Online shopping in South Africa has certainly stepped up its game in the last year, especially during the strictest parts of lockdown. However, online shopping isn’t just limited to your Takealot or Checkers shopping. Subscription services of all kinds have sprung up, waiting for consumers to buy in. The subscription economy has opened new avenues for everyone from creators to niche product manufacturers, and is creating greater market access for small businesses.

What is a subscription service?

Subscription services are not exactly new. Think wine of the month club or your DsTV membership, or even old-school magazine subscriptions – those are subscription services, and they’ve been around for decades. With the dawn of the internet and online shopping, however, these kinds of services skyrocketed. Once the domain of exclusive, luxury goods and services, there is now something for everyone to enjoy, within their budget.

These services operate fairly simply: For a fixed amount of money each month, customers receive anything from carefully planned meals to niche interest paraphernalia or unlimited access to the world’s music. There are several different types of subscription services that a business can engage in, but the primary types include media/streaming services, special interest products, and consumables.

Media and streaming services

As we mentioned above, DsTV is an old hand in this game; however, there are several newer services that have taken the world by storm. For example, you can purchase a monthly membership for Netflix, Amazon, or even DsTV’s own Showmax, and enjoy series and movies on demand. By signing up for Deezer, Spotify and so on, you can enjoy ad-free music all day long, without having to buy an album. 

Individual content creators can set up their own subscription service, using platforms like Patreon, to encourage people to pay for exclusive content. App designers can create games or other apps that offer bonuses and exclusive benefits to subscribers. 

Special interest products

Every single member of the family can take advantage of special interest subscription boxes. For health and fitness enthusiasts, there are subscriptions like Wellbox, which provides natural products and supplements. Fans of beauty products can enjoy various items from Rubybox, and get to review them. There are book boxes for adults and children, toys, gadgets and hobby paraphernalia. There are even various subscription boxes for the furry members of the family.

Consumables

It’s great to be able to order groceries online, but there are several subscription services that take consumables shopping to the next level. Ucook is famous for providing the precise ingredients and recipes for curated meals, while Tuckbox provides portion-controlled snacks for healthy snacking. Coffee and tea enthusiasts can receive regular packages with a selection of their favourite hot beverage, while gin, wine and other alcoholic drinks also have a variety of subscription options. But it doesn’t end at food. You can get clothing, cosmetics and toiletries, sweets – just about anything you can imagine.

Can you start a subscription service?

The primary goal of a subscription service is to provide a product or service that recurs on a regular basis, for a fixed regular price. While the categories above make up the bulk of subscriptions, they are by no means all that’s available. If you have a business that offers any kind of product or service directly to customers, there is most likely a way to provide it as a subscription service.

Firstly, you need to do some market research to find out if such a service would interest people. If so, you can begin. Whether you offer curated products, or a specialised service, you can offer a range of combinations at fixed prices for customers to buy.

Setting up an online subscription business

There are many ways to get started, whether you use a web development platform that supports subscription services, or develop your own website from scratch. Either way, you will need an online store, and an app and/or website will do that job beautifully.

Make certain that the products or services you are offering fit within legislation and can be safely delivered to customers. That includes online offerings like streaming or content services, as online security is an absolute must.

This also includes making sure that your online financial system is protected and running smoothly. With subscription services, it is best to offer a debit order or credit card monthly payment, to ensure that your money is safely handled and arrives on time. 

For any advice on handling your online subscription service store’s finances, talk to Three Peaks. We can help ensure you receive your payments on time, regularly, without all the admin and hassle.