WooCommerce Subscriptions gets big upgrade

WooCommerce Subscriptions 2.1 is out the door, after more than a year of development. It's a large upgrade and packs a ton of features, as highlighted on the features page. If you're interested in subscriptions for your website, or already run WooCommerce Subscriptions, you'll definitely want to be in the know on this.

Practical new features

Several features that have been added are very practical ones, many of which you only realize are important once you've been running a store for a while.

  • My favorite feature is that now the cancellation date is recorded, in addition to the date the subscription actually cancels. That means that if a customer signs up January 1st and their normal subscription would go through December 31st, but they cancel on March 1st, March 1st is kept as the date they cancelled, even though the subscription will be kept active and in a “pending cancellation” mode until it finally ends on December 31st.
  • Also new, if someone cancels and then changes their mind prior to the actual end date of their subscription, they can go in and re-subscribe straight from a “pending cancellation” status. This may sound odd, but sometimes people change their minds, either as part of a user out-boarding process (emails from the store owner) or because they just have a change of heart.
  • Automatic failed payment retries will surely increase conversion rates on renewals. Automatic payments can fail for a variety of reasons, and added automatic retries will be an obvious win for recurring revenue services.

Actual renewal data, and subscriptions in the API

Finally, Subscription information will be better at hand for reporting purposes. Prior to this release, it has been really frustrating to try and grasp things like renewal rates, lifetime value, and deciphering between new orders and renewal orders in reports. Subscriptions 2.1 makes up for much of this gap with all new reporting features that I'm personally very excited about.

report-subscription-events-by-date

Also, now subscriptions will be readable and manageable via the WooCommerce REST API. Currently, my new favorite thing for keeping a bird's eye view of my store (Metorik) doesn't have subscriptions data. Now, it'll be simpler to implement, because subscription information can be read and updated via the API. I can't wait for the magic of Metorik to encompass the most important component of my eCommerce experience.

Where it falls short

I love WooCommerce Subscriptions for its power and flexibility. However, one feature that falls short, even though 2.1 dances around this feature set, is highly frustrating: email renewal notices.

I have a separate, bloated, awful plugin that I use to send automated renewal notice emails. I just don't see how this feature isn't a priority for the vast majority of stores. And many other subscription plugins have automated renewal reminders built in.

I hope that either in a minor release, or in the next major release (that hopefully won't take a year), we'll see a straightforward setting to set a “time before renewal” number of hours or days, that then automatically sends reminders to subscription holders that their subscriptions are renewing.

Subscriptions 2.1 does introduce three new emails, but not the one that matters most.

In addition to reminder emails, I have one more thing I desperately need and want from subscriptions management: corporate / bulk account management. Thankfully, WooCommerce Subscriptions has a free gifting extension on GitHub, but it's not quite up to the task for proper seat management or bulk accounts without at least some degree of manipulation. Also, because it's not distributed via WooCommerce's website or somewhere with automatic updates, it makes me nervous to use.

I hope that bulk account management goes the extra mile in the next release. It's so close right now, but not quite there right now — especially for less technical users. Other options, like Restrict Content Pro, have gained significant ground on WooCommerce Subscriptions lately because of new features like the two I've just mentioned here.

Of course, my personal emphasis on the need for these features is biased and may not represent the broader market. I personally need these features because they directly and significantly affect my website, time, and support load. But my gut tells me the need for these features goes well beyond me.

The most powerful subscription option on the market

WooCommerce and WooCommerce Subscriptions are the most powerful subscription solution available on the WordPress landscape. Subscriptions are supremely complicated, and nobody knows that better than the team at Prospress. All in all they do an excellent job trying to meet the vast majority of their customers needs without completely over-complicating the interface and design of the plugin. It's a very difficult balance.

WooCommerce and WooCommerce Subscriptions can be overkill for some folks and types of subscription models. But if you sell more than just subscriptions and need WooCommerce for those things, or need anything significantly advanced, then WooCommerce with WooCommerce Subscriptions is still the way to go.

However, Restrict Content Pro and other membership plugins are working hard on more complete feature parity, and in some ways they already surpass WooCommerce's options. And several hosted options (like the newly rebuilt Plasso) are working hard on subscriptions too. This growing eCommerce landscape is still pretty wide open.

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