Building a digital recurring subscription business is smart, because all of your sales and marketing efforts compound from month to month.
You can have happy long-term members paying you monthly or yearly… for years!
But if you pick the wong WordPress subscription plugin, and realize you need to switch down the line… you might lose all of your hard work and cut your income in half.
The Curse of the WordPress Subscription Plugin Migration
It happens to the best of us: we pick a WordPress paid subscription plugin based on a “top 10 list” and get on with our project.
After hours of work creating our membership site, putting in the effort to recruit paying members, and keeping them engaged and happy…
Maybe the plugin…
- Doesn’t handle pausing subscriptions for members who will be away.
- Can’t handle free or paid trials, and you want to test this new way of onboarding members.
- Doesn’t automatically process refunds and revoke access, and it ends up causing an administrative headache.
- Is clunky on mobile devices and causes a reduction in sales as more people browse on their cellphones and tablets.
Whatever the reason… you realize you’ve set up your recurring subscription business on unsteady ground.
You need to switch WordPress recurring subscription plugins to solve your problem.
But switching means you have to ask all of your current members to sign up all over again.
Now there are ways to incentivize people to register on your new WordPress payment system, by giving them bonuses or other perks.
Some people will miss your emails, be on vacation, or just forget.
So you’re left managing two different WordPress subscription plugins on your site… or forfeiting some of your revenue for the members who don’t switch.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, and that’s why I’m writing this article: to help you evaluate the different WordPress recurring payment plugins out there, so you can make the best decision for your business long term.
So you can avoid the curse of migrating members down the line.
Let’s dive in.
How to Evaluate The WordPress Subscription Plugin Options On the Market
Often we don’t know what to look for when we’re selecting software, so we end up comparing on price and what the different vendors seem to highlight.
But it’s often the “little things” that no one advertises or makes a big fuss about, that end up being really important to how usable a tool really is.
Here are some things that are really important to the long term success of any subscription program – so you can dig in and test out the different tools you’re considering to make sure they can handle these cases.
Order Form Design & Functionality
It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: a paid subscription plugin needs to be able to take payments… easily.
That means you need the ability to have a design-friendly and branded order form that can handle the different offers you might want to test.
Here are just a few of the things you might want your order forms to be able to handle:
The ability to have someone make an immediate or later purchase without re-entering their credit card details is important for increasing lifetime customer value. Read more about 1-click upsells here.
Showing an additional offer on the check out form right before hitting “buy now” can get people to spend more on their initial purchase. Check out some order bump examples here.
No one talks about the fact that 75% of people who start the checkout process never finish their order… with abandoned cart follow up you can recapture these lost sales.
See a successful abandoned cart follow up email sequence.
Offering a free trial or a many-day paid trial is a great way to get more people into your membership or subscription. The more flexibility you have around how you design your trials, the easier it will be for you to figure out what works for your particular business. See how offering a $1 trial increased sales by 400%.
Combine different products, services, and subscriptions for different groups of people. There are always going to be people who want a premium experience or are willing to purchase more – so bundle your best stuff together.
Running seasonal or evergreen promotions is part of many business best practices. The ability to set up different types of coupons is key here: you might want a coupon that expires after 10 people have claimed it, or that runs until a certain date. Still, you might want an expiring individual coupon for each person who enters your funnel. See examples of different ways to set up coupons here.
As the digital landscape continues to get more and more global, being able to offer multiple currencies on your subscription payments is great. You might be based in one country but have a large base of customers in another part of the world – so why not have people see the price that makes the most sense to them.
Tracking Key Metrics
Knowing how much growth your subscription services or membership site is experience is key, but so is knowing churn and other stats. Having an easy way to track metrics, like revenue, refunds, and cancellations can help you make better decisions about your subscription business.
Integration with Other Systems
Ahh… integration, that pesky but oh so important part of any digital system. When many companies say they integrate with another tech platform, they don’t go into detail on how deep of an integration it is.
Here’s what you might need to keep your eyes peeled for:
CRMs & email marketing platforms
Your business likely already has an email platform or CRM (if not, check out our in-depth CRM comparison) so it’s important to make sure you’re not adding a tool that won’t work with your existing set up. You might be thinking that your WordPress subscription plugin doesn’t need to talk to your CRM/email system… but with anything subscription related, it’s important to be able to segment the email addresses of your paying members and those who default or cancel. So you can target your messaging and not bombard the wrong people with the wrong emails.
Many systems offer PayPal payments for their shopping cart… but for recurring PayPal subscriptions, there’s a bit of a hitch. PayPal allows members to cancel their PayPal recurring payments within their own PayPal accounts, so how your subscription plugin handles these cases is imperative. With some tools, you might never be notified that someone canceled their subscription and so they’ll continue to have access as if they were still paying. Yikes!
Find out more about PayPal membership management and its caveats here.
Over the past few years, Stripe has become the standard when it comes to taking recurring payments via credit cards. Being able to offer Stripe course integration and send invoices through Stripe is a great way to make the most of a recurring subscription integration.
Will you need an additional affiliate management plugin or system, or does the subscription management plugin handle this as well? If you plan to start an affiliate program, then you’ll need to think about how the integration will work for paying out affiliates on a regular basis, too.
If you’re using a WordPress subscription plug-in, then it stands to reason you’ll need to manage people’s subscriptions over time.
Here are some cases you might not have thought about that come up often once you start offering a recurring payment membership.
Start, Stop, Pause
Some members might want to pause their subscription and come back at a later time… they might also want to stop and re-start entirely.
Having the flexibility to offer these options shows you care about your members, and they’re more likely to come back when they’re ready.
Apply credits to skip months/payments
Every now and then, you might want to be generous and give some credits to your members so they can have a few months without paying. Maybe they earn these free months by referring friends or because submit a testimonial… the reason is up to you!
Refunds and revoke access
Every business will experience a refund or two along the way, and being able to control access after someone asks for a refund is key. This should be something that’s easy to handle, and that happens automatically once you notify your subscription management system of the refund.
If you offer different subscription plan levels or payment frequencies, it pays to make it easy for your members to manage their subscriptions. For example, if you offer monthly and yearly plans or a starter and high level plan, a member should be able to switch between these options without waiting to email support or cancel one subscription to re-register for another plan. If it’s pro-rated when they switch levels, so they don’t pay more for switching – then all the better!
To reduce administrative overhead, you should be able to set up a simple “cancel my subscription” button that a member can click to cancel future payments and stop their subscription.
Subscription WordPress Plugins to Evaluate
Selling on WordPress can be as simple or as complicated as you make it – but the key is to keep in mind what you need to accomplish today and where you see your business going in the next 18 months.
Now that you know what to look for, here are some suggested WordPress recurring payment plugins to consider:
- WooCommerce Subscriptions: as an add-on to the free WooCommerce plugin for WordPress, it makes sense to choose this option if you’re already taking one time payments through WooCommerce. It allows subscribers to upgrade or downgrade their subscriptions.
- AccessAlly: we’re biased because we created this all-in-one paid subscription plugin that also includes membership site and learning management system functionality. It ticks all of the boxes above, from member management, software integrations, and subscription set up flexibility.
- MemberPress: this is a straightforward plugin for those who want to use an all-in-one system but it doesn’t have a ton of flexibility. It can be extended with additional coding though, learn more about MemberPress alternatives and features here.
- Restrict Content Pro: this WordPress paid subscription plugin focuses on protecting paid content, as well as integrating with payment systems. It also handles sending emails for you directly.
- Paid Memberships Pro: also created by a husband and wife team, this plugin comes with both a free and a paid version and might be a great option for protecting content and processing paid subscriptions for smaller businesses. Find out more about Paid Memberships Pro alternatives here.
- s2Member: the biggest difference between this WordPress subscription plugin and the others on the list is that it has a one-time fee instead of a recurring cost which might be good for budget-conscious startups or solopreneurs. It handles different payment integrations and protecting content as well. Learn more about s2Member alternatives here.
- Cart66: this is a big competitor of WooCommerce, and it focuses on offering a simplified interface and set up for both one time and recurring payments through WordPress. They also offer a service to set things up for you.
- ThriveCart: although this option isn’t on the market at the time of writing this WordPress paid subscription plugin review, ThriveCart is a popular option for offering one time or recurring payments through a few different payment integrations.
So what WordPress paid subscription plugin will be the winner for your business?
It’s time to pick the subscription plug-in that will serve for you for the next few years, and beyond as your business continues to grow!