Product guide: Recurring Billing Apps

Recurring billing is a simple concept and not a new one either although perhaps in the digital age, it has had something of a makeover. 

A merchant, trader or retailer sets up a schedule which charges the customer pre-arranged amounts on defined dates for good or services.  Anything that is reasonably regular such as a subscription payment or frequent stock order is an ideal candidate for recurring billing but there is more to this software than just that.

Where do recurring billing apps fit into the picture?

Recurring billing used to occupy a niche spot in the marketplace with only a few large companies able to implement software to collect payments in this way.  But increasingly, technology is revolutionising the way we pay for goods and services.  More and more companies are accessing innovative software to open up traditional and ad hoc payment methods and move customers onto a regular payment based service.

The picture is bigger than just subscriptions

Recurring billing software can be used to collect payments on anything that is ordered more than once, just twice is sufficient for the ears of the recurring billing software to prick up and take notice.  The idea is it makes life easier for the customer and potentially more profitable for the business as they can secure their customer from possibly straying elsewhere, offering ease of repeat business and convenience.

Most of what we purchase as consumers is mind-numbingly repetitive, just think about the contents of your grocery trolley week in week out!  But there is more.  Artificial intelligence allows the repeat order process to offer variety if it thinks you would like that.  So recurring billing can be responsive and creative not just static.

More and more companies are introducing this concept often via a membership option which takes account of erratic regularity in customer purchasing habits.  This is not a contradiction in terms rather it reflects the fact that people do often buy the same thing but the frequency of their purchases can vary enormously from one month to the next.

Reinventing the wheel

As with many good ideas, this concept is not new.  Several years ago in the UK, there used to a be a postal Book Club which you signed up for and were sent monthly boxes of good reads.  If you didn’t want them you could send them back.  The monthly subscription began after the first box.  There was a similar scheme running with crates of wine.  This was all inertia selling – people just got a bit lazy and didn’t send the goods back, it was easier to keep them as although they might not like all the contents of the box, there was bound to be something in there that would keep them interested.

This rather took a pounding from the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act in 1971 which made it an offence to send people items they had not previously ordered.  However, the concept was tweaked and carried on in a monthly subscription format.  Herald the digital era and this forms the essence of recurring billing software.

A new business model in Ecommerce

So-called continuation fees are becoming increasingly popular amongst many retailers in a wide variety of sectors pushing different goods and services.  The benefits to the business are self-evident, securing trade, promoting customer loyalty and retention whilst minimising some elements of the order process through streamlining and smart systems.  It is the hottest trend around and is called, ‘The Subscription Economy’.  A great example of this is the service offered by Amazon called Amazon Prime which has been massively successful.  Amazon Prime has more than 100 million members in the US alone.

This is crafting a different marketplace as recurring billing systems are being used in ever more innovative ways to effectively change the way consumers shop and acquire services.  So don’t just think about recurring billing in a narrow, single-track way. It is the latest business innovation and there are plenty of recurring billing apps in the marketplace to take a look at.

Recurring billing apps for your business

It used to seem as if recurring billing apps were only for the big players in the market but this is something of a misnomer.  Recurring billing apps can be used by any type of business, just think of it as an easier way to collect payments and it will instantly seem relevant to your business, whatever the size.  Here is a selection of the most popular billing apps currently on the market:-

  • Zoho – Zoho is a cloud-based subscription billing solution. Zoho actually has a broader offering of an entire office suite of functions including accounting software.  Their subscription-based app is designed to stand alone or integrate with other functionality.  Zoho can automate your entire billing process so there is no need to issue bills manually including individual invoices.  It can pro-rata invoices and manage multi-currencies and tax compliance.  There is the flexibility to still design your own invoices and also add coupons and a free trial for new customers
  • Chargebee – Chargebee is a multi-faceted business solution, cloud-based, comprehensive and versatile. It works for subscription businesses of all sizes and is easy to use and quite intuitive.  Flexibility allows features such as price changes, offering discounts and running promotions.  Chargebee encompasses both one time and recurring billing.  Chargebee has a number of gateway partners.  Data is securely stored and protection is also provided against DDOS – Distributed Denial of Service attacks.  Chargebee has all the features of much more expensive apps without the hefty price tag, there is a limit of £50,000 before they start charging
  • Freshbooks – competitively priced, Freshbooks is cloud-based accounting software that is particularly suitable for small businesses. It is easy to track time if your business is service-based, produce invoices and you can integrate Freshbooks with Paypal and Stripe. There are auto-billing features and a mobile facility so you can check data on the move.  Freshbooks is not the most comprehensive recurring billing app compared to some on the market but it won’t intimidate a small business owner who may only need a couple of key features.  Even more importantly, it won’t break the bank
  • Chargify – Chargify is both a recurring billing and invoicing software designed for SaaS – Software-as-a-Service – businesses. It is difficult to see at a glance the pricing structure for Chargify so they don’t always appear in comparison tables - you have to contact them directly for a bespoke quotation.  There is a basic price plan called Core and a more detailed option named, Enhanced. You can use Chargify from month to month, there is no requirement for a long-term contract.  Users like Chargify because it is simple to use yet can handle complex tasks.  Customer service is reported as quick and top-notch, not always the case with app support and a nuisance if you need to solve something quickly.  Chargify though do live up to their name and may take a proportion of your revenue in addition to a flat fee
  • ReCharge – ReCharge is the Shopify app, Shopify is the well-known eCommerce platform for online stores and retail systems. Recharge provides a fully flexible recurring billing framework allowing the customer to easily opt for either one-time or repeat billing at the checkout.  ReCharge allows retailers to add discounts as an incentive, to bill on any day of the month and customers can also gift items on subscription.  The key feature of Recharge is that the customer experience is smooth and uncomplicated if they opt to subscribe which is not the case with many billing apps which require separate transactions for one-off and recurring payments, often asking for more data. The customer has complete control over their subscription and is at liberty to edit, suspend or cancel it and can alter their delivery dates all without needing to contact you directly.  The end-user experience has been the real focus for ReCharge and the app has also been designed with the mobile user very much in mind  

Things to consider before you choose your app

Work out the type of service you want to offer as this will dictate which recurring billing app will be the best fit for your business.  Here are some points to consider-

  • Are you going to offer pricing plans with terms of different length?
  • Would you like to offer discounts and incentives?
  • What charging model do you prefer, a price per user or a flat fee?
  • If you are using a flat fee, how will you manage a change in the customer’s requirements during the middle of a billing cycle?
  • What is the service like for the end-user, the customer? Is the interface friendly and easy to follow?  Software that gives the consumer a poor experience is likely to create a high drop off rate before the transaction is complete

What else do you need?

You will need a merchant account so customers can pay for their subscriptions securely and with ease.  This is a bank account that will process repeated debit and credit card payments as well as receive funds via Direct Debit from those customers who wish to pay like this.  You may also need a payment gateway which is an application that transfers the payments from your website to your merchant account.

Some payment gateways will charge a fee per transaction which can really add up but you don’t always need to use a gateway.

Top features and tips for your recurring billing app

  • Make sure you choose an app that specialises in recurring payments, you will be able to customise your billing pages with a range of services and products and also add on items on a random basis
  • Specialised apps allow customers to set up and manage their own subscriptions
  • Does your new app allow you to create coupon codes and offer free trials to incentivise new customers?
  • Is there the flexibility to customise what is billed for each month?
  • Is there a multi-currency facility?
  • Does the app offer multiple language support for customers?
  • Invoicing should be automatic and there should also be a payment tracking option
  • Does the app have a pathway to manage failed transactions?
  • You will need good analytics and accessible reporting so you can monitor trends, sales and other relevant data
  • Is there a free trial period so you can see how you and your staff get on with the app?

If you thought your business was too small to be relevant to a recurring billing app then think again.  Size does not matter, more it is about being part of this new technology which can revolutionise and streamline your customer revenue stream.

Recurring billing apps are about so much more than recurring billing.  Soon the days of manual invoicing will be gone and everything will be integrated into one slick system.

Recurring bills apps give you the potential to anchor customers to your business.  It lightens your workload at the sharp end by streamlining accounting processes, essentially using artificial intelligence to process tasks that would have previously required manual human input whatever their frequency.  The subscription-based model can give the customer control and is automating more and more of the shopping cycle.  This may lead to an increase in revenue and help you create a solid customer base.  Most importantly, this software leaves you free to get on with the business of business.

  • Sep 25, 2019
  • Category: News
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