This article is sponsored by our partner, Upscribe.
Subscriptions run our lives. From digital access to news sources to healthy meal kits delivered to your front door, there’s a subscription for everything—including coffee. American consumers spend around $74 monthly on food-related subscription boxes alone.
According to the Subscription Economy Index, the subscription industry has grown 435% over the last nine years—a rate 4.6 times faster than the S&P 500. The global pandemic only accelerated growth, with 22.5% of companies that offer subscriptions reporting more customers electing to enroll in weekly or monthly services.
The coffee industry has especially seen an uptick in demand for subscriptions. BeanBox, a company based in Seattle, WA, told CNN Business they experienced a fourfold increase in subscriptions during the first four months of the pandemic. “We’ve gone from having hundreds of bags on hand to having an inventory in the thousands [of bags] with that lot turning over every couple of days,” said Matthew Berk, chief executive officer for BeanBox.
It’s easy to see why coffee subscriptions are popular. Coffee subscriptions capitalize on the excitement of receiving a personalized, curated gift in the mail. More and more roasters are joining in on the fun, making it possible for coffee enthusiasts to easily access a variety of coffee flavors, roasts, and origins with a few quick clicks.
But as more and more roasters adopt subscription plans, it becomes harder to find and keep new customers—but that doesn’t mean your coffee subscription is doomed. We spoke to Dan Cohen, a subscription expert at Upscribe, about how coffee companies can create an engaging coffee subscription experience and how one company maneuvered through the typical hurdles of ecommerce to offer one of the most excellent subscription services around.
Ignore Your Instincts
“Selling products online is more challenging than ever,” Cohen says. On top of increased competition in the subscription space, acquiring new digital customers is more expensive than ever.
When you launch a subscription, your first instinct might be to invest time and resources into attracting new customers. However, a report from SimplicityDX found that merchants lose an average of $29 per new customer acquired—and there’s no guarantee these folks will ever sign up for a subscription or make another purchase beyond their first buy.
Cohen explains that focusing on acquiring new subscribers right out of the gate can cause more harm than good in the long run. Instead, he recommends finding ways to enhance the digital experience and increase the average order value for existing customers.
Research from Shopify supports Cohen’s statements, demonstrating that merchants have a 60-70% chance of completing a sale with an existing customer versus a 5-20% chance of winning over a new prospect. For coffee companies, this can mean prompting shoppers to add a mug to their order or recommending a similar coffee. Or, offering an incentive for signing up for a coffee subscription.
“Growth can be realized more efficiently by tapping into your existing customers and turning them into subscribers or repeat buyers.” For example, after a customer has purchased from your online store more than once, send them a promotional message (email, SMS, or pop-up) about the subscription program. You can also consider offering a discount code for their first subscription order to sweeten the deal.
Make It Easy
Cohen says the key to growing your subscription service is customer service. “Ask yourself, ‘How can I deliver subscribers a great experience that they remember, that drives brand loyalty, and keeps them coming back?’”
The customer experience encompasses every digital touchpoint an individual interacts with throughout their subscription. This includes the customer portal, order notification emails,, and website messaging.
Without a solid customer subscription experience, merchants may find themselves tackling non-stop messages about shipping, order details, and account questions. “When is my coffee going to be delivered? Can I check the status of my order? Where can I make changes or pause my subscription if I’m on vacation?”—these are questions that customers should be equipped to answer on their own. A challenging or confusing subscription experience leads to canceled orders and customer turnover.
An A+ Coffee Subscription
Okay, you’ve decided to take the plunge and offer personalized coffee subscriptions. If you’re building out a new subscription platform or improving on an existing one, Cohen recommends focusing on three key areas:
The Customer Portal
When you’ve successfully onboarded a new subscriber, they (should) receive access to a customer portal where they can manage all aspects of their newly-purchased subscription. The design and aesthetics of this portal should match the rest of your coffee company’s website—otherwise, the subscription can feel disjointed.
“You want to put yourself in the shoes of a subscriber and think about what they want, such as being able to manage every aspect of the subscription through email or text,” says Cohen. “The goal is to make the subscription as self-serve as possible.”
The customer portal must also clearly and efficiently communicate how a subscriber can get
what they want, when they want it, and make it simple to take action. Customers should be able to schedule an order, switch a shipment date, or update account information without multiple steps.
From signup to product delivery, the entire subscription experience should be effortless. Rather than making customers jump through hoops to place or edit an order, Cohen recommends using one-click actions. For example, customers can simply text “Reorder” to a dedicated mobile number and have their next coffee queued up for fulfillment.
“Making customers jump through hoops and needing to call somebody to take an action increases friction, reduces brand loyalty, and increases the chance of an overall bad experience,” says Cohen.
Once you have a visually appealing and functional subscription program, Cohen recommends leveraging data to deliver recommendations and upsells. Most subscription apps integrate with business and marketing tools such as Klayvio and Postscript to enhance the customer experience through additional touchpoints and messaging such as email, texts, and website features.
You can use these tools to personalize your customer’s experience and learn what users respond to. Learning more about your customers can help you determine when to send email notifications, create upsell opportunities via text or website pop-ups, and reduce churn—or the rate at which customers stop using your service—through perfectly-timed discount codes.
Cohen notes that the coffee industry is uniquely positioned to upsell and increase the average order value… “Most subscribers are ordering two pounds of coffee every 30 days, for example,” he says. “There’s an opportunity to sell products that go along with the coffee, including mugs, brewing equipment, and more.” He adds that seasonality, trends, and industry-specific holidays present opportunities to increase average order value.
How Awesome Coffee Club Nails The Subscription Experience
What does a frictionless, engaging subscription experience look like? Cohen recommended that we try signing up for a subscription ourselves, and referred us to the Awesome Coffee Club, one of Upscribe’s customers, to see these principles in action.
The Awesome Coffee Club offers either whole bean or ground coffee subscriptions, and the process to sign up for either option is the same. Once on the desired product page, customers can select their preferred quantity of coffee bags and delivery frequency. Customers can choose between once a month and every two weeks. The subscription policy is displayed above the Add to Cart button, ensuring customers understand what they are signing up for.
Additionally, each product page contains FAQs to address customer concerns before the transaction.
Once a customer adds the subscription product of their choice to the cart, the remainder of the process proceeds like a typical ecommerce transaction.
During the checkout process, Awesome Coffee Club asks customers to acknowledge that they are signing up for a subscription with a recurring payment.
This is critical: clear language ensures the customer is comfortable and fully understands when automatic charges are made from their bank account.
Accessing the Customer Portal
After completing the checkout process, we received two emails. The first contained our specific order details:
The second welcomed us to the Awesome Coffee Club:
Following Upscribe’s recommendations, accessing the customer portal was easy and aligned with Awesome Coffee Club’s brand identity. With one click, we were immediately taken to the customer portal, which was visually cohesive with Awesome Coffee Club’s website design.
Customers can log in to the portal in three different ways:
- Clicking the link provided in the welcome email
- Logging in on the website with login credentials
- Using a one-click link provided by Awesome Coffee Club
Customer Portal Features
Awesome Coffee Club’s customer portal immediately populates the screen with the customer’s active and inactive subscriptions. On this page, customers have access to every detail, including:
- Product choice
- Subscription ID
- Next order date
- Delivery frequency
- Billing frequency
- Delivery address
- Price per order
Hitting the “View Details” button takes subscribers to a page with several self-serve subscription options. On one page, customers can quickly and easily:
- Add additional pounds of coffee to their subscription or next order
- Change or skip the next shipment
- Update payment methods and addresses
- Alter the delivery frequency
These features ensure a pleasant and seamless experience for the customer and the merchant. Customers can quickly access and edit their subscription details from the portal without needing the assistance of a customer service rep. By eliminating any opportunity for friction or confusion, merchants provide customers with a simple and enjoyable subscription experience.
Why It Works
Awesome Coffee Club’s subscription program is simple yet solid. Here’s why:
- Visually cohesive — You’ll notice that every step of the subscription process visually aligns with Awesome Coffee Club’s brand. The coffee company’s subscription portal is woven perfectly into the website and email experience to eliminate any opportunity for disruption or disjointed communication.
- Easy access — I conveniently forgot my password not long after signing up. Awesome Coffee Club allows easy access to the portal even if you forget your login credentials. One-click links sent via email eliminate any opportunity for friction or churn for subscribers. From the merchant’s perspective, this reduces the amount of customer service messages received from frustrated customers.
- Self-serve options — Whether you want to add another bag to your next order or skip the next shipment, it’s all conveniently accessible in the customer portal. Awesome Coffee Club makes it easy for customers to control their purchasing preferences.
Customers aren’t enrolling in a subscription because they enjoy another monthly bill. They want to be part of an experience that creates inherent value for them—like delivering delicious coffee beans to their doorstep when they want it. With more and more competition joining the coffee subscription space every day, coffee companies need to rise above the noise with a flawless subscription experience that puts the customer first.
Visit Upscribe’s website to learn more about coffee subscription technology and tools.
Anne Mercer is a freelance writer specializing in helping brands and individuals carve out their space in the specialty coffee industry. She is also the co-owner of Victus Coffee, based in West Hartford, Connecticut. Visit her website at annemercer.com.