Subscription Boxes are all the rage right now, don’t believe me? Just look here. But the thing about setting up and running a subscription box is, it’s notoriously complex although rewarding. This is due to the subscription component.
Two main companies have emerged to solve this challenge and are the most popular platforms for subscription box entrepreneurs and businesses alike.
The first platform we looked at is Cratejoy, founded in 2014, a VC funded company that came out of Y Combinator with a smart team behind them based in Austin, Texas.
The second platform we looked at is Subbly, founded around the same time as Cratejoy, by Stefan Pretty an entrepreneur from Scotland. According to podcasts, he bootstrapped Subbly and has since grown to a size which supports a small remote team.
Both platforms seem serious about their direction with very different approaches. So let’s dive right in. We’re going to break this comparison down into nine main categories to review how each platform performs across the board.
Skip the the section of interest or scroll down below to read the full analysis.
Cratejoy’s pricing is relatively straight forward. $39/month + (1.25% + $0.10) per transaction.
If you want to use their marketplace then there is an additional 11.25% + $0.10 per transaction. This means the total can be 12.5% + $0.20 per transaction through the marketplace. Which is quite a chunk. We’ll go into this later.
One thing to mention is the $0.10 does need to be considered, for example if you convert that $0.10 to a percentage of say an average price point of $20, then it’s actually 0.5% which means if you wrote it as a percentage it would be 1.75% as a total transaction fee — Worth considering, it depends on your price point of your box.
Finally if you want to use the refer-a-friend tool that Cratejoy offer the cost is $99 more per month, bringing the total to $138/mo.
Subbly is a platform which originally started as a payment system for subscription box businesses. It currently has 3 pricing tiers starting from $29 and going up to $189 per month, which appear to involve not much difference between them in terms of core features, some things are unlocked like the blog and customer email editing.
However the transaction fees do differ from plan to plan. The cheapest plan called “Launch” is $29/month has a transaction fee of 2%. The most expensive plan called “Scale” is $189/month and has a transaction fee of only 0.5%. So this is really useful for reducing costs as you grow.
It looks like you get everything you need to run your subscription using the Launch plan.
Both have a 14 day free trial. I was also able to extend my trial on Subbly.
Both are considerably cheaper than coding your own website or using a stack of plugins and other platforms.
However, it seems that Subbly has slightly more scalable pricing and a lower entry point for starting out, although the transaction fee is a touch higher you are not spending as much cash up front.
But these things change frequently with businesses of this nature. I will try to keep this up to date if either change.
Cratejoy’s on-boarding is straight forward, you are taken through a setup process and their self help guides are pretty organised and extensive. One thing to note is their customer support isn’t so readily available during this stage. I think you could get something basic setup in a couple of hours.
Similar to Cratejoy, they also have a simple step by step process to get setup. Their help articles are maybe not quite as extensive, however, from the get-go and the same as their marketing website, they have live chat support from the moment you sign up and even on your free trial. Quite impressive.
Both are really quite smooth in terms of on-boarding, no clear winner really. Subbly has a slightly different layout but there are also a lot of similarities.
Cratejoy’s has a nice selection of themes to choose from, last I counted there was 10, they are nice and fit for purpose for a subscription business. Their editor is semi drag and drop and once you get used to it, it is easy enough to use. They also allow editing the HTML of template itself if you know what you’re doing.
Subbly also have a nice selection of themes to choose from, I count 6, not quite as many as Cratejoy, but they are quite diverse and different from one another and come with various different benefits. Each theme seems quite customisable. The editor itself is easy-ish to use. You can also edit the HTML if you know what you’re doing. The ability to upload images directly on the website is nice.
To be honest both have room for improvement here, but they are enough to get the job done and get you launched which is what their goal is. Some patience may be required, they are both somewhat limited and generally similar with slightly different layouts, but overall they’re decent. I would like to see more from both. They will definitely get you up and running.
One thing worth mentioning is that Subbly makes it pretty clear that if you get stuck you can actually use a credit system (you appear to get free credits when you signup for the trial) to ask one of their team to help customise your theme. On the other hand Cratejoy gave me information about their partner trusted web designers. This seems pretty useful if you’re wanting something specific, and given my experience with their support was very good and they were fast I can only assume the same for them making edits to your theme.
Setting up a product on Cratejoy is an easy and pleasant experience. The reason for this is because they limit your choices and give you a template to work with basically. It makes it painless and they seem to have done the hard work for you. I like this.
The flip side is that they seem to only offer monthly billing with a specific configuration.
My guess it’s to do with their focus on the marketplace they have, more on that later.
On Subbly this initially was a little overwhelming, but, this is because they gave me plenty of options to choose from giving me full control without having to ask for it.
One thing I will note is that there were some extra options with Subbly as well such as commitment periods and pre-order periods and more which seem to be useful features which I would need to investigate further. But they seem to be a little more advanced. The commitment period feature sounds really interesting though.
Cratejoy have an easier user interface here, but less control and less billing options. Subbly at first might be confusing here but there are a ton more options like quarterly and bi-monthly billing, and even some powerful looking features that Cratejoy didn’t have. Both had cut-off dates and re-billing, but again with Cratejoy you have to unlock the ability to set custom cut-off and shipping dates.
Cratejoy’s checkout is pretty standard, it has a cart and has a basic up-sell feature. It works. If you want to add an on-boarding flow to collect customer preferences you can but it’s not the smoothest and requires some coding know how from what I can determine.
Subbly seem to excel here, they have a really nice checkout flow, it’s intuitive and slick. They are missing a cart but they make up for it with their really impressive “survey builder” which basically is a way to build a nice on-boarding flow. They have a drag and drop interface which is neat. They even allow doing a “make your own subscription” or “build-a-box” type of survey that adjusts the final price and no coding is required. Colour me impressed, I love that they have focused on making their checkout. Also it turns out you can embed their checkout direct onto any website which could be useful for anyone with an existing website.
Overall I LOVE Subbly’s checkout especially the survey builder they provide. Very intuitive. The lack of cart and built in up-sell is mitigated by their survey builder and impressive design. Still room for improvement for both. One thing I will give credit to Cratejoy for is allowing choosing the subscription “term” in their checkout flow. Subbly could maybe improve that a little bit. But well done Subbly.
Cratejoy allow generating shipping labels directly in their admin which is neat. The rates aren’t the best but it certainly makes a simple experience. They also have some integrations with other platforms including Pirate Ship, but PirateShip appear to allow importing a CSV.
Subbly have an integration with ShipStation which unlocks a lot of possibilities although that does mean a slight added cost. But they also allow for exporting.
I didn’t get into this too much as I ended up going with Subbly. But overall it does appear Cratejoy make it a touch easier initially, but really if you’re serious you will end up using your own logistic solution no doubt and both allow exporting the necessary data.
Cratejoy’s support is helpful, although it can take a couple of days sometimes to get a response, which can be frustrating as you’re trying to run a business. Their help articles are extensive as mentioned earlier and they have a lot of useful info in there.
Subbly have live chat support and if they’re not online I got a response within hours at all times, usually minutes though! This is super comforting when you’re trying to learn how to use a product or have an emergency.
I think Subbly have the edge with their customer support here. I personally really appreciate solid customer support and waiting for a response is irritating especially if I have a business relying on it.
Both platforms have accompanying communities with a decent number of members on each, more so on Cratejoy but they are the bigger company after all. This is a useful resource for learning, also both companies have helpful blog posts about starting a subscription box. Cratejoy have theirs on a separate website though called Subscription School.
Cratejoy has a marketplace which makes getting your initial customers easy. In fact it seems to be quite a big focus of Cratejoy and perhaps the direction their business is going. The marketplace is pretty useful if you get featured on there but it’s also very expensive coming to 12.5% transaction fee + the 20 cents.
Apart from that Cratejoy also have a refer-a-friend built in tool which costs an extra $99/month and the usual coupons and email integrations etc.
Subbly has not got a marketplace, their focus does appear to be on providing tools and the platform for you to do the marketing yourself.
That said, they do offer the refer-a-friend tool for no extra monthly fee, just an additional 2-5% (depending on plan) transaction fee, which seems reasonable as it’s a pay on referral success type deal.
The marketplace Cratejoy has is no doubt ideal for getting started with less effort, but I am hesitant to say it’s the right way as I can see this being an issue with the cost of it and it limiting your future growth after a certain point. I guess it comes down to your goals of running your business.
But both platforms do a good job of providing all the necessary essentials to do your own marketing including integrations.
Cratejoy have a bunch of integrations in their App Store, which unlocks doors including one to CartHook which is good for cart abandonment. Not much to really say here. They do a good job of this. They do also appear to have more payment gateways integrated, but really seem to prefer you using Stripe (which Subbly supports).
Subbly also has a nifty App Store with some good initial integrations. It looks like it’s relatively new on Subbly but it makes adding things like Google Analytics code free.
Subbly seems to only integrate with Stripe, this could be a negative thing for existing businesses. Personally I don’t see an issue as I think Stripe are just as good as any if not the best.
However one really great thing is Subbly has an integration with Zapier, which unlocks basically all the doors.
Both do a good job here with their app stores. Subbly does have the Zapier integration which is awesome. But Cratejoy have the additional payment gateways. I guess both will improve over time and close the gap.
Overall I can see why Cratejoy is considered the biggest in the industry, it’s easy to use, they have a marketplace and they are on mission. But it does seem their mission is more focused on the marketplace which is a bit of a question mark in terms of whether this is good for the industry or for your business in general in the long run (especially if you plan on selling or scaling). As a marketeer I believe a marketplace should be a supplement and it shouldn’t be as expensive as 12.5%.
Subbly is the bootstrapped underdog, but I have to love them. They’re by no means short, and in fact I ended up choosing them. I love their support, their checkout and their direction (Public roadmap). They haven’t got a marketplace which some may see as a negative, but I am versed in marketing and so I actually prefer this (maybe I am biased).
I guess I already let the cat out the bag, but Subbly is my pick. I am excited to see them continue on the path they seem to be going with grit and determination, and the direction they are taking with their product.
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