Subscriptions and Auto-Ordering: The next step of one-click ordering (commerce)

Woman holding a package

By Ian Cahill, associate director of innovation and mobility at VMLY&R Kansas City

E-commerce is second nature in American culture today. Over 14% of all retail sales happen online and this is expected to grow in the coming years.  It’s not just retail business taking advantage of online sales, many start-ups are finding success with exclusive online sales as well.

VMLY&R works with many clients to help them understand the advantages of a good commerce experience online. This includes the right user experience to get someone from product to payment quicker and easier.

Apple and Google Pay implementations on many websites have ushered in a world where one click buying is a table stakes option for web and app. Consumers are content bypassing the tedious entry of billing information and many brands are more than happy to lower the barrier of entry to purchase.

With the comfort level of purchasing with digital wallets, brands are looking for ways to make the process even easier. Imagine a user automatically getting product they need without actively moving through a shopping cart. Imagine no more. The concept of subscriptions and automated ordering is creeping into more and more e-commerce sites.

Subscriptions are the next frontier. The concept started with the “box” model, which is still prevalent today in companies like BarkBox and Birchbox. Consumers sign up for a service with a known or “mystery” component shipped to them on a monthly basis.

The concept of a subscription, however, is starting to bleed into other aspects of everyday e-commerce. Some shops are prompting users to convert a normal one-time purchase into a “subscribe and save” option at checkout.

Not only does this ensure on-going revenue for the brand, but also gives the consumer a hands-off way to reorder items they use on-going.

Reoccurring purchases aren’t exactly a new concept, but the on-demand initiation is slowly becoming a unique opportunity for certain brands. According to McKinsey, the subscription e-commerce market has grown by more than 100 percent a year over the past five years. 

In addition to finding new ways to prompt users to enroll in subscription services, some brands are turning to AI and hyper personalization to determine which products are appropriate for users and then predicting when they will need to reorder them.  

There is an expected level of attrition when users are set on receiving products at a set time frame like monthly or quarterly. This is because consumers use products in different ways based on their environment.

What if Artificial Intelligence steps in?

Take for example, a user who orders a toothbrush and toothpaste online. The variance of how much a user brushes means one customer might need to order more frequently than another. But insert a smart toothbrush that can track how many times a user is brushing and can automatically trigger an order for a new brush and paste when a certain threshold is met. This puts the consumer in a whole new realm of non-shopping for essential goods.

Imagine this automaton for anything you can attach to a smart device. Dishwashing pods, dishwasher detergent, razors, the list goes on and on. This sort of usage tracking will become more and more prevalent.

With the advent of 5G and sensors becoming cheaper and cheaper, we could see the dawn of a new usage collection data surge. Your hair conditioner is almost empty? An order has been placed and will arrive before your current bottle runs out.

Airwick is already leveraging this type of technology with their Smart Diffuser platform. Using the data from your blue-tooth-enabled diffuser, Airwick, along with an app keeps track of how refills are being used and can reorder or notify you when you need new ones or offer alternative scents.

This concept of data sharing is becoming more and more accessible and will no doubt become the next chapter of e-commerce.