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how to set up recurring payments for your ecommerce business

sticky.io

Updated:  

June 10, 2024

Ready to set up recurring payments on your ecommerce store? Follow these steps for a customer-friendly process that will make signup easy for new subscribers.

Two ecommerce merchants on their laptop

Subscription ecommerce is no longer a niche. An increasing number of companies are jumping on the opportunity to create predictable income and offer more convenience and value to customers.

If this sounds like you, congratulations! Recurring revenue is the key to growth for many ecommerce companies. But you can’t just set up recurring payments and then sit back and wait for success to happen. You’ll only realize the benefits of subscription ecommerce if you take your time with planning before execution.

Subscriptions are all about consumer experience, and a good checkout process can be the difference between winning a new buyer and losing out to a competitor. The tools you choose and your shopping experience deserve as much thought as the recurring revenue model you plan to use. Follow these steps to set up recurring payments with a solution that will save your team and customers time.

Define Your Recurring Payment Software Must-Haves

Before you invest in a subscription payment platform, you need to know what features you’ll need. How often will you charge subscribers? What payment methods will they want to use? Consider the following points to pinpoint the features needed to best serve your customers.

Recurring Payment Types

Each industry has its own assumptions about what a recurring payment looks like. Your first step is to determine the type of recurring payments your customers will need to make, so you can get a tool with the right capabilities. You’ll likely offer two or more of the following options:

  • Fixed recurring payments occur at regular intervals for the same amount. This option is best for ecommerce businesses that offer the same service or product each billing period.
  • Variable recurring payments occur at regular intervals but have differing amounts. Ecommerce merchants who allow customers to choose various products or service options each billing period will need this flexibility to reflect customers’ changing needs.
  • Automatic recurring payments process on a set schedule once they’re started. They’re the standard for ecommerce product or service subscriptions, as they save time for purchasers and merchants alike. These often go together with fixed recurring payments.
  • Recurring invoices, on the other hand, auto-send a request for payment which the customer must approve. This setup works well for businesses that work on a retainer basis or companies that bill by the hour instead of by deliverable.
  • Pre-approved payment setups allow the merchant to charge any amount to a customer at any time. This arrangement makes sense for companies like rideshare apps, which provide services on call, but it’s not usually a good fit for ecommerce merchants.

Most ecommerce subscription software is designed around offering automatic fixed and/or automatic variable recurring payments. Still, you should check a tool’s capabilities and customization options before implementing it to make sure it matches your recurring payment needs.

Payment Methods

Ecommerce merchants can accept a variety of payment methods for their subscription products, including:

  • Credit cards (you may need multiple payment gateways to accept Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express)
  • Digital wallets (Venmo, PayPal, Apple Pay)
  • ACH (electronic fund transfer)
  • Direct debit
  • Multiple (non-US) currencies
  • Cryptocurrency

The payment gateway(s) you offer will determine which payment methods you can accept. The more ways people can pay, the broader your potential customer base will be.

82% of subscribers want merchants to allow them to pay with their preferred payment methods.

Subscriber Experience Add-Ons

Processing subscription payments is only one part of maintaining a successful subscription offering. Some subscription payment platforms also offer extra features to help you give shoppers flexibility and control over their orders, such as:

  • Frictionless checkout: The ability to process both subscription and one-time purchases in a single transaction.
  • Flexible subscription offerings: Let your customers decide between various pricing models, products and/or billing periods to meet their needs.
  • A subscriber self-management portal: Give subscribers the control to easily swap products, update payment information and pause their subscriptions.
  • Automated transactional emails: Keep your subscriber base in the loop.
  • Discounts and membership programs: Build customer loyalty by making each subscriber feel appreciated.

Services that improve the buyer experience help you retain customers longer. What that means for your target audience may vary — consider surveying potential subscribers or looking at your competitors to see which offerings are most popular.

Backend Configurations

The software you choose will determine ease of use for your subscribers and your team alike. Efficiency is vital for most ecommerce tools, so look for features that will save time, like:

  • Dashboards and reports: Any good software will track your sales; a tool that can visualize trends will make it easy to pinpoint best sellers and successful campaigns.
  • Accounting integrations: Subscription management software isn’t built for bookkeeping, but tools that integrate with accounting software will save you a lot of manual data entry.
  • Built-in payment card industry (PCI) compliance: It’s important to keep customer data safe, so find a tool that puts security first.
  • Deep CRM-payment processor integration: The more information your CRM and payment processor can share, the easier it will be to give customers what they want.

Successful subscription businesses empower their staff to focus on serving customers rather than handling administrative tasks that could be automated. When evaluating backend features, the focus should be on efficiency rather than flair.

Choose Your Recurring Payment Software

Now that you know what you want, it’s time to choose the tool you’ll use to manage subscription payments. Here are how some of the most popular recurring payment software options on the marketplace work for buyers and merchants.

PayPal Checkout

Companies that already accept PayPal will find it easy to enable recurring payments. You can add this capability for a set monthly fee (on top of PayPal’s standard per-transaction fees). You’ll get features including multiple pricing models, the ability to offer discounts and free trials and a subscriptions dashboard.

The biggest downside of PayPal is that its ACH and card-on-file transactions are run through its Braintree payment gateway — which you’ll have to fill out a fresh application for. Nor does PayPal support truly flexible subscriptions. You can offer fixed-rate, quantity-based and tiered pricing models, but variable payments (where subscribers pay a different amount each billing period) are beyond its current capabilities.

Square Online Checkout

Square has more features for recurring invoicing than automatic payments, but the service does accept subscription payments — and doesn’t charge any additional fees to set them up. This service accepts all major credit and debit cards plus Google Pay, Apple Pay and Cash App. Customers will receive an automated email with the details of their subscription plan and instructions on how to cancel.

It might make sense to use Square if the app is already your primary ecommerce checkout tool and you’re just dipping your toes into subscription sales, but don’t expect a lot of features. You’re locked into one of four billing periods (weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually) and flat subscription pricing. Your subscribers won’t have much flexibility, and no subscription self-management portal means your customer service team will spend more time doing simple admin.

sticky.io

sticky.io is a standalone subscription commerce platform built to give customers control. We offer nearly unlimited variety when it comes to pricing models, billing frequency and special promotions. Our subscription platform integrates with multiple payment gateways, so you can accept a variety of payment types and multiple currencies.

You’ll pay a monthly platform fee for access to sticky.io, which has everything you need to set up recurring payments. The 400+ integrations we offer (plus our native app for BigCommerce) make it easy for ecommerce merchants to add our platform to their tech stack and start selling. Many merchants also purchase additional, retention-focused tools like Smart Dunning and Account Updater.

Set Up Recurring Payment Checkout Flows

Once you’ve chosen a subscription management tool, it’s time to configure it and set up recurring payments. Your process will vary depending on which subscription management platform you choose. However, every merchant should cover the same basics to ensure customers know what they’re signing up for.

  • Create a subscription terms and conditions page: You’re required by law to provide customers with a prominent notice and clear terms outlining the details of your subscription program. Create a page on your site (or add to your existing terms and conditions page) that lays out the subscription length, pricing, billing dates, cancellation rules and an explanation of how you may handle potential price changes. Then, make sure every subscription product page includes a conspicuous link to your terms and conditions.
  • Set up your subscription catalog: You’ll need to select the products you’re offering on a subscription basis plus the pricing plans and billing frequency options you want customers to be able to choose from. If the tool you chose doesn’t automatically add these details to your online store, you may need to edit individual product pages to include a “subscribe” button.
  • Create automated workflows for transactional emails: Keep customers in the loop with a sign-up confirmation that shares their subscription details. You’ll also want to set up workflows for each billed transaction with payment receipts and (if relevant) shipping and tracking information so a customer knows where their subscription product is.

Once you’ve completed these three steps, congratulations! You’re ready to start accepting recurring payments.

73 of surveyed consumers would prefer the merchant to send a notification before debiting a payment.

Subscriber Experience Goes Beyond Your Tech

Even the best subscription management tools can’t provide an excellent experience without a reliable customer support team to help them along. Your team will likely need help setting up integrations for a smooth checkout flow and configuring enough subscription options that consumers can choose the products and billing frequency that best fit their lifestyle.

It’s also your responsibility to make subscription downgrades easy. No one wants to see a subscriber go, but complicating the cancelation process won’t change their mind. It will just increase their frustration with your company. Make it easy for subscribers to leave (and offer a pause feature or discount) to increase your chances of winning them back in the future.

The most successful subscription ecommerce companies invest in customer experience by choosing the right tools and being thoughtful in their implementation. Set yourself up for strong subscription growth with a customer-focused tool like sticky.io.

Start building strong customer relationships and growing revenue. See what top brands have to say about their sticky.io experience.

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