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Introducing the Shopify Subscription API

Shopify is a cloud commerce solution that, until recently, has relied on the Shopify partner ecosystem to provide development builds that integrate with Shopify and enable recurring payments through apps. The best Shopify subscription apps have historically been ReCharge or Bold Commerce, with the out-of-the-box Shopify platform offering limited ways of selling products beyond a one-time purchase.

It was announced at the recent October 2020 Shopify Townhall that the first Shopify Subscription APIs and tooling will be rolled out to enable partners and developers to build new subscription experiences directly within Shopify Checkout.

These new Shopify Subscription APIs and app extension will enable us to:

  • Build on Shopify Checkout. For the first time, developers can now build subscription apps on Shopify Checkout. This means merchants no longer have to choose between selling subscription products and using Shopify’s checkout or manage multiple checkout experiences.
  • Fully integrate with Shopify. With subscription orders created and managed by Shopify, your app remains compatible with platform features (like Shopify Payments, shipping, discounts, reporting, etc.) and the entire app ecosystem but merchants maintain a complete picture of their customer data for both one-time and subscription customers.
  • Solve for emerging merchant needs. Power new business models not yet available on Shopify. While selling subscription products is a known merchant need today, the new APIs are built to future-proof new ways of selling.


What data does Shopify manage and an app manage?


How is this different from what happens when you use an existing subscription app such as ReCharge or Bold? Well, it comes down to data. By modelling and storing subscription data, Shopify is able to offer merchants insights to their business in the Shopify backend rather than splitting subscriber information across third-party apps such as Recharge or Bold.

Some of these new insights include:

  • Recurring revenue reports on active subscribers, new subscribers, or churned/lapsed subscribers
  • Shopify Email campaigns targeted to new subscribers or churned subscribers
  • Shopify Flow workflows triggered by a subscribed churned or a new subscriber

Prior to these new updates, we would need to create a data model using multiple platforms or a wider tech stack as displayed below. This model is the best way we can attribute specific digital marketing channels to sales data and know exactly which adverts drive conversions. With the new Shopify Subscription API, we may be able to streamline this process.

ReCharge integration for subscription analytics | Littledata - Google Analytics

What does this mean for ReCharge and Bold Commerce apps?

Details are still unfolding around the Shopify Subscriptions API, however our best guess is that subscription apps that are currently used are still relevant – they will simply evolve.

Below is an example of a Shopify subscription product and while it’s good for a very basic subscription model, it contains none of the complex solutions available through the more sophisticated third-party apps. For example, more complicated subscriptions such as meal kits or flower delivery with different variations week to week will still need a good degree of custom code. However, a single commodity such as coffee, toilet roll, or medication could benefit highly.

Product subscription app extension example

Subscription is a rapidly evolving area of e-commerce and the new Shopify APIs will see a wave of innovation that elevates the current experience and make the customer experience even smoother. We hope this article has helped to explain what these changes might be but our Shopify experts will keep you updated with the latest developments as they unfold.


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