Subscription Boxes are all the rage right now. Although rewarding if successful, setting up and running a subscription box can be problematic. There’s a lot of unseen complexity involved with the technical components required to operate a subscription offering.
While there’s a few different ways you could go about it, two of the largest companies in the subscription box space have developed their own turnkey solutions which are suitable for all types of entrepreneurs and business owners.
Both Subbly and Cratejoy have emerged with platforms and APIs which solve many of the challenges subscription box entrepreneurs and businesses will face.
In this article we will review Cratejoy and we’ll also review Subbly so you can make an informed choice.
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Cratejoy, founded in 2014 is a VC funded company that came out of Y Combinator. They have a sizable, smart team behind them and are based in Austin, Texas, USA.
Subbly was founded around the same time as Cratejoy, by Stefan Pretty an entrepreneur from Scotland. Unlike Cratejoy, Subbly is bootstrapped and has grown to a size which supports a small, mostly remote team. They seem to have headquarters split between Los Angeles, USA and Edinburgh, Scotland.
Both platforms seem serious about their direction but have slightly different approaches with their product and the markets they target. By raw numbers, we can assume Cratejoy is the larger of the two by some margin.
So let’s dive right in. We’re going to break this comparison down into ten 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. It seems you have 3 main options.
View Cratejoy’s pricing page here
1 – You can sell using their platform and pay 11.25% in transaction fees + $0.10 on all sales (see image above). That’s quite a chunk taken out per sale, but perhaps an easy starting point to test the waters of your idea.
2 – For $19 a month + 1.25% and $0.10 in transaction fees you just use their back-end systems and not be tied down with any particular platform (including theirs). So you can do more of your own thing with greater flexibility (and obviously higher profit margin from the reduced transaction fees). What you miss (without financial penalty) is inclusion into their marketplace ecosystem.
3 – Lastly, for $39 per month + 1.25% and $0.10 in transaction fees you get the added benefit of having your own website with everything included. This is probably the ultimate turnkey solution although you still need to pay 10% per transaction fee if you want to be included in their marketplace
One thing to mention is the $0.10 may seem small, but if your subscription box is moderately priced, this can be a reasonable percentage of your revenue. For example if you convert $0.10 to a percentage of an average box price point of $20, then it’s actually 0.5% which means if you added that into the rest of the transaction percentage it would total 1.75% not 1.25%. This is worth considering, but it all depends on your price point of your box and the margins you’re operating at.
It seems Cratejoy have more recently removed a previous option to use their refer-a-friend tool that cost $99 more per month, which brought the total to $138/mo for number 3 above.
Subbly’s pricing history reflects its roots. Subbly started as a platform which focused on the payment system for subscription box businesses. It seems they have since evolved quite rapidly into a larger product offering that resembles Cratejoy.
Subbly has recently removed one of their existing pricing tiers and now just has two main options, both of which have free trials. So instead of offering a free standalone option like Cratejoy, there’s just two paid options.
1 – $14 per month plus 1% transaction fee will get you the checkout only version similar to Cratejoy’s #2 option above. This gives you the subscription checkout features you need but you need to BYO your own website.
2 – The second option includes more of the turnkey solution similar to that of Cratejoy’s #3 option. Although you’re saving $10 per month on the licencing fee and again, only paying 1% transaction fees.
Subbly also make reference to an enterprise solution (at an undisclosed cost), but we couldn’t find a comparable option on Cratejoy’s website at the time of writing.
Both platforms provide options that are considerably cheaper than coding your own website or using a stack of plugins and other platforms.
It appears that only Subbly makes clear reference to a 14 day free trial which we found out is able to be extended at special request. Cratejoy also offers this, but it’s more visible on the registration page as opposed to the pricing page.
Cratejoy’s monthly fees are a little higher for both paid options with higher transaction fees across the board. Although, they do make reference to the Cratejoy ‘marketplace’, again at another high percentage cost, whereas Subbly does not mention a marketplace of their own.
Marketplaces aside, Subbly seems to have simpler and higher value pricing for a business owner who wants to keep a tight eye on their profit margins (which can be slimmer than most people think).
Note: pricing tends to change frequently with businesses of this nature so check the links above and meanwhile I’ll try to keep this up to date if either change. Total costs and fees will ultimately depend on the number of boxes you sell each time period and for what price, making a direct comparison between the two platforms difficult.
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. You could get something basic setup in a couple of hours of time invested in the online onboarding.
Similar to Cratejoy, they also have a simple step by step process to get setup. One difference is that from the get-go Subbly has live chat support active on the website. We tested this and within minutes we were talking to a customer support person. Cratejoy didn’t have this option available.
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. Perhaps Subbly wins here given there seems to be more instantaneous support available should you have any curly questions before you start the process.
Cratejoy’s has a nice selection of themes to choose from – it seems 6 in total including: Delight, Betterman, Fashion, Joybox, Tasty and Pre-Launch Basic. They seem nice and fit for purpose for most subscription box businesses.
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 has a nice selection of pre-built themes to choose from. There were 6 we could find: Espreso, Oceania, Coming Soon, Fortitude, Sunrise and The Original Subbly Theme. All seem quite diverse and different from one another.
Subbly also has a drag and drop designer to build your own website theme. The editor itself is very easy 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 the pre-built themes are all solid and will get the job done. You can launch on both platforms pretty quicly and that is what your goal should be really.
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 improvements from both over time.
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 us 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.
In terms of this section – it’s a tie.
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. This is a great feature.
The flip side is that they seem to only offer monthly billing with a specific configuration. Our guess is that this has to do with their focus on the marketplace which they seem to be pushing. More on that later in this article.
On Subbly, configuring products was initially was a little overwhelming, but, this is because there were so many options to choose from which gave us full control without having to ask for it.
There were some extra options with Subbly including commitment periods, pre-order periods and more. These all seem to be useful features but we’d need to investigate them further as 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 we 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 Subbly wins again here.
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 we already let the cat out the bag, but Subbly is our pick. We’re excited to see both continue on the path they seem to be going on with grit and determination. Over the past 2 years we’ve seen both platforms continue to develop and improve. When this happens, the customer wins.
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