Popularity of subscription box businesses has been evidently on the rise lately. Keeping that in mind, it is no big surprise that more and more people are searching for the ideal solution i.e. services that will help them fuel their entrepreneurial machine, turn their brilliant and unique idea into reality, and ultimately skyrocket their business to unforeseen heights.
Diving even deeper into “subbox” waters and researching the subject on “what ecommerce platform is the best solution for subscription box entrepreneurs”, it struck me as a surprise that most of the articles popping up on the first page of Google are pretty outdated. With this industry changing on an almost daily basis, articles that are more than a year old now (some of them even dating back to 2015!) just won’t be of any use for those who are deciding what route to take – today.
So, I guess it was back to basics for me. I decided to take it back to the old school and manually go through all the on-boarding steps on both platforms, as well as test plethora of functionalities and features offered by both of these services. Here is what I found out. I did so as if I were starting a subscription box myself.
First Impressions and On-Boarding
First of all, I must say that I was extremely surprised to see the live chat widget on Subbly site even before I decided to give it a try. The Chat widget is there on the homepage and, although the message is automated, there was an actual person currently active that responded to my query. It feels really good to be able to have a chat with a real person willing to provide more insight about what they offer and how much it costs. I believe that being available to your customers at all times is very important when building a relationship with a prospective customer, and also might be a great sigh of relief for people who are new to subscription boxes.
Needles to say, even after I enrolled for the 14-day free trial Subbly offered, the chat widget was still there and the support team was equally responsive and willing to help. As the icing on the cake, at some point they even offered to jump on a call if that would help me overcome some problems quicker. Way to go Subbly!
On the other hand, Cratejoy has pretty straightforward on-boarding where it takes you through a couple of steps of product creation, store registration and site design and connecting a payment processor so you can go live with your store. Although you’re pretty much on your own from the very start (no chat widget, although generic pop-ups has been triggered when I visited certain areas of my Cratejoy admin), they have an extensive knowledge base. That’s really nice and helpful, but I guess I fancy speaking (chatting) with the actual real person more than reading through chunks of text to possibly find an answer to my problem.
Designing My Store
I believe that many of us that opt for going with one of these two ecommerce solutions want an out-of-the-box solution for their problems, and that includes a nice and clean website builder feature that will make your life easier. Both Subbly and Cratejoy feature drag-and-drop site builders with a couple of ready-made templates. All you have to do is choose the template that resonates with your style and to change the imagery and wording to it.
Although Cratejoy offered more themes than Subbly (somewhere around 10 against 5 themes that Subbly offers). However with that said, one thing I liked on Subbly was the ability to get easy modifications made to my site. For example, I was really fond of one theme on Subbly, I just didn’t like the layout of the footer, and I wanted that changed. Subbly gave me the opportunity to seek help from their developers that were willing to help me out with changing design of certain parts of my site. So, literally, I modified the stock theme in a way that it stands out from the sites using the same stock theme in a way that website visitors really couldn’t see the similarity and pattern. In other words, I managed to overhaul my site’s looks using just 3 modifications, so it became much more cleaner and ‘’how I wanted it to be’’.
After much hustle, I managed to receive a response from Cratejoy’s customer support team on my inquiry whether someone was able to modify my theme I chose on their site. However, they just offered to give me contacts from web design agencies they work with. Since I didn’t want to spend more money on it, I settled with what was offered by default. It’s probably worth mentioning that both website builders give you access to the code, so those of you who are familiar with a little bit of HTML & CSS can probably work your way around.
Here comes the important part of anyone that has clear vision of how their business should work. Since we’ve put visuals aside for now, we can move onto the part where we actually build our core product offering that will ultimately generate profit and lift our business off the ground.
Product creation panels are somewhat different on Subbly and Cratejoy but are both very intuitive and straightforward, so literally anyone can easily build their products. However, there is one really big difference between those two services and their capabilities. Although they both give you the opportunity to create subscription-based products, Cratejoy only gives you the opportunity to choose monthly billing and shipping period for your product. As for Subbly, it gives you the option to build your business over weekly, biweekly, monthly, bimonthly, quarterly or even products that renew on an annual basis.
This can really prove to be a game changer especially for those which core product is renewing on a quarterly basis. If you’re one of them, Cratejoy is unfortunately out of the game for you.
In the terms of possibilities to upsell and cross-sell, it was really nice to see Cratejoy’s Add-ons app on their app store, which give you the possibility to offer one-off product as a supplement to subscription product to the prospective customers on the checkout. Really nice supplement and something that can boost your revenue in a way.
On the other hand, I was introduced to brand new feature on Subbly that was released literally weeks’ ago as I was informed by their customer support team. A feature called the ‘’survey builder’’ enables you to easily and out-of-the-box create a survey for your product. With that being said, you are not only able to make your checkout flow through the series of different survey questions on the checkout, but the answers can even alter the final price of the subscription that the customer pays. In other words, the customer can customize their subscription and it can increase your average order value.
This feature really gives you the opportunity to allow your customer to “build-a-box” and gives enough flexibility for you to upsell and customize your offering to a great extent. In just few steps, I was able to offer my potential customers with an array of different sized t-shirts made out of cotton and with or without elastane with different prices depending on the options what they actually chose on the checkout. Quite neat.
Marketing and Other Apps
One of the biggest concerns right? How can I grow my business?
This question is something that was taken really seriously at Cratejoy’s obviously. After thorough research of their service and what they have to offer I came to a conclusion that their main focus and priority is running a marketplace, where all of the Cratejoy customers can list their products. This is really nice solution for bringing traffic to your site in the early stages of your business. However, that comes with a price which is really not negligible. For every transaction that comes through the marketplace they are taking additional 11.25% out of every transaction (initial transaction and every subsequent one, up to the day until customer decides to cancel his/hers subscription). When added onto 1.25% and .10 cents they regularly take for their services, that adds up to 12.50% and .20 cents per every transaction conducted through marketplace. It’s definitely a nice way to get traffic early on, as I already mentioned, but I wonder how will this reflect on my business long-time when my profit margins are already low enough.
Going across the street, Subbly doesn’t offer a marketplace where your store will be listed for the web crawlers to stumble upon. What they do offer is a number of marketing tool integrations (they do offer integration with Zapier which is all that you need more or less). Cratejoy is good at this also. Their app store offers solid number of apps you can integrate to your store such as Carthook for abandoned carts or Picreel.
One thing worth mentioning here is that Subbly has built in referral tool feature which is free for everyone to use and is already included in the price of the plan, whilst Cratejoy charges for it’s referral tool an extra $99. Subbly takes additional fee of up to 5% for every customer referred using their tool, which compared to other external refer-a-friend tools is actually quite good.
How Much Does This All Cost?
Finally down to pricing, part that’s probably the most important to all of us starting out on a tight budget. Truth is, you can run your business on both of these platforms while staying lean and bootstrapped and within your profit margins.
Initial plan on Subbly with all the features included in it comes at 29$ a month fixed. On top of that, they take 2% transaction fee on behalf of Subbly service and additional expense for Stripe service fees (their payment processor).
As for Cratejoy, their plan will cost you $39 a month fixed, accompanied by 1.25% and 10 cents plus Stripe’s fees, which can grow up to 12.50% and 10 cents per every transaction if you decide to take marketplace route.
Possible additional charges account for 5% transaction fee for every customer referred using Subbly’s built-in referral tool, or you can pay one-off payment of $99 if you decide to use the referral tool on Cratejoy.
Although general consent on the Internet is that Cratejoy is a bigger and better solution than Subbly, I can’t help but concur that Subbly is growing at a very fast rate throughout the last year. Hence my statement from the beginning that outdated articles are simply not enough to shed enough light on pros and cons of using each service separately. And no doubt even this article will be outdated by the time this is posted due to the rate that Subbly is changing from what I can see.
And while Cratejoy stays focused on promoting their marketplace as the best possible channel for subscription box owners to market their product on the Web, and no doubt it works! It is apparent Subbly is determined to build a great and user-friendly platform with equally great customer support.
Honestly, it depends on your goals, but I see pros and cons for both. I like Subbly’s energy and drive, from my research they are bootstrapped which is super impressive. Cratejoy is a safe bet for starting out but I am thinking the support and longevity of your business might be better with Subbly.