subscription

May 2020

Best Shopify Subscription Apps: ReCharge vs Bold

Joe Mottershaw

Head Developer

Shopify is a cloud commerce platform that has transformed e-commerce. Currently (although this is expected to change) subscription functionality is not available out-of-the-box with Shopify and you will need an app to transform existing one-time products into subscription options easily and facilitate regular payments.

The two main apps for physical products sold on Shopify are ReCharge and Bold. This post will cover the best Shopify subscription apps available at the moment and what you need to consider for a subscription business model.

What you need to understand about subscription e-commerce BEFORE selecting an app

Not all subscription e-commerce propositions are the same. The way a customer needs to manage their subscriptions varies depending on if it’s a subscription box of contact lenses or shampoo, compared to that of a subscription meal kit or pet food. Regardless of the product, you also need to know exactly what you want to achieve before selecting a recurring payment app. If your proposition goes even slightly beyond the most basic functionality (to be honest, we have yet to work with a business that is completely satisfied with the out-the-box recurring orders solution) it will require custom web development to get the features to work.

You need to consider:

  • What type of subscription model is my business?
  • How much are subscriptions a part of my entire business model?
  • Do I want to offer gift subscriptions?
  • Do I want to add single products to a subscription order?
  • Do I want to change my subscription options (e.g. menu, seasonal products, etc) regularly?
  • Which payment gateway am I going to use?
  • How much customisation will I want in the customer portal?

How a subscription app works in the e-commerce subscription model:

The following diagram illustrates the lifecycle of a subscription, based on the actions of the merchant, customer, Shopify, and a subscription app:

Subscriptions lifecycle diagram

  • Merchants create and manage how they want to sell their products.
  • Customers purchase subscriptions and update their subscriptions (such as changing their payment method).
  • When a customer purchases a subscription, Shopify first creates a transaction and then order. After the transaction and order are created, Shopify generates a subscription contract and creates a billing attempt on the initial purchase.
  • Subsequent customer orders are automated by the app. The app creates a billing attempt based on the existing subscription contract using the API. When the app creates a billing attempt, a transaction and an order are created.
  • Your app receives webhooks when subscription-related events occur, handles billing failures and scheduling, and provides a subscription management user interface for both customers and merchants.

It’s important to understand the complexity of subscription data and which party manages which elements of the journey. By understanding this, you can be more informed to select the best app for your business.

ReCharge Subscription App

Subscriptions by ReCharge is designed to be used both as a “subscribe & save” type feature (similar to Amazon) or as the engine for subscription products. It is an organisation developed solely for providing subscription services – it only does this and does it very well.

  • Option for a single purchase or “subscribe and save” option on the product page.
  • Option to choose subscription frequency is also added to the product page e.g. ‘every week/fortnight/month’.
  • ReCharge Customer Portal allows your customers to fully manage all aspects of their subscriptions directly from your store.
  • It is available as a plugin for Big Commerce, Magento, and WooCommerce, as well as Shopify.
  • You can use the ReCharge API to create custom workflows to solve complex subscription needs.

ReCharge is $60 / month + 1% & $0.05 per transaction as standard and the Pro plan starts at ¢300/month. The first two months are free.

Bold Subscription App

Bold offers a variety of apps for Shopify. Until recently, it did not specialise heavily in subscriptions, unlike ReCharge which has always owned this area of the Shopify app ecosystem. While it is slightly less customisable, Bold now offers a much deeper subscription solution and more features out-of-the-box.

  • Option for a single purchase or “subscribe and save” option on the product page.
  • Option to choose subscription frequency is also added to the product page e.g. ‘every week/fortnight/month’.
  • Customer Portal allows your customers to fully manage all aspects of their subscriptions directly from your store.
  • Option to use prepaid and gift subscriptions
  • Dynamic checkout allows customers to purchase a mixture of one-time and subscription products in a single transaction.
  • Inventory forecasting is a backend analytics feature that displays inventory needed to fill upcoming subscriptions (7, 30, 90, 180 days).
  • CSV export reports for “Upcoming Orders” & “Upcoming Products” which can be very useful.

Bold Subscriptions is $39.99/month + 1% per transaction and the Pro plan starts at $199/month.

So, which is the best Shopify subscription app – Bold or ReCharge?

Both Bold and ReCharge allow you to add subscription functionality to new products pretty quickly and easily. This shows up on your product page, and you can give customers the options you want in terms of discounts for subscribing, delivery frequency, etc.

A few years ago, we would always recommend ReCharge as being best for those who have a subscription specific business, where repeat billing is an integral part of the business strategy. However, Bold Commerce has seriously upped its game. It really depends on the complexity of your subscription model.

For a subscription box that stays the same each cycle, we prefer ReCharge slightly more because of the key feature that is the ReCharge Theme Engine that lets you completely customize your portal rather than rely solely on CSS for changes to the customer portal. You can also access the API without needing to pay for Pro whereas you do need to commit to Bold Subscription Pro if you want access to their API.

However, if you have a more complicated subscription model, with upsells, combinations of single purchases and subscriptions, dynamic discounting or changes in products available for delivery, we would advise using Bold Commerce.

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