2022 Subscription Shoppers Survey: The Roadmap to Winning Customers for Life

In our latest consumer survey, shoppers reveal their subscription preferences as well as their expectations, we dive into their fear of commitment and what ultimately drives them to unsubscribe.
INTRO
Subscriptions Will be Vital to Your Retention Strategy

The shoppers have spoken and the data shows the path to subscriptions is anything but a straight line. With an unprecedented number of brands offering subscriptions, the noise has never been louder.

We polled thousands of customers and dug deep into the data to get a better understanding of what the people want when it comes to a subscription and ultimately how to keep them subscribed for longer. 

Time is of the essence and if you’re getting ready to put a bigger focus on retention in 2023, then subscriptions need to be part of your strategy.

With data gleaned from the survey, we’ll give you key insights into: 

  • Shoppers’ preferences when it comes to their subscriptions 
  • What shoppers expect from a subscription program
  • Methods for overcoming roadblocks on the path to purchase
  • How to tackle churn; in the subscription world, not all churn means a lost customer

As we look to the future there’s a lot we don’t know. Brands need predictability in their revenue streams and they have to make sure they’re doing everything they can to keep customers satisfied and subscribed, or, at the very least, hooked on your brand.

That means going above and beyond for your customers. Now is the time to take a more advanced, intelligent approach to your subscription business. 

Buckle up, we’re venturing into uncharted territory where the shoppers tell all.

Table of Contents
01
Methodology & Audience Data: The who, what, where, and why
02
Subscription Preferences: Tell us what you want, what you really, really want
03
Subscription Expectations: You know what they say about assuming
04
Overcoming Roadblocks: Time to hit the ground running
05
Tackling churn: This isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later
01
Methodology & Audience Data: The who, what, where, and why
02
Subscription Preferences: Tell us what you want, what you really, really want
03
Subscription Expectations: You know what they say about assuming
04
Overcoming Roadblocks: Time to hit the ground running
05
Tackling churn: This isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later
Methodology & Audience Data: The who, what, where, and why
Chapter 01
Methodology & Audience Data: The who, what, where, and why

In September 2022, Yotpo surveyed 2,000 U.S. consumers who are subscribed to products that are regularly delivered to their homes. These shoppers spanned five different age ranges (18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55+) and four demographics (Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers). 

Why Subscriptions Need to Evolve

When subscriptions really started taking off within the DTC space in 2020, it was partially out of necessity. Physical stores closed and consumers were almost forced to find a new means of getting their favorite products. This allowed subscriptions to grow quickly and we saw brands and marketers adding the channel, not only to stay afloat but to grab their piece of the subscription pie. 

In some cases what we got were these haphazardly thrown-together subscription offerings with no real strategy behind them. In many ways, subscriptions are treated with this set-it-and-forget-it attitude. 

With the insights gleaned from our shoppers’ survey, we know for a fact that that approach will not hold. Subscriptions need to be tested, optimized, and fully integrated with your marketing tech stack. In the coming years, subscriptions will be one of your strongest tools for retention, so why not start putting strategies in place that strengthen that particular channel right now?

Audience basics

To better understand the preferences of subscription shoppers, we kicked off the survey by asking about consumers’ shopping habits. Of all the shoppers polled 49% said they like to have backup products on hand for when they run out, while 22% said they prefer to wait until they are out of a product before they repurchase. 

Almost 14% of shoppers surveyed like to keep several backups on hand and 12% like products to arrive right when they run out. We can see that timing is important to our customers, while some prefer to keep backups on hand, others like to wait until they’re finished with a product before getting a replacement. Regardless of timing preferences, you should ask yourself whether you have a subscription channel in place that allows you to accommodate your shoppers. 

Shopping habits

Outside of understanding purchasing habits, we also wanted to know where consumers are subscribing to their favorite products. There should be no surprise when we tell you that 74% subscribe to products directly through Amazon, but what was surprising was that 57% of all poll respondents also subscribed directly through a brand’s website. 

This tells us Amazon isn’t quite as dominant as you think! The demand for DTC is strong, and while the competition may be fierce there are still tons of opportunities for brands to win with a subscription channel. 

Where do you subscribe

Subscription Preferences: Tell us what you want, what you really, really want
Chapter 02
Subscription Preferences: Tell us what you want, what you really, really want

Sometimes as a brand we get caught up in the experience we’re trying to create, our grand vision, and in doing so we overlook what our customers want, what they prefer. Henry Ford said, “It is the customer who pays the wages.” 

It’s so important with the continuous focus on customer experience and customization that we, as marketers, keep that fact at the front of our minds as we’re building our subscription businesses. We have a limited amount of time to “get it right” and if we don’t meet subscribers’ needs right out of the gate they could be a lost customer. 

Let’s dive into your shoppers’ preferences and unpack the what, where, and why behind their shopping behaviors. 

Peeking at Preferences: The Kinds of Subscriptions Shoppers Want

When we asked shoppers what kinds of subscriptions they preferred, more than half of the respondents said they wanted refills for their everyday products. This solidifies the idea that shoppers know which items they’ll need again in the future and likely have a good grasp on how often they run out of said items. Flexible order frequencies are great for these kinds of customers.

Less than 25% of shoppers are looking for surprise boxes and even fewer want to spend time customizing a monthly subscription. Brands offering subscriptions should take a step back and consider how they’re meeting these needs. 

This can feel tricky for brands that don’t feel like they fall into the refill category of subscriptions, for example maybe you sell candles or even beauty products, but all is not lost. Education with a focus on product usage can help your customers feel more satisfied with their subscriptions.  

In general, marketing is essential if your products aren’t clear everyday items but still fit the subscription mold. You may need to work a little harder convincing your customers a subscription is still the right move, even if the product isn’t something as essential as say toilet paper. This is where tying your subscription to a loyalty program can help educate your customers on usage and incentivize them with tiered rewards.

The What, Where, and Why of Subscription Preferences 

When we asked consumers to select what categories of subscriptions they subscribe to, almost 50% of respondents selected food/snacks. Another 48% went to skincare, 42% of respondents subscribe to pet supplies, and 40% have a subscription to supplements

What category of subscriptions do you subscribe to

What do all of these categories have in common? They’re all consumables, and they need to be refilled at regular intervals. 

Digging deeper into the data we can see: 

  • 54% of females surveyed subscribe to skincare products 
  • 52% of male respondents subscribe to food/snacks. 

Where the data differs is with shoppers over 54. In our survey, the older generation preferred to subscribe to supplements and pet supplies. 

  • 46% of males subscribe to supplements 
  • 46% of females over 54 subscribe to pet supplies. 

What can brands do with this information? Having a clear understanding of your customer personas is vital to keeping them subscribed for longer. It helps you understand exactly who they are and what they’re looking for. Just don’t fall into the “grand vision” trap. As a brand, we have an idea of who we want as our core customers, but that isn’t always the reality. Finding your product-market fit and then leaning in can help you figure out where your customer is. 

So let’s talk about why having a clear understanding of shoppers’ subscription preferences is the best thing you can do for your subscription channel. Spoiler alert,  it boils down to opportunity. 

4 in 10 shoppers want more subscriptions from brands they love

Of the shoppers we surveyed, 40% are looking for a subscription from brands they know and love. That’s a whole lot of opportunity. 

  • 14% are looking for more subscription options for personal hygiene products 
  • 12% want more options for grocery subscriptions 
  • 8% would like to see more apparel subscriptions
  • 6% are looking for more household cleaning supply subscriptions 

One of our survey respondents states, “I wish there was a kitchen refill subscription: garbage bags, dish rags, sponges, ziplock bags, etc.”

So while the subscription economy feels a little saturated, clearly there are customers out there who feel like their needs are still not being met. With this in mind, let’s look at what makes for a good subscription from the lens of our customers.

What makes for a good subscription?

We wanted to get a better understanding of what shoppers considered a good subscription. We asked survey respondents to select what they thought made for a good subscription product, 63% said it’s something they will always need, like toilet paper or pet food. 56% said it’s a product they really enjoy using and 47% said it’s something they run out of. 

What makes a good subscription product

So while the customer may be in charge of deciding what kinds of products they need regularly, the brand has total control when it comes to the enjoyment factor. It’s not just the quality of the product, though that is so important, it’s the content, the packaging, the unboxing experience, and the communication between you and the customer; it all plays a part in the broader customer experience. The true formula for a long-lasting subscriber is need + enjoyment, and the data proves that.  

What can you do as a brand to strengthen the need and enjoyment factor? Focus on usage and education. Being able to show your customers the value in regular usage of your product turns it from a “nice to have” into a “need to have”. This approach can also help defend from churn.  

Need + Enjoyment IRL

Vitamin and supplement company, Olly uses a surprise and delight tactic with their subscribers. The brand creates unique swag and sends it to its customers. It’s not on a regular schedule so subscribers never know when it’s coming. It’s a great way to surprise customers and let them know you’re thinking of them.

Kids protein company, Healthy Heights likes to create recipe postcards and add them to their subscriber’s orders. This is a great way to show subscribers different ways they can use the product, keeping them engaged with the brand.

Now that we’ve examined what your shoppers prefer when it comes to their subscriptions, let’s dive into their expectations. 

Subscription Expectations: You know what they say about assuming
Chapter 03
Subscription Expectations: You know what they say about assuming

There is no denying that over the years we’ve groomed customers to expect certain things from brands. Shoppers are conditioned to expect sales on or around every holiday, shipping should be free after a certain dollar threshold, and returns should not cost a customer more money. 

 

The subscription economy comes with its own set of shopper expectations. At a base level, subscription shoppers expect free shipping and a discount on their recurring purchases. What we didn’t expect to find was this desire to be treated like a VIP. Subscription expectations have skyrocketed in the last year and brands need to start paying attention.

Roll out the red carpet 

We had over 80% of survey respondents say that the “perks” associated with a subscription were important to them, with 46% saying they expect to be treated like VIP customers after subscribing. Bottom line, brands need to be doing more for their customers. They expect it and they also crave it.

Subscriber perks

This makes a big case for needing to think beyond just the subscription. What are you doing to make your customers feel important? This doesn’t have to be about deep discounting and giving everything away for free, and in all honesty, it shouldn’t be. Discounts don’t build connections with customers and, eventually, a good deal won’t be enough to keep them around. 

 

Let’s say for example you’re a food/snack brand. Could you create recipe cards in a digital format or a physical one and send them to your list of subscribers? Could you create a member appreciation month for subscribers and offer your most loyal customers something special? Maybe it’s a credit toward their next subscription delivery. These “VIP Perks” should surprise your subscribers and remind them why they love your brand.  

Just give the people what they want 

Speaking of “VIP Perks”, what do shoppers feel brands should give them for being a subscriber? It comes as no surprise that 78% of shoppers polled said they expect brands to give them free shipping. And no shocker here, 70% said they expected a discount. 

What should brands give subscribers

So outside of free shipping and discounts, what else can brands be doing? That’s a great question. Based on the survey data above, we recommend brands offer a mix of free samples, loyalty points, and exclusive access. This also solidifies our previous point about treating your subscribers like VIPs.

Call me, beep me: Subscribers want texts over emails  

When we asked customers how they’d like to be notified of upcoming orders, 59% said they want a text with a tracking code. Over half of the respondents polled preferred a text over email. This tells us that SMS may be better aligned to subscriptions than email. 

This makes a lot of sense. We know SMS is the perfect tool for meeting your customers where they are. When you pair this with your subscription channel you can continuously engage customers throughout their subscription journey. For example, you can utilize flows for subscription confirmations, upcoming renewal/charge reminders, and order management in addition to your regularly scheduled SMS content. With these specific SMS / Subscription touchpoints customers feel like they have more control over their shopping experience. 

In addition, SMS makes it easy to direct subscribers back to your site where they can easily participate in promotional sales, add-ons, and/or swap subscription products. This brings us to our next point: it’s vital to understand the kinds of information your customers want from you

There’s this fine line between engaging with your subscribers and annoying them. As a brand, it’s important to find the line and walk it with grace. So we decided to ask shoppers what kinds of information they would like when a brand is communicating with them about their subscription, we had the survey respondents select all that would apply to them. 

83% of shoppers want their next shipment date. They’re already bought in, they like your product and they just need the logistics. Another 57% are interested in their loyalty status. This is another great opportunity for synergy, linking your loyalty program to your subscriptions can keep shoppers engaged and increase CLTV. 

What do shoppers want from brands

All in all, shoppers want and expect to be in control of their subscriptions. They don’t want to be surprised when they’re charged for their recurring order, or when their order is delivered. They expect to be kept in the loop.

Speaking of being kept in the loop, we wanted to understand the expectations of subscription shoppers when it came to the best way to reach them about new deals and/or offers. 46% of shoppers wanted a text while 45% wanted an email. Another 8% would like a physical postcard in the mail.

Regardless of the chosen communication method, personalization will be the key here. SMS can meet your customers where they are, email gives you the opportunity for more storytelling, and postcards provide shoppers with something tangible, a physical reminder of your brand outside of your products. 

Getting it right from the start 

You know what they say about first impressions: you never get to make a first impression twice. That’s exactly why it’s so important to put your best foot forward with your subscription channel. We asked shoppers if they would consider starting a subscription with a brand they’d never shopped with before and a resounding 93% of shoppers would consider starting a subscription with a brand they’ve never purchased from before. That’s huge.

64% of shoppers polled said they would consider starting a subscription with a brand they’ve never shopped with before if they felt like they were getting a good deal. Never underestimate the power of a good promo to drive recurring revenue. 

Starting a subscription with a new brand

Meeting shoppers’ expectations is so much more than just making your customer happy. It has the power to increase your CLTV, spread your brand’s credibility, and can even help lower the barrier to entry when customers are looking to subscribe.

Overcoming Roadblocks: Time to hit the ground running
Chapter 04
Overcoming Roadblocks: Time to hit the ground running

When we talk about the barrier to entry, we’re talking about all of the things that make a customer reconsider their motivations and their actions. To better understand what some of these barriers might be, we asked shoppers to select all of the reasons that might give them pause when deciding to start a subscription. 

Why shoppers hit the brakes on subscriptions 

The barriers to entry run the gamut and as a brand, you are responsible for lowering these barriers. 

According to the survey, the biggest barrier to entry is price. What can you do as a brand to lower this? It doesn’t always have to be about giving the shopper a super steep discount. Can you wave shipping? Can you communicate with your customers before they’re about to be charged before their next shipment? Do you have the option to offer shorter subscriptions (3 months, 6 months, etc.)?

What makes you pause before subscribing

Shortening the cycle for success 

Speaking of offering shorter subscriptions. Subscriptions with a definitive end point are something we see a lot of during the holidays. These shorter subscription offerings are positioned as gifts, but what if this was something you could offer to your customers year-round? 

Almost 50% of our survey respondents said they would definitely subscribe to products if they could have a shorter subscription option, for example, a 3-month subscription option, 6 months, etc. While another 47% said they would consider it. 

While the goal is to win your customers for life, shorter options may help reduce the barrier to entry. With excellent customer experience, and educational content recapping the long-term benefits of remaining subscribed you may be able to take these shorter subscriptions and turn them into lifelong shoppers. 

Flexibility for the win

We spoke about this earlier, shoppers have this need to feel like they’re in control. Adding flexibility to your subscription offerings could be the difference between a churned customer and a customer that just wants to skip a month. 

We decided to consult the shoppers. We gave them the following anecdote: 

Let’s say you’re reminded of an upcoming subscription order and are considering canceling. If you were given the option to push back your delivery or pause your subscription, would you stay subscribed?

98% of survey respondents said they would consider staying subscribed with over half of respondents saying yes, absolutely. This further proves that giving your customers more flexibility continues to reduce that barrier to entry and keep them subscribed for longer. 

Push back order, stay subscribed

Tackling churn: This isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later
Chapter 05
Tackling churn: This isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later

Conversations surrounding churn, or in our case unsubscribing, are usually looked at from a glass-half-empty POV. The important thing to remember is that a churned subscriber isn’t a lost customer and we’ve got data that proves it. 

We asked respondents some straightforward questions about canceling subscriptions. We wanted to understand what their motivations were and if there were any actions brands could preemptively take to ward off churn. 

When survey respondents were asked if they had ever canceled a subscription and then resubscribed, 70% replied yes. The reasons for resubscribing were insightful.  

29% of respondents said they resubscribed because the brand offered them lower prices, again understanding your customer’s preferences and expectations, then being able to deliver on them can help you hang on to customers for longer. 12% of respondents resubscribed because they needed the product again. This just further proves our earlier statement, a churned subscriber isn’t a lost customer. 

Canceled then resubscribed

Brands should take note, there are tons of opportunities to bring your customers back into the fold. It helps to ensure all of your products are working together in times like these so you can lean into an SMS or loyalty program to “catch” your customers and continue to engage with them, even if they’ve churned. 

In a similar vein, we wanted to know how many shoppers unsubscribed from a product but continued to shop with the brand. 65% of polled consumers said yes, they have unsubscribed from products, but still shop with the brand. 

Do shoppers unsubscribe but still shop with the brand

The reason? 47% just had too much product, while 46% wanted more control over their finances. These may feel like very different issues, but you can solve both by offering shorter subscription terms, adjustable delivery frequencies, the ability to easily skip shipments, and so on. These alternative efforts may keep customers on board for longer. 

Almost 40% of shoppers wanted to try something different. How can you take advantage of this? Creating quarterly refresh campaigns could be hugely beneficial. Asking customers if they’d like to update their subscription to try something new makes shoppers feel like they have options and it allows you to expose them to new products. 

Lastly, 20% of shoppers said they weren’t happy with the subscription service but still liked the brand. How often are you optimizing your subscription experience? Remember, the people who have decided to subscribe to your brand are your biggest advocates, reach out to them periodically to gauge how happy they are with your service. Then work to make important changes that will keep them subscribed for longer. 

Customers want you to get it right

The TDLR? It all boils down to understanding a customer’s preferences, knowing what they expect from you, and reducing their fears of commitment. 

Giving customers options and an easy out will keep you in their good graces and keep them coming back again and again. The path to subscriptions is anything but a straight line, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. You just have to know what shoppers are looking for.

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