3 Key Things to Test in Your Subscription Flow for Improved UX and Conversion

By Helen King
October 24, 2023

Websites for product subscriptions are layered user experiences. Compared with non-subscription e-commerce sites, they combine two concepts for new customers to grasp:

1. the product you offer (what it is, how it’s different), and

2. the subscription service you provide (how it works, why subscribe).

While your product subscription may seem straightforward, new customers can misunderstand the full picture of your product and the subscription when they land on your site. The result? They miss the value proposition of what you offer and how it will fit into their lives.

To assess the clarity of your subscription site, consider usability testing with customers in your target audience to get their perspective.

And to maximize usability testing? Focus on the most critical aspects of your subscription UX that impact conversion.

What makes subscriptions unique e-commerce experiences

Direct-to-consumer product subscriptions are becoming more and more ubiquitous. A subscription model offers customers convenient access to the products they use on a regular basis. 

While consumers are becoming more familiar with product subscriptions, these e-commerce sites share conversion challenges with non-subscription products while also having unique challenges that can complicate conversion. A few reasons for this complexity:

  • Subscriptions can feel more risky to consumers because they present a greater commitment than a one-time purchase. This can feel particularly daunting to customers when it’s a new product to them. 
  • Consumers can have negative perceptions and skepticism about subscriptions. They may assume subscriptions are trying to “lock” them in or they’ve felt burned by rigid subscription terms in the past.
  • Subscriptions come in different models with various options for customization, commitments or fees. Your customers may bring expectations based on previous experiences with subscriptions that don’t match your model. 

To determine how to overcome consumers’ sense of risk, skepticism or inaccurate expectations of your subscription product, design a usability test to evaluate three aspects of your site from the perspective of customers in your target audience:

  1. The story of your product.
  2. The clarity of your subscription.
  3. The ease of finding product details.

Focus 1: The Story of Your Product

A picture is worth a thousand words. But what is the wrong picture worth?

Your site may provide extensive information about your product. Even so, most customers will scan the site quickly to decide if it’s right for them. Images, graphics and copy headers can do wonders to help users quickly understand your offering without too much mental work. 

Unfortunately, visuals and copy can also give customers a wrong impression of what it is you offer. For example:

  • You offer a range of products but they only perceive it as one. 
  • Your product is personalized but they understand it as one-fits-all.
  • Your product is premium but they don’t see a difference from competitive products.

Many new customers will come to your website without a frame of reference for your brand or product. It can be difficult to know how the story you tell about your product translates to customers without testing your site with them to see what they take away. 

When you put together your usability test, consider including tasks and prompts for evaluating the story of your product:

  1. Ask what questions they have about your product at the beginning of the sign up flow. Then ask them again when they reach the end. This will highlight how and where they learn about your product, or their questions that go unanswered. 
  2. After reviewing your home page, have them describe in their own words what the site offers. Compared to their articulated questions, their interpretation will uncover any aspects of your product they misconstrue. 
  3. Ask them to compare the product to what they can purchase somewhere else: how it’s similar or how it’s different. This comparison prompt will indicate the category they put your product in, and how they interpret any differentiators.

Evaluating the story of your product through your usability test will help detect gaps in customers’ understanding of the product, how it compares to other solutions, and the value it provides. 

You’ll then be equipped to better educate customers about your product and its most meaningful differentiators.

Focus 2: The Clarity of Your Subscription

Because customers can be skeptical about subscriptions, they need to understand exactly how your product subscription works to build trust and confidence in their decision to sign up.  

Despite including content on your site about how the subscription works, customers can still have questions or misconceptions about the details. Some ways this can happen:

  • They don’t see that the product is a subscription until checkout. They feel surprised and put off after having gotten this far in the flow without it being clear. 
  • They misinterpret terms on your site used to describe the subscription, like “plan,” “regimen,” “membership,” or “club,” that leave room for different meanings. 
  • They either don’t see or don’t understand the subscription details. As a result, they fear the subscription won’t be flexible to meet their needs and timing, and they could get charged for products they don’t want.

To evaluate the clarity of your subscription, consider including certain tasks or prompts in your usability test:

  1. When they first see the subscription selections, ask them to talk through their options and which would work best for them. Hearing their understanding of the purchase options will help reveal confusion around one-time or subscription orders. It can also highlight confusion around subscription details like frequency, benefits or requirements. 
  2. As they review their cart before checking out, prompt them to describe what is included in their order. How they understand the different items can indicate confusion around subscription pricing, ongoing shipments, or how add-on products work. 
  3. Include a prompt asking what questions they have about their order. If you use specific terms for your subscription like “regimen” or “plan,” make the prompt specific to this term. You may hear questions around the terms used, the subscription requirements, or the ability to cancel, edit or pause their orders. 

Evaluating the clarity of your subscription will uncover if/when customers understand it’s a subscription, and potential aspects of subscribing that could cause confusion, hesitation or turn them away.

You’ll have a greater understanding of how to communicate the big picture of what customers are signing up for, and build confidence around the subscription aspect of your offering.

Focus 3: The Ease of Finding Product Details 

Some customers will jump right in to your sign-up flow. Others will need to learn more about the product and their different options before feeling ready to get started. 

You can have product details on your site but customers may not be able to find them. Some ways this happens:

  • Customers want to browse the different products before sign-up but their options are buried in the sign-up flow – not on the main pages within navigation.
  • They want a sense of product pricing before they go through sign up, but can’t easily find the pricing within the site.
  • All the product information is available on the site but the navigation titles and CTAs don’t clearly direct them to what they need. 

When you design your usability test, consider including tasks and prompts for evaluating the ease of finding product details:

  1. As a first task, have them show where they would go first on the site while sharing their thoughts. You may know from analytics and session recording analysis common user paths, but this exercise can reveal more about the information customers are seeking when they go to specific areas of the site.
  2. In a series of prompts, ask them what questions they have about purchasing from the site. Then, have them show where they would go to get answers to their questions. Lastly, ask them to share whether they found the information they were looking for. 
  3. Prompt them to open the navigation menu. Then ask them to describe what they can do on the site based on what they see in navigation. This show-and-tell prompt will highlight how they understand the navigation terms and site structure. 

By evaluating the ease of finding product details on your site, you’ll uncover ways in which the language and structure of the site either match or conflict with customers’ expectations and mental models.

You can use the learnings to inform the site information architecture, calls-to-action and key flows to better support your customers in finding what they need. 

Simplifying a potentially complex combination of product + subscription

Before assuming your product subscription is clear, keep in mind that customers may see it differently. 

Taking the time to strategically test your product subscription sign-up flow will help align your product with your customers’ way of seeing things. It will make your sign-up flow a more intuitive experience and help remove unnecessary friction that may be hurting your site’s conversion rates.

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