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6 min read

Subscription Models: The Future of Consumer Relationships?

Key Takeaways

  • Subscription services are very different to traditional one-time purchase models. They bring a whole unique set of customer expectations and concerns.
  • Businesses providing subscriptions should tailor their marketing strategies to accommodate a range of different goals and approaches that are relevant to this sector.
  • Subscription models have taken the world by storm and have been adopted by several different industries. This trend has changed consumer behaviour significantly and may continue to in future.

What are subscription models?

A sub­scrip­tion mod­el is a busi­ness strat­e­gy that charges cus­tomers a recur­ring fee — typ­i­cal­ly month­ly or annu­al­ly — to access a prod­uct or service.

This mod­el stands in con­trast to the tra­di­tion­al one-time pur­chase approach where the trans­ac­tion is a sin­gle event.

Sub­scrip­tion ser­vices have been around for cen­turies, ini­tial­ly pop­u­larised by news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. How­ev­er, the mod­ern age has seen a sig­nif­i­cant rise in sub­scrip­tion mod­els, which has sev­er­al impacts on con­sumer behav­iour, mar­ket­ing, and commerce.

The shift towards subscription models

The rise of sub­scrip­tion ser­vices in the last decade has caused a dra­mat­ic shift in the way that con­sumers shop. So, what has pro­pelled the ‘sub­scrip­tion econ­o­my’ into such success?

One sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor is the growth of the dig­i­tal world. With the use of the inter­net and mobile devices explod­ing so rapid­ly, com­pa­nies have found it much eas­i­er to offer and man­age sub­scrip­tion mod­els. Since they’re not phys­i­cal prod­ucts, sub­scrip­tion ser­vices can be pro­vid­ed through this dig­i­tal medium.

The con­sumer’s lik­ing for dig­i­tal prod­ucts comes with a pref­er­ence for con­ve­nience – some­thing sub­scrip­tion mod­els can eas­i­ly pro­vide. Users can access a wide range of ser­vices with a click of a but­ton and the flex­i­bil­i­ty to can­cel any­time. Auto­mat­ic renewals and deliv­er­ies make sub­scrip­tions an easy choice over more long-wind­ed pur­chas­ing processes.

Busi­ness­es have also favoured sub­scrip­tion mod­els because they pro­vide a pre­dictable rev­enue stream. This finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty means that they can allo­cate resources else­where more con­fi­dent­ly, whether it’s in prod­uct devel­op­ment or marketing.

These con­tribut­ing fac­tors lead us to where we are today, a world where the enter­tain­ment, soft­ware, and edu­ca­tion sec­tors, to name a few, are sat­u­rat­ed with count­less sub­scrip­tion mod­els on offer. This change has been so huge that it has trans­formed how con­sumers relate to media, cook­ing, shop­ping, and more.

Pros and cons of subscription models for customers

So, is this shift towards sub­scrip­tion mod­els actu­al­ly a good thing? Let’s con­sid­er the pros and cons for cus­tomers to fur­ther exam­ine the life expectan­cy of this enor­mous trend.


  • Sub­scrip­tions reduce the upfront cost for cus­tomers, mak­ing them more accessible.
  • Auto­mat­ic renewals and deliv­er­ies make sub­scrip­tions high­ly con­ve­nient for customers.
  • Many sub­scrip­tions are high­ly flex­i­ble because cus­tomers can scale up and down based on their needs.
  • Sub­scrip­tion providers typ­i­cal­ly ensure cus­tomers have the lat­est updates, fea­tures, and secu­ri­ty enhance­ments with­out addi­tion­al fees.
  • Cus­tomers don’t need to pay for own­er­ship to gain access to a wide range of prod­ucts or content.


  • Sub­scrip­tions are an ongo­ing finan­cial com­mit­ment that adds up over time.
  • Cus­tomers may become over­whelmed by the num­ber of sub­scrip­tions they’re pay­ing for.
  • Some ser­vices make it dif­fi­cult for cus­tomers to can­cel or opt out of their subscriptions.
  • Cus­tomers don’t have access to a per­ma­nent license for things such as soft­ware and may be resent­ful about a ‘rental’ mod­el.
  • Some cus­tomers may have con­cerns about their pri­va­cy as cus­tomer data is often need­ed to per­son­alise sub­scrip­tion services.

Pros and cons of subscription models for businesses

Busi­ness­es must also reck­on with the ben­e­fits and draw­backs of sub­scrip­tion models:


  • Sub­scrip­tions pro­vide busi­ness­es with a steady and pre­dictable rev­enue stream.
  • Long-term rela­tion­ships are built with cus­tomers who pay for subscriptions.
  • Strong rela­tion­ships with cus­tomers give busi­ness­es more oppor­tu­ni­ties to upsell.
  • Busi­ness­es get access to valu­able cus­tomer data, enabling them to tar­get their mar­ket­ing strate­gies more effectively.
  • Sub­scrip­tion mod­els are scaled more eas­i­ly with­out sub­stan­tial costs.


  • The rise of sub­scrip­tion mod­els has increased the mar­ket’s sat­u­ra­tion.
  • It can be expen­sive for busi­ness­es to acquire new sub­scribers due to crowd­ed mar­ket­places and cost­ly mar­ket­ing efforts.
  • Sub­scrip­tion offer­ings must remain com­pelling to keep sub­scribers from can­celling their plans, requir­ing con­tin­u­ous efforts.
  • Sub­scrip­tions can drop when there’s an eco­nom­ic down­turn, which is prob­lem­at­ic when busi­ness­es are reliant on renew­al rates.

Evi­dent­ly, there are both deter­rents and incen­tives for cus­tomers and busi­ness­es when it comes to sub­scrip­tion mod­els. Nev­er­the­less, their pop­u­lar­i­ty pre­vails and there are like­ly to be many new­com­ers to the trend as time goes on. This does­n’t just have impli­ca­tions for com­pa­nies and con­sumers but for the indus­tries themselves.

Impact of subscriptions on various industries

The pop­u­lar­i­ty of sub­scrip­tion mod­els has occurred across sev­er­al indus­tries, chang­ing them sig­nif­i­cant­ly. Let’s exam­ine how each of these indus­tries has been trans­formed since adopt­ing sub­scrip­tion models:

Software and tech

The tech indus­try has ful­ly embraced sub­scrip­tion mod­els, mov­ing away from one-time sales of soft­ware pack­ages to cloud-based, ser­vice-ori­ent­ed offer­ings. While this gives sub­scribers access to free and auto­mat­ed soft­ware updates, some would pre­fer to own these prod­ucts ful­ly. Adobe Cre­ative Cloud and Microsoft Office are some of the most pop­u­lar exam­ples of this.

Entertainment and media

Stream­ing ser­vices have rev­o­lu­tionised media con­sump­tion, turn­ing view­ers towards on-demand dig­i­tal con­tent. This mod­el offers a vast library of con­tent at a fixed month­ly cost, chang­ing how enter­tain­ment is accessed, con­sumed, and val­ued. Net­flix, NOW, and Ama­zon Prime are the largest stream­ing sub­scrip­tion services.

Retail and e‑commerce

Retail sub­scrip­tions pro­vide con­ve­nience, fos­ter­ing brand loy­al­ty and cus­tomer reten­tion. They’ve turned spo­radic in-per­son shop­pers into repeat online cus­tomers, trans­form­ing the tra­di­tion­al shop­ping expe­ri­ence. Ama­zon Prime is the largest e‑commerce plat­form offer­ing a sub­scrip­tion, where­by users can get repeat deliv­er­ies of their favourite every­day items.


In fit­ness, sub­scrip­tion mod­els offer access to online work­out class­es and well­ness apps, pro­vid­ing flex­i­bil­i­ty and vari­ety for users. This has brought fit­ness into the home and put

pres­sure on gyms and fit­ness clubs. Pelo­ton and Stra­va are suc­cess­ful exam­ples of this type of subscription.


E‑learning plat­forms utilise sub­scrip­tions to give learn­ers access to a broad range of cours­es and mate­ri­als, facil­i­tat­ing con­tin­u­ous edu­ca­tion and skill devel­op­ment. This has democ­ra­tised learn­ing, allow­ing any­one with inter­net access to learn at their own pace. Cours­era and Mas­ter­Class are two of the most pop­u­lar providers.

Other sectors

Sub­scrip­tion mod­els are being test­ed in uncon­ven­tion­al sec­tors such as agri­cul­ture, with farm sub­scrip­tions, and util­i­ties, where ener­gy-as-a-ser­vice mod­els are emerg­ing. The food sec­tor is also get­ting involved, with the pop­u­lar HelloFresh deliv­er­ing week­ly meals to peo­ple’s doorsteps. These reflect the ver­sa­tile appli­ca­tion of the sub­scrip­tion mod­el to a vari­ety of cus­tomer needs and lifestyles.

Impact on marketing for one-time purchase models

Mar­ket­ing is just one thing that’s affect­ed by the change from one-time pur­chase mod­els to sub­scrip­tions. If you’re inter­est­ed in offer­ing your cus­tomers a sub­scrip­tion ser­vice, your approach to mar­ket­ing will have to evolve.

Meth­ods that worked for tra­di­tion­al one-time pur­chase mod­els may no longer be effec­tive. So, con­sid­er the following:

Marketing methods will change

One way your mar­ket­ing will need to change is its val­ue propo­si­tion. Mar­ket­ing mes­sages must piv­ot from sell­ing a prod­uct to sell­ing an ongo­ing ser­vice or expe­ri­ence. The mes­sag­ing needs to high­light the con­ti­nu­ity of val­ue, con­ve­nience, and the evolv­ing nature of the ser­vice, rather than just the fea­tures of a sin­gle product.

This may require intro­duc­ing edu­ca­tion­al con­tent because con­sumers may need to be edu­cat­ed on the ben­e­fits of sub­scrip­tion mod­els over tra­di­tion­al pur­chas­es (cost-effec­tive­ness, con­ve­nience, and added val­ue that sub­scrip­tions offer over time).

You’ll also need to intro­duce con­tent mar­ket­ing if you haven’t already. This will keep sub­scribers engaged and reduce churn. Make sure you’re cre­at­ing high-qual­i­ty con­tent reg­u­lar­ly that adds val­ue beyond the core offer­ing, whether that’s through infor­ma­tive blog posts, engag­ing videos, or exclu­sive insights.

Goals will be different

When mar­ket­ing a sub­scrip­tion ser­vice, your focus will be dif­fer­ent. It’s impor­tant that your efforts aim to build long-term rela­tion­ships with cus­tomers – invest­ing in cus­tomer ser­vice, com­mu­ni­ty man­age­ment, and engage­ment strate­gies to main­tain a dia­logue with them. Your mind­set must view the cus­tomer jour­ney as some­thing with long life – from acqui­si­tion to reten­tion, and to loy­al­ty. This means your tar­get­ed mes­sages must be designed to max­imise reten­tion and cus­tomer life­time value.

It must make use of customer data

Sub­scrip­tion ser­vices have the unique advan­tage of hav­ing large amounts of cus­tomer data. It would be fool­ish of mar­keters to not make use of this, as it can be used to cre­ate high­ly tar­get­ed and per­son­alised mes­sages. This data is accrued con­tin­u­ous­ly, always giv­ing busi­ness­es more and more infor­ma­tion about use pat­terns, pref­er­ences, and cus­tomer feedback.

It must tackle issues specific to subscription models

The nature of sub­scrip­tion ser­vices gives rise to a cou­ple of issues that aren’t present in one-time pur­chase mod­els. For exam­ple, mar­keters must be sure their mes­sages answer com­mon con­cerns sub­scribers may have about these kinds of ser­vices. For exam­ple, they could empha­sise trans­paren­cy and build trust by being hon­est about their costs and can­cel­la­tion policies.

Anoth­er issue unique to the sub­scrip­tion mod­el is can­celled con­tracts due to chang­ing pref­er­ences. Sub­scriber pref­er­ences and mar­ket trends inevitably change. As a result, it’s cru­cial that mar­keters of sub­scrip­tions are flex­i­ble. They must reg­u­lar­ly test and update offers and pric­ing mod­els, as well as the pro­mo­tion of dif­fer­ent types of con­tent. This will ensure mar­ket­ing strate­gies keep up with these con­stant changes and keep users engaged.

Future trends for subscription models

So, what can we expect from sub­scrip­tion mod­els as we move into the future? Well, the cur­rent tra­jec­to­ry seems to sug­gest sub­scrip­tions will con­tin­ue to be pop­u­lar. They’re like­ly to pen­e­trate new indus­tries such as health­care and trans­port, mak­ing con­sumer lives even more convenient.

Cus­tomers may also see the rise of micro-sub­scrip­tions, where they pay small­er amounts for high­ly spe­cif­ic ser­vices. Per­haps we’ll see a return of the ear­ly morn­ing milk­men deliveries!

Busi­ness­es are like­ly to try and com­bat sub­scrip­tion fatigue. One such answer to this is sub­scrip­tion lay­er­ing, where­by cus­tomers pay for sev­er­al ser­vices in one pack­age. Com­pa­nies may also give more flex­i­bil­i­ty by offer­ing ‘a la carte’ sub­scrip­tions. They may also offer ‘pause and resume’ fea­tures for cus­tomers look­ing for more con­trol over their contracts.

And final­ly, what’s a dis­cus­sion about ‘the future’ with­out men­tion­ing AI? Advance­ments in this field are like­ly to enhance sub­scrip­tions, being used to per­son­alise expe­ri­ences by adapt­ing to user behav­iour in real time.

These pre­dic­tions sug­gest a future where sub­scrip­tion mod­els are more nuanced and cus­tomer-cen­tric, reflect­ing broad­er eco­nom­ic, tech­no­log­i­cal, and soci­etal shifts. As with any for­ward-look­ing per­spec­tive, these trends should be tak­en as pos­si­bil­i­ties rather than cer­tain­ties, and busi­ness­es will need to remain agile and respon­sive to actu­al mar­ket developments.

Final thoughts

If you’re enticed by the many ben­e­fits of sub­scrip­tion mod­els, it will be cru­cial that your mar­ket­ing efforts are adapt­ed. This field is unique, bring­ing with it a whole dif­fer­ent range of cus­tomer expec­ta­tions and concerns.

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