Upscribe is a subscription software for direct-to-consumer (DTC) e-commerce merchants, and it will be coming to the Shopify App Store in September 2021.
For context, Shopify Apps are similar to WordPress Plugins, and their purpose is to enhance the functionality or design of a Shopify store. The Shopify App Store is an online catalogue of these "apps". Some of those apps are free, but most actually use a monthly or yearly subscription fee.
Some Shopify Apps, like "Seal Subscriptions" allow merchants to sell their products as ongoing subscriptions, and charge fees on a recurring basis. The core functionality of these apps is meant to facilitate auto-charging and recurring orders which comes with implications to inventory management and shipping.
Unlike many other Shopify Apps that facilitate subscriptions, Upscribe is focused not only on delivering the core subscription functionality, but on allowing online stores to use their tool to drive subscriber growth.
The company, founded by Dileepan Siva, was in the news this week as they recently closed a $4 Million Seed financing round.
In this article we'll review Upscribe's potential and what it means for e-commerce subscription businesses (and more specifically what it means for e-commerce coffee subscriptions).
E-Commerce Trends and Competitive Advantages
Dileepan Siva was quoted by dot.la saying:
"The first wave [of ecommerce] was going from offline or retail to online.. The next wave of ecommerce is brands selling things on a recurring basis through subscriptions. This is how you win."
This would seem to be a compelling argument.
In the same way that "selling online" is now considered the bare minimum, simply offering customers the option to sign up for a monthly subscription is unlikely to yield a competitive advantage.
Often misunderstood as a term, the concept of having a "competitive advantage" as originally defined by Michael Porter consisted of three potential approaches:
1. Cost leadership.
As a strategy, "focus" is employed when a business explicitly targets a few select markets to the exclusion of everyone else.
Rather than trying to please everyone the company can instead focus all their resources and strengths on appealing to one type of customer.
"If all you're trying to do is essentially the same thing as your rivals, then it's unlikely that you'll be very successful."
- Michael Porter
It's reasonable to say that Upscribe is looking to help online stores specialize and better target certain types of customers through highly robust and personalized subscription offerings.
Customer Service and Retention
Customer service is essential to all businesses and online stores are no exception. When we think of customer service it's best to conceptualize it as the service and experience offered to the customer throughout the full sales cycle.
Essentially customer service begins at the discovery stage, the purchase stage, and the after sales or post-purchase stage.
Upscribe seeks to improve customer service by providing customers more flexibility and control. For instance with Upscribe's customer portal customers can make changes to their subscription by logging into the portal, by emailing, or through SMS.
Customers can edit shipment infor, subscriptions cadences, and purchases in a way that is convenient for them. They can also change products and delay shipments as needed.
The featured and flexibility are designed, in theory, to maximize client satisfaction.
Loyalty and Retention
Customer retention strategies look to find ways to retain current customers and defend against them leaving for competitors. We often think of retention as the result of many different factors, including overall satisfaction with the product or service as well as the relationsip the customer has with the company.
Upscribe impressively offers many featured clearly intended to build loyalty and retention. Their mechant admin tools, specifically, provide many levers and options companies can use to leverage a subscription model in service. For instance the Programmatic Subscription Discounts that "enable discount changes after a set number of orders to boost loyalty and retention." standout. The platform also incorporates advanced analytics, which can be leveraged to identify cohorts of subscribers who are likely to cancel, or likely to be receptive to discounts etc..
It's probably fairer to say that Upscribe is not a subscription App. Rather, it's a conversion rate and customer retention tool that leverages subscriptions to offer businesses full control over their conversion funnel and loyalty & retention strategies.
Coffee Subscription Boxes and Upscribe
The Subscription box business model is often associated with companies like BarkBox and Birchbox.
Birchbox demonstrated that the combination of samples and regular paid subscriptions worked well as a marketing strategy. Coffee subscription box companies have followed the trend, and many have demonstrated how effective this approach can be for ecommerce businesses.
We've written about how to start a coffee subscription business before, but let's take a look at one specific example.
One such example is Four Sigmatic. Not only is Four Sigmatic operating in the Coffee Subscription space, they are also using Upscribe to do it.
Four Sigmatic primarily drives customers to sign up for a coffee "membership" - although the option for a one off purchase is still available. They employ a subscription business model, incentivizing their customers to pay a fee at regular intervals to receive the coffee each month.
They appear to be leveraging Upscribe to provide customers a number of options and compelling features. Specifically:
- Free Sample ordering.
- Discounts on each order.
- Early access to certain products (only avaible to subscription customers).
- Surprise give-aways to a VIP community.
They're likely a very good case study on how the Upscribe platform (and by extension subscriptions in general) can be used not only as a function or option but as a marketing strategy and business model.
Upscribe is unlikely to be the only company that identifies subscription businesses as an opportunity. To date the model and the technology used to power it has been in its nascent stages.
What's interesting about Upscribe is they've seen the opportunity as less about subscriptions and more about conversion rate optimization, customer relationship management, and customer retention. This changes the selling point of their offering, which is not about saving you time or money spent on a developer, and more about leveling up your business so you can build a competitive advantage through customer satisfaction and more sophisticated loyalty strategies.