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Don’t build your own subscription commerce stack - it's a mess

Especially if you are a fast-growth or a mature subscription business

As the cofounder of Limio, I see a lot of subscription websites. It’s all around us. Media, entertainment, SaaS, telecom, health, electricity, water, Youtube crypto influencers... Subscriptions on tap! As a business owner, I have dozens of subscriptions and I personally have probably between ten or twenty or thirty as a household. I can’t even keep track (that's another problem).

And for all those subscriptions, I need to buy  and manage them. Do I want to go through every developer, design, and product team quirky idea about how an excellent pricing, checkout, and self-service portal for subscriptions looks like? Not really. I just want it to be fast, reliable, convenient. I want it to work online, on my laptop, on my phone. I want to be able to call if I'm really stuck (but frankly, I'd rather not). I don't want a 'funky' design, dynamic scrolls, weird checkouts, and certainly no 'oops, sorry something unexpected happen'.

Now in my day job, I help businesses build those experience via Limio. I actually know that this stuff is hard. Modern eCommerce is hard enough. Multi devices, cross channel, real-time experiences are hard to build well. Customers have high expectations.

But modern subscription eCommerce? Oh boy, you have entered a whole new level of pain. I wrote about 10 things you'll have to get right here, but the TL;DR is that the pricing flexibility coupled with the time element makes subscriptions fiendishly difficult to work with - especially in production. Buying a new subscription is the easy part. But doing things after that? It gets very messy, very fast. 

Imagine This B2C scenario. The subscriber is on $100/yr, toward the end of her first year. She saw a deal to resubscribe for another year with 20% off, so she pays early the $80 for the second year. But a bit before the second year, she wants to downgrade to a light tier because of a lifestyle change. What do you do? Use the $80 to pay for the new product? But what if the product is cheaper? Do you then also refund? But then what if the customer is also changing currency because they've moved? But here is the most important question: How do you show all that to the subscriber without confusing the hell out of her and deliver a seamless customer experience for the subscriber to make the desired change? And that's just one of thousands of variation of customer journeys you have to take into account.

Now look at the B2B side. The head of a team pays €1000/year for 10 users. That’s €10k booked today, great. But halfway through the business go through some hard times, and they want to downgrade to 5 users, start paying monthly, and with a service activation of next month. Do you credit or refund the customer the pro-rated year? What does the customer experience look like to allow to modify this information and the impact of it? And if they do that via a sales person, how do you show a clear representation in their self-service portal of how much credit they have built up and how that will contribute toward their new monthly payment? 

Add to that the fact that a lot of subscription services are digital and therefore global in nature, with different tax rules, data capture requirements, payments and invoice setup, and it gets frankly so complicated that you are talking multi-years projects to get the type of experience that the end customer will consider just ‘table stakes’. 10+ FTEs costing over $1M in running costs to maintain subscription commerce capabilities are not the exception, they are the norm

So are you in for that? Is your company mission to deliver outstanding, fast, reliable subscription commerce or is it to deliver your core product?  Will your precious developer resource be excited to work on something very distinct from your company vision?

For companies scaling fast or already operating at scale beyond the $1M MRR threshold, the answer will often be no - it is not worth the pain and effort of managing this yourself. You should consider fast, omnichannel, reliable off-the-shelf solutions - such as Limio 😉