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The evolution of subscriptions leads us to a web of advancements. From digital wallets to omnichannel experiences, subscriptions are a sign of the changing times and consumer demands. Mobile apps are just one of the many avenues subscription businesses are exploring to sell their products and services, and it is a worthy one at that. 

Hannah Wheeldon, a Strategic Customer Success Manager at Recurly, knows what it takes to get your app in Apple’s App Store–she has submitted more than 150 apps for a digital publishing platform prior to joining Recurly. While having your subscription mobile app available to download for users around the world is beneficial to your business, it’s important to understand everything that entails.

Why apps subscriptions make sense

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Subscription businesses are not short of options when it comes to how and where they sell their products or services–a website, a third party, an affiliate–just to name a few. But as modern-day consumers rely on their mobile devices more and more, the app store marketplace can become a big revenue driver for subscription businesses.

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While many of Wheeldon’s experiences are with the Apple App Store and Google Play, the requirements of app submissions are largely universal. Wheeldon defines a mobile app as a “native app that [consumers] install from the App Store versus just a web app or a really great responsive website.” In the UK, 80% of consumers’ time is spent within an app and not on mobile web. Consumers are on their phones to work, shop, find entertainment, and more. The argument to optimize the subscriber experience on a mobile device traces back to the need for an app. 

Wheeldon shares that consumers are at a point where they expect large brands to have their own apps. Not only does it make a business seem more reputable and legitimate, but it also improves the accessibility and convenience of that product or service. Having an entire app dedicated to a brand allows the business to control the consumer experience, and subscribers demand a native, personalized experience or they will churn.

Pros of subscription apps

  1. One-click wonders. In addition to having an app, the pros of selling a subscription in an app lie in the fact that consumers can subscribe and make purchases faster. Personal information and payment data are saved in apps on personal devices, expediting the purchase conversion. Moreover, when subscriptions are purchased in an app, access to the product or service is immediate

  2. Trustworthy payments. Consumers are loyal to their mobile devices and the makers of these mobile devices. Wheeldon, who declares her loyalty to Apple, shares that when a payment goes through Apple, she knows her personal information is secure. Web experiences, on the other hand, may put shoppers through slow load times, page crashes, and more, leaving them to worry about the exposure of personal data. 

  3. Easy management. Because of regulations surrounding consumer experiences, Apple and Google require recurring revenue businesses to be upfront about the terms of their subscriptions. Steps for auto-renew, cancellations, and all consumer settings must be easy for consumers to locate and process. 

Cons of subscription apps

  1. Fees. The biggest downside of having an app in the app marketplace is the fees. The App Store, for example, takes a percentage of your revenue. In the first year, the App Store takes 30% of revenue from new subscriptions, and that percentage drops to 15% after year one. 

  2. Slow progress. For years, businesses faced numerous challenges in having their app in the app marketplace. Crucial consumer information such as emails and payments data were not made available to businesses, and for a while, functionality was limited to the point where deploying new features to the app would take weeks. Free trials, promotional pricing, and more were unavailable until the last two years. Websites give subscription businesses the freedom to test, iterate, and create efficiently, and, while the app marketplace has improved, the flexibility is unmatched.

  3. Policies and limitations. Selling in an app marketplace means you must follow the rules of the owner. Oftentimes, policies are limiting and are designed to encourage consumers to make purchases (and keep earned revenue) in the app. 

The app landscape today

Today, the app marketplace has become a more welcoming place for subscription businesses. For businesses that earn less than $1 million USD in the App Store, the small business program will cap your app-level revenue fees at 15%. Additionally, websites and apps operate more seamlessly together now, offering both app users and website users to access products and services easily, regardless of the channel. It’s important to understand the full picture when it comes to offering an app for your subscription service.

While it’s easy to continue selling subscriptions on your website as you always have, there is a great opportunity to expand your audience and revenue channels by offering a subscription app. Previously, businesses were only able to offer subscriptions through the app marketplace’s payment framework, which took a cut of revenue. Now, if your app falls under the Reader category–apps whose primary function is to provide digital content such as audio, books, video, etc.–can choose to sell subscriptions externally, meaning the app opens an external link for users to subscribe and bypasses the app marketplace payment. However, there are some downsides–this is not an ideal user experience, and if you choose this route, you can’t also offer in-app subscriptions. Regardless, subscription apps are fulfilling the consumer demand for quick and easy access to mobile shopping.