customers.
Put more simply, if you are a customer looking to purchase a subscription one of your first questions will be:
"How much coffee do I need?"
So specificity and details are very important when planning out the coffee subscription model.
Pact Coffee has done a fantastic job of meeting this challenge head on.
Remarkably, their slider and interface make figuring out how much coffee to order kind of a fun exercise, so you can decide how man cups of coffee you intend to drink per week and then easily work backwords to setup your subscription plan.
Be Clear about Your Cancellation Policy
Clarity and transparency regarding your online business is always important, even if we're just considering a simple online coffee store.
In the case of subscription models, we need to consider that the commitment / investment on the part of the customer is more significant, which means it's even *more* important to provide transparency regarding your terms of service and cancellation policies.
If you're operating a subscription service, it's tyipically better to err on the side of flexibility as opposed to locking customers into a commitment that might not work for them in the longterm.
One significant barrier to cross when selling this way is addressing the common concern of "if I sign up for a monthly subscription and in a few months or weeks find I just don't need this frequency or quantity, can I get out?".
Ensure your cancellation and notice policy is as liberable as possible ("cancel at any time" sometimes doesn't make business sence, but with enough customers it's great if you can get away with it) but above all ensure you call out the specifics from and center, as customers will hesitate and fail to convert if they feel uncertain or spend too much time trying to figure out if they can cancel their commitment.
Everything within the Purple box is considered a Shopping Ad.
Shopping Ads are advantageous as they are more visual, and are very much designed for retail.
They operate very differently "behind the scenes" from regular ads, in that they are setup through something known as a "merchant feed". A "merchant feed" is a database (something as simple as an Excel file) that contains all your product information, pricing, links to corresponding images, and inventory.
Although they are executed differently than regular ads (and are in fact a little more complicated to setup) they are really worth mentioning here as they absolutely lend themselves well to online coffee retailers.
Hook the Customer
Referring back to the same truth regarding subscriptions, this model requires greater commitment which means it will also require more creativity to build trust.
If customers have never tasted your coffee before, and they only discovered you online, they are going to be extremely ware of committing to any kind of subscription.
To overcome that barrier some companies, like Perky Blenders, actually offer the first bag of coffee for free:
Perky Blenders isn't subtle, they really want you to try their coffee for free!
Aside from really communicating how much faith you have in your product, offering the first bag (or a smaller sample) for free makes perfect sense if you consider the level of commitment your asking of a potential customer.
Of course there are other similar options you could consider as well, like offering a "no questions asked" refund policy on the initial order that might make more sense.
To summarize, coffee subscriptions make for a fantastic model if you're selling online coffee. They work well for business and as well as for consumers. In fact Paysafe recently published a blog article outlining how "subscription economy is booming" with many brick-and-mortar businesses, including those that sell coffee, completely transitioning to an online subscription first model.
Having said that, care needs to be taken to build out a marketing strategy that accounts for many of the challenges that come whenever asking customers to take on more risk or commit to something new.
If you'd like to see more examples of online stores using this model, check out our list of coffee subscription websites.