Subscription Shopping Cart Roundup and Review

We have been creating a site that sells regular products as well as subscription products with recurring payments.

Steven Johnson
by | Posted: February 6, 2014 |
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You may or may not be aware we have started up a super cool specialty coffee site.

This ecommerce site is a little different than your typical shop. We sell traditional items and subscription items. Subscription items have monthly, quarterly or annual recurring payments.

Traditional Items: Coffee grinders, Coffee Makers,
Subscription Items: Box with the best hand roasted coffee from the best artisan roasters.

Sure this site is a bit different but it should be pretty simple right? Well Yes and No.

Yes. The concept is not complicated and the product does not contain batteries or updates, we are just shipping out one item per month and people are paying us.

No. We have to bill people each month, they may need to start / stop / pause their subscription, they need to update credit cards and they will need to purchase subscription and non subscription items in the same transaction.

You may have already faced some of these challenges. If so, this post if for you.

We explored any subscription shopping cart option we could find. Tested it, we were looking for the best solution for the business.

Assumptions when evaluating carts

Functionality is more important than looks. What good is it the site looks great but does not provide a good experience or allow customers to accomplish the tasks they need to.

Price is a factor but not the most important one. We are willing to pay more for a better solution if it was worth it.

Platform Stability and Flexibility. We want to make sure the shopping cart platform is tested reliable and be flexible enough to meet our needs.

Mobile and Tablet functionality is a plus. If the site works well and looks great on a tablet or phone than even better. this is not a deal breaker but rather a very big nice to have.

Blogging and other CMS functionality not evaluated. Many platforms offer blogging, static pages, and other content management type features. We were not concerned with this. We made the decision to split our store between and this way we can change shopping carts and not loose all of blog, sales, and landing pages. If you have the technical chops and resources I highly recommend doing this.


Platforms we tested

  • Shopify
  • Volusion
  • Magento Hosting
  • Nexternal
  • Store Startup


About This post

I took the time to really evaluate the solutions to find what works best for the customer and the business. Normally I would not have taken all the time to test and detail all my experiences. There was so little information available for this type of service and I got so many emails from others in the same situation, I thought I would take the time to document all that I learned and experienced

First and foremost go with the solution that best fits your needs. These are my experiences for my specific situation. However if you do find this post helpful and contact one of the companies mentioned in this post. Please let them know you saw "Steven's Intown Web Design Post" or mention "Intown Coffee"

  1. It will let them know that the thousands of questions I asked their sales people were worth it. I am on a first name basis with just about everyone mentioned in this post.
  2. I may get credit or a referral fee with the company.
  3. I am just curious to see how much reach this post has. Also feel free to contact me with any questions and I will give you my honest opinion.


Short Answer

Store Startup is the best solution I found. That is who I am currently using for They are a smaller company, willing to work with you and very flexible. 

I put this at the top b/c so often you are looking for the final answer and have to go through pages of text to get to the conclusion.

Readon to learn more about each of the solutions I tried.


Store Startup




My Experience

They are two brothers in Florida, and have this niche of subscription based food sites. There is the cost for them to get your site set up and then you pay 2% of transactions. When you sell more the % goes down. They are newer, with a few big clients, seem really willing to help develop more features to make all the sites better.
Example: they do weekly, fancy, localy sourced food.

I am going with Store Startup.





  • Lower Price to get started with
  • Wide range of very cool templates
  • Huge ecosystem of 3rd party apps supported
  • Fantastic Tech support



  • No core solution for recurring subscriptions
  • Most Advanced features are addtional cost
  • 3rd party app for recuring subscriptions
  • recurring subscriptions & single purchase can not be done at the same time.



you can get started with shopify for about $30/month plus any shipping or advanced cart functionality you may need. At the entry level you have a pretty basic account.

Spend $79/month and you now get more storage, gift cards, more shopping cart functionality and better reporting.

Spend $179/month + Apps and you get everything including real time shipping rates.

If you are going to compare Shopify to StoreStartup or Nexternal you need to price it out at the top level, since the other two services include realtime shipping rates in their base packages.

Pricing Details: 


My Experience with Shopify

I wanted to be all about shopify and I tried very hard. I set up my shop, picked out a great responsive template, and added all my products.

The trouble was the subscriptions just did not work that well. there are only a couple of subscription apps and they are either very expensive or just out of beta


Chargify -- 3rd Party subscription app

Great service and very functional. Trouble is they are very expensive if you are just starting out. I could of handled the expense but you are still left with one checkout process for subscription items and another checkout for single purchase items.

Yes it works but for the money I would be paying I wanted a single checkout experience. Nobody wants to maintain two user accounts for the same store.


Recurrhub -- 3rd Party subscription app

These guys are less expensive and just out of beta (January 2014) while the checkout process may have worked, the look and feel was not that customizable. The real kicker was I submitted several support tickets and only recived answers on one. The answers I got were very generic.

Before I was going to get hooked up with Chargify I wanted to know what the customer account experience was like. I never found out. I saw the writing on the wall quit the trial. No Service = No Customer.

Magic Rabitt or something like that -- 3rd Party subscription app

These guys came out after I gave up my shopify store. Hopefully they will get it right. Even if they do I think there will still be two checkout procedures since shopify will not let 3rd party apps access the shopping cart.

Shopify Wrapup

They are very cool, great interfaces, lots of mobile options, excellent support but not geared for subscriptions. Recurring payments are an after thought which lead to a less than desirable customer experience.

If it were not for the recurring payment issues, I probably would have gone with shopify

It took a bit of search to find these guys. They have about 1000 customers and specialize in wineries, subscriptions and gift stores.


  • In business for over 10 years
  • Geared specifically for subscription and gift stores
  • No addon prices
  • First rate sales and support



  • Expensive, especially for new stores
  • Front end look could look better
  • Backend functionality and look are not current.



My Experience

Nexternal was fantastic to work with. First rate sales support and so many great features. After 10 years of doing subscription and online stores they have it dialed in.

The only drawbacks were the store and backend interface are not that pretty. They are just now starting to support responsive sites. The backend felt like it was from the mid 2000's.

I can live with a dated backend I am the only one that sees it. It was the price that ultimately got me. A $1000 setup fee I could live with that but then it was 3% of sales with a $250 monthly minimum fee. As a new store it would be a while till I was up to the $10,000 a month in sales. If I had an existing brand and big book of sales I think Nexternal is a great option.

They have just about all the processes worked out and seen it all before. They have a solid exisiting base of well known companies. They might not be as flexible as some of the other solutions but they have just about every feature you can think of and many you have not even thought of yet.

If you are an existing subsription site and willing to pay for top level service nexternal is definately worth checking out.

They have been running subscription sites for over 10 years and have some great ideas and solutions. They have like 300 wineries plus about 800 or 900 other clients. I almost went with them they were pretty expensive and the software and interface was pretty dated. They charge 3% of sales with a $250/month minimum and a $1000 set up fee.






My Experience


Good single checkout subscription, but the CMS for managing the cart and product variations is not the best


Magento Hosted

I have built magento sites, great platform but a lot of work to customize everything. I build websites for a living and knew for this project I wanted a hosted solution that I would not have to be responsible for.

I am happy to give you names and contact info for any of the companies if you like.




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