WooCommerce Wednesdays: How to sell subscription products using WooCommerce

11 min read
Bradley Taylor

Once reserved to services and select items like magazines, subscription models are quickly growing as an effective method of selling ecommerce products.

Subscriptions offer customers a frictionless reordering experience while giving businesses a predictable way to drive consistent sales.

In this post, we will examine how you can use WooCommerce to power your subscription-based ecommerce business.

Get paid fast and keep more of what you sell

Keep more of what you sell — whether that's online or in-person — thanks to the lowest payment processing rates in the industry. With GoDaddy Payments, you get the quick and easy way to get started, approved and taking credit card payments with no set-up fees, long-term contracts, or hidden charges.

You’ll only pay a low fee, starting at 2.3% plus $0.30 per transaction, and get your money the next business day.

And with the GoDaddy Payments Smart Terminal point-of-sale hardware, you can seamlessly manage your in-person and online transactions all in one place.

What are the benefits of offering subscription products?

Recurring revenue and improved loyalty

The most obvious advantage to enrolling customers in a subscription is the potential source of recurring revenue.

If a customer subscribes to reorder items every month, you have turned someone who may have not bought from you again into a repeat buyer.

By providing a valuable product with a convenient service, you make it easy for customers to buy from you. This is great for boosting customer loyalty and ultimately customer lifetime value.

Better forecasting

Subscriptions make forecasting easier. When you sell subscription products, you know a certain number of customers will be recording products over the weeks and months.

This makes managing inventory easier as you get better insight into how much stock you need to have.

It won’t be exact, as some customers will cancel their subscription while others may adjust their plan.

Enhanced customer experience

Subscriptions give you the ability to create highly personalized experiences for your customers. If you have a subscription box you can let shoppers customize the contents to suit their needs. Personalized products can increase the value of your subscription plan helping to inspire even more customer loyalty.

Subscription models for ecommerce sellers

Recurring subscriptions

Recurring or replenishment subscriptions are the simplest form of ecommerce subscription model. With this approach, you let customers subscribe to receive a product on a recurring basis.

This could be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly based on when the customer needs to restock.

Replenishment subscriptions typically offer customers a discounted price for signing up for reorders. The best example is the Subscribe and Save option offered by Amazon.

Subscription boxes

With a subscription box, customers sign up to receive an assorted box of goods at recurring intervals. The box contains a specific set of products or a random unknown grouping of products. Dollar Shave Club is an example of a popular subscription box.

Curation services

With a curation subscription, customers sign up for a monthly membership in which they can select a unique set of products to receive. This allows members a flexible shopping experience where they can items according to their needs.

How to add subscription products to WooCommerce

1. Download WooCommerce subscription plugin

To add subscription products to your WooCommerce store, you first want to download the WooCommerce Subscriptions extension.

The plugin will give you the ability to create physical or virtual products with automatic recurring payments and reordering.

There are tons of ways to customize your subscription offering to your business needs whether it is adding sign-up fees, offering free trials, or limiting the use of discounts.

2. Configure the plugin settings

After you activate the plugin, you can configure the settings by going to WooCommerce > Settings > Subscriptions.

The first setting you will see is the Add to cart button text. When you create a subscription product, the default add to cart is replaced with a new button containing the text in the field. You can modify the button text to show your desired call-to-action for the subscription purchase.

Further down, you will find settings for handling your subscription renewals. By default, Accept Manual Renewals is disabled. You will likely want to keep it this way as it ensures that everyone’s subscription is set up to seamlessly renew without interruption.

Early renewals are enabled by default. These let a customer pay for their subscription before the next payment date. Obviously, you will probably want this on as you don’t want to inhibit your customer from choosing to continue their description.

Finally, down in the Miscellaneous section, there are a few settings you should enable. First, select Allow $0 initial checkout without a payment method. With this enabled, customers who sign up for a free trial or a subscription where products are not initially delivered will have the option to complete the order without having to give their payment details.

This can help improve conversions as some people sign up for subscription trials with the intention of canceling before the trial period is over. Many of these customers will feel more comfortable not having their payment details on file as they will not need to remember to cancel the plan in time.

Next, enable Mixed Checkout. This will allow a subscription product to be purchased with other products in the same transaction, including simple, variable and other non-subscription products as well as multiple different subscription products.

Finally, you want to select Enable automatic retry of failed recurring payments. If a customer’s payment fails, the extension will retry the payment method up to five times over a week-long period before marking the payment as failed.

Confirm automatic payments are active

Once you save your settings, go to WooCommerce > Settings > Payments to make sure that one of your enabled payment methods supports Automatic Recurring Payments. If a payment method is compatible with the extension, it will have a check as seen in the image below.

After that, you’re all set to begin creating your subscription to products.

3. Create a subscription product

To create a subscription product, go to Products > Add New. Scroll to the Product data tab and select Simple Subscription or Variable Subscription.

A Simple Subscription product is essentially the subscription version of a simple WooCommerce product. If there are no variations for the item, this is the option you want to choose.

Enter the details for the subscription including the price, billing interval, billing period, along with the sign-up fee and free trial if you have them.

You can charge renewal payments using daily, weekly, monthly or annual intervals. If you want subscriptions to renew indefinitely, leave the Expire after field with Never expire.

Variable Subscriptions allow you to turn your variable WooCommerce products into subscriptions products. Beyond giving customers the ability to select items with different attributes, a Variable Subscription lets you set unique subscription terms for each variation.

One-time shipping

In some cases, you may not need to ship items more than once with a subscription. For example, you might offer a cell phone with a data plan where the initial payment includes the phone and the subsequent months only include the data.

With the one-time shipping option, customers will only be charged for shipping on the initial payment instead of having it automatically included with each renewal.

To turn on one-time shipping for a subscription product, go to the Edit Product page and select the Shipping tab.

Enable One-time shipping and save the product.

Synchronized product

By default, WooCommerce Subscriptions schedules the recurring subscription payment for the same date of every month. If you only want to ship on certain days of the month or want all customers’ payments to renew at a single date, you can use the extension to sync your subscription products.

To enable synchronized products, return to the WooCommerce subscriptions settings and activate the feature.

4. Managing your subscriptions

To manage your subscriptions, go to WooCommerce > Subscriptions.

From there you can handle most of the tasks needed to handle your subscriptions. This includes the ability to suspend or cancel a subscription, change the trial expiration, add items, shipping, fees, or taxes to the subscription or modify the recurring total for future payments.

There are other ways to manage your subscriptions. For example, if you want to temporarily disable renewals and recurring payments from being processed for a certain period of time you can use the DISABLE_WP_CRON constant.

To help your customers view and manage their subscriptions, WooCommerce Subscriptions adds a My Subscriptions section to your store’s My Account page.

If you want to customize the information displayed in this section, the template can be changed the same way core WooCommerce templates can be overridden.

The template is called my-subscriptions.php and is located under the /myaccount/ folder. To override it in your theme, copy the /templates/myaccount/my-subscriptions.php file found in the WooCommerce Subscriptions plugin folder to your theme using the location: /woocommerce/myaccount/my-subscriptions.php.

The Subscriptions extension communicates with stakeholders and customers using a variety of different email messages.

  • New Renewal Order: This message is sent when a subscription renewal payment is processed. By default, it is sent to the store manager. You can also choose to send the notification to your fulfillment centers or dropshipping suppliers.
  • Processing Renewal Order: This message is sent to a subscriber when their subscription payment is processed. The message can be triggered by both manually paying a renewal invoice or automatically charging the recurring payment.
  • Completed Renewal Order: This message is sent to a customer when their subscription renewal is marked complete.
  • Customer Renewal Invoice: This message is sent to a customer when their subscription is up for renewal and it needs a manual payment. This could be due to a failed payment method or the use of manual rewards. The email will include the renewal information and payment links.

You can customize the recipients for subscription emails by going to WooCommerce > Settings > Emails. If you use our Managed WooCommerce Stores hosting you can customize the design of your emails without the need for a third-party plugin. You can do so by going to Marketing > Emails.

Here you will see your sender details and the default email template. To edit the template, click Customize.

To set your subscription email recipients using the GoDaddy Marketing dashboard select Emails, located next to the settings icon. On the following page, you will see a list of all your WooCommerce emails. Go to the Extensions section. There you will see the various subscription emails.

Find an email notification that you want to edit and click the title. You will then be able to define the message’s settings including the recipients, subject line, and email type (HTML, plain text, or multipart).

5. Improve retention by offering coupons and discounts

A big challenge of selling subscription products is reducing churn. Many sellers get so caught up in getting new subscribers that they forget to create an experience that makes customers want to stay enrolled long term. Plus, many customers will enroll in a subscription with the intention of only testing the service. After receiving one or two deliveries they end up canceling the plan.

Some amount of churn is inevitable but there are steps you can take to motivate customers to stick with their subscription.

One such way is to offer customers coupons and discounts. With the Recurring Product Discount coupon discount, customers can see an ongoing reduction in their subscription payments. For example, a 10% discount would turn a $50 payment into a $45 subscription.

Go to WooCommerce > Coupons and create a new coupon. For the discount type, select Recurring Product Discount or Recurring Product % Discount.

Set the coupon amount and if you want to limit the discount, set the max number of times it can be used.


Ecommerce subscriptions will continue to grow as customers and merchants both enjoy the many advantages. If you want to make the most of this model, you should regularly communicate with your customers to determine what will provide the most value. You can then set up a subscription service that not only attracts new subscribers but keeps them for the long term.