Shopify and Shopify Plus don't handle recurring charges as part of their core product. So how do you make a subscription business model work for your store? You use an app. Here, we break down the differences between the two best subscription and recurring billing apps in the Shopify ecosystem.
It's great when people give you their credit card and say "Just keep it coming every month. Charge me till I tell you to stop." It feels good when people like what you sell. It's validating when people put that level of faith in your business.'
Beyond that fact that it feels good, we are all in business to make money. And recurring buyers are the most profitable kind. We use metrics like customer lifetime value for a reason. The longer we sustain buyer relationships, the more valuable that customer becomes. As a buyer, as a referral source, and as a data point that tells us what we are doing right.
Customer retention is directly related to long-term revenue growth
We know that retaining customers over the long term is important, but what is the best way to make that happen?
One of the most effective ways is to setup customers to buy repeatedly, right from the start of their customer lifetime. Subscriptions and recurring purchases do away with many of the reasons for churn and attrition in the ecommerce business model.
Subscription ecommerce with Shopify
The problem with creating recurring customers within a Shopify store is that (in the interest of security) Shopify doesn't store payment information. So you have to get customers to come back on-site to order again. Over time, even the most satisfied of customers drop out because life is busy, or they just forget.
But there is something you can do to fight churn and make it easier for customers to keep buying from you on a regular basis: Make it insanely easy for them to subscribe. It's better for you and for them. You get recurring sales. They get the products they love when they want them, with as little friction as possible.
Allow customers to put their card information in, tell you what they want and how often they want it, and then go on about their lives.
Both ReCharge and Bold enable your store to do essentially the same thing: create recurring orders and subscriptions that will bump up your customer retention and lifetime value KPIs. You also get higher revenues and more predictable cash flow for your business.
How are they alike?
Add recurring orders to your Shopify store
This is the customer-facing part. You can add a product to a subscription through the third party app and Shopify.
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 in terms of discounts for subscribing, delivery frequency, etc.
Create recurring orders within Shopify
Both apps allow you to create preset, subscription-box style packages. You can also give customers the freedom to create their own recurring orders out of any individual items in your store. Either of these can be set at the interval you want, be it weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.
Customers can add the items they want to subscribe to (if you have made them available for recurring orders) to their cart, and then go through the checkout process just like they would with a one-time purchase. After going through checkout, those orders will process automatically at the set date and time, charge the customer, and add the recurring order to your orders in Shopify.
Neither app uses the default Shopify checkout, but both are secure and allow you to customize the appearance of your checkout flow so that it matches your site design and branding by using CSS. This is another limitation imposed by Shopify's API and checkout process.
Let your customers manage their subscriptions through a portal
In addition to creating and storing orders, both apps give you and your customers the ability to manage and change orders. Once they create an account, the customer portal allows them to control their subscription, cutting down on customer service needs.
Both allow your customers a lot of flexibility in controlling their recurring purchases:
- Payment information
- Shipping information
- Remove products
- Add new products
- Switch products
- Change quantities
- Cancel subscription
- Edit delivery dates
- Skip a single delivery
- Change delivery frequency
- View past orders
- View future delivery schedules
Both apps allow you to change how your portal looks. You can match it to your visual branding. The amount of control and the way you make changes is a bit different between the two, but overall they offer more ability to change than you would expect.
Extensive feature sets
Both solutions offer a long list of features in common. These huge feature sets are part of why they are the top two choices when it comes to recurring billing.
- Create different types of subscription products- Single item, multiple item, subscription boxes, "build-your-own" subscription boxes, mystery boxes, kits, etc. For the most part, if you can imagine it, you can offer it to customers.
- Customer control through login-gated portals
- Mixed cart-subscriptions/one time purchase checkouts
- Ability to use existing customer account on your Shopify store during checkout
- Shipping and taxes pulled from the Shopify app so they are real-time accurate
- Swap subscription for one product to another product without cancelling and reordering
- Syncing inventory with Shopify
- Cancellation prevention flows- Ask why customers are leaving, incentivize them to stay
- Control over checkout and client portal appearance
- Delivery frequency control
What separates the two?
Both of these apps let you create recurring purchases with Shopify, but they do have some differences.
Bold, as a company, has created some of the best Shopify apps around. Creating useful, high-quality Shopify apps is what they do. Used together, their app ecosystem can add a lot of functionality that you need to make a Shopify site into a powerhouse.
That means that Recurring Orders is a great app, but it is one of many great apps that Bold creates, updates, and supports.
ReCharge maintains one sole focus: create the best Shopify app for recurring billing. That's why they are the only Shopify Plus-approved platform for recurring billing.
So when people at ReCharge go to work every day, recurring billing is what they do. It is the only app they create, update, or support. It has their full attention.
That's where the differences come from. There are certain areas where one outshines the other, and there is not a clear cut winner of "Best recurring billing app for Shopify".
Let's dive in to see how they are different and which one might be right for you.
Recurring billing sounds like a boring topic, until you realize that it's also insanely profitable. ReCharge makes it easy for Shopify stores to bring that insanely profitable idea into their business model. Because it's their only focus, they have developed quite a few features centered on maximizing the effectiveness of adding subscriptions to your store.
ReCharge is aware they may not provide everything you need to run an entire store out of the box. They preach that they are recurring billing experts and that's it. When merchants need to add functionality in other areas, ReCharge works with other Shopify-approved apps to create deep and high-functioning integrations,
When ReCharge integrates with another app to provide more functionality, they work to make sure that that connection is deep and useful, rather than trying to half-ass their own version of it. It's a case of knowing what you are good at and sticking to it.
This attitude means that they focus all of their time improving and supporting the core ReCharge product instead of expanding the number of features related to recurring billing.
Dunning is the process of updating of payment methods, re-trying failed charges, and sending emails as a reminder to subscribers with soon-to-expire cards. While not typically thought of as a major way to reduce churn, dunning services help retain customers because these subscribers aren't often ones who would have cancelled otherwise. If they hadn't simply let their card expire, they would still be subscribers. Paired with other ReCharge retention features, they can help reduce churn as a built in feature.
Workflows is ReCharge's built-in "if this, then that" engine. Using multiple endpoints around the app, you can automate actions that will allow you to offer free trials and samples, discount the first or repeat orders, or roll customers into paid subscriptions at the end of a free trial.
The ReCharge API allows your developers (or a ReCharge certified partner) to create essentially anything you'd like. The API exists to break down and rebuild every aspect of the customer journey to allow complete and total customization.Verve Coffee is a great example of taking this way beyond a product page:
Verve Coffee is an excellent example of what can be done with the ReCharge API
For more examples of how you can use the ReCharge API to create some high-level site functionality check out the ReCharge API Guide.
Customer portal customization
Rather than rely on CSS for changes to the customer portal, they offer a ReCharge Theme Engine that lets you completely customize your portal.
With the Theme Engine you can quickly tailor the look and feel of the Customer Portal to fit any Shopify store's style and branding. You can also customize the presence and presentation of UI controls that a merchant's customers are able to access.
The un-altered ReCharge Portal
Customized with the ReCharge Theme Engine
As mentioned earlier, ReCharge knows its place in the Shopify ecosystem: recurring billing. To reap the benefits of other top services, ReCharge integrates with a fairly large number of other services and Shopify apps:
- Google Analytics
- Octane AI
- One Click Upsell
- Product Customizer
- Ultimate Upsell
If you want to dive deep into how ReCharge works with any of these apps, or just get a better idea of how they handle integrations, checkout their integrations support guide.
In some ways, built-in analytics could be considered a weak point for ReCharge, but one that has several solutions. There are existing integrations for analytics including one that is particularly noteworthy. SubMetrics is a free analytics solution built specifically to work with ReCharge. In addition, two new analytics apps (Glew.io and Sublytics) are now available for immediate download. .
The number of payment gateways that you can use is the biggest weakness of ReCharge at the moment. You can still use whatever payment processor you choose for Shopify and non-recurring purchases. However, because of Shopify restrictions, your three options for recurring purchases on ReCharge are Stripe, BrainTree, and Authorize.net
Shopify stores using ReCharge
Bold is no slouch when it comes to Shopify apps. Currently, they have 17 highly-rated, incredibly useful apps for Shopify stores. Some are free, some are paid, some interconnect with each other to share information and increase their overall usefulness.
Bold is better at handling gift subscriptions. ReCharge currently requires some developer time and a custom solution to get gifting right. Bold does this right out of the box without outside help.
Bold as a pretty comprehensive analytics setup built-in, without any other tools necessary. If you don't want to integrate with an outside tool to process and see recurring order analytics, this is a big plus.
Bold's built-in analytics panel
There is one subscription-specific thing that Bold does which ReCharge doesn't offer. That is the ability to add one-off products to a subscription order. To illustrate this:
Let's say that you have a beef jerky subscription box which goes out monthly. You also have standard bags of beef jerky which are not subscription products. With Bold, your customers can create a type of custom subscription during the checkout process. They can make it so that every month, they will receive your monthly box AND the bag of jerky, even though it is not normally a monthly product.
Customer portal customization
There is a trade-off in the way Bold does customization of the portal. It can be done without specialized tools (ReCharge Theme Engine). You can make the changes you want with pure CSS. That means your pool of available choices to do that work is larger.
The trade off is that the portal is less customizable, because you are limited in how much you can change via CSS. It's easier to find people who can help, but the changes you can make will be limited because of that.
Bold integrates with some of the biggest and best services in the Shopify world. Although the list is smaller than ReCharge's, there are still some great providers available.
- Google Analytics
- Google Autocomplete
- Facebook Pixel
When it comes to offering choices in payment gateway, Bold comes out as a clear winner. As I said earlier, you don't have to use the same gateway for Shopify and for subscriptions, so you have some flexibility in how you implement payment gateways, but if you have to have the extra options in payment processing, Bold may be your solution.
- eWay Rapid
- Fat Zebra
Shopify stores using Bold Subscriptions
Which one should you use?
This might make you mad, but I honestly love doing this to people because few things in life are clear-cut: The answer is that it depends.
Both of these apps make it really easy to turn customers into subscribers. They both offer quite a bit of flexibility in how you put recurring purchases into practice. So it depends on where you are at in your business and what features are most important to you.
You should use ReCharge if:
- Recurring orders are a huge part of your business model
- You intend scale up the number of recurring orders
- You will use the API for customizing everything you do with recurring billing on Shopify
- You want to take customization to the next level (Again, that Verve Coffee example)
- You want the API to integrate ReCharge deeply with your business for analytics or automation purposes
You should use Bold if:
- Recurring orders is not a major part of your business model
- You just want to add a subscribe and save option to your existing product pages
- You want a feature set that is wider, rather than going deeply in for recurring billing.
- You have to use a payment gateway that ReCharge doesn't support
- It's important to have your recurring analytics built in to the app instead of integrated with other analytics options.
Add recurring purchases to your business model
If you want to grow your sales, adding a subscription option to your existing product offers is a great first step. The benefits of long-term customer relationships and recurring orders will boost the health of any business.
If you want help putting subscriptions and recurring payments to work for your Shopify store, we're here to help. Let's talk about how to make it happen.