Retreat in a box

Retreat Yourself is an online subscription business selling beauty and wellness products marketed as a ‘personal retreat in a box’. Founded in Melbourne Australia in 2015, it has a mostly female audience with over 2000 subscription customers.

Founder Kate Williams has created a thriving business and a passionate community by sourcing premium products and expertly engaging with her online audience.

Experiencing rapid growth, in mid-2018 it became necessary for Retreat Yourself to consolidate and streamline its operation. An ageing WooCommerce platform had become inefficient and unwieldy, so in partnership with The Village of Useful, Retreat Yourself embarked on a substantial ecommerce migration to Shopify.

A unique subscription model

Retreat Yourself takes a seasonal approach to their subscription model: customers subscribe on a quarterly or yearly basis and boxes are delivered at the same time to everyone at the start of each season. The boxes are marketed as ‘The Summer Box’, ‘The Winter Box’, and so on.

Most subscription sellers give customers the option to choose which product they want and how often they receive it—e.g. a pet treats box delivered once a month. The customer is in control, they know what they are getting, and there are no surprises.

From a marketing perspective, a seasonal subscription model gives the owner, Kate, some powerful advantages. A fixed set of delivery dates means she can hype next season’s box to eager customers, which drives new sales and reduces churn. Better still, Kate’s seasonal model creates scarcity because her inventory is designed to sell out—generating further urgency amongst customers and opening up more opportunities to market.

From an operational perspective however, a seasonal subscription model is a lot more challenging.

Delivery and billing schedule

Easily the most difficult component of the Retreat Yourself Shopify migration was understanding the billing and delivery schedule. For cashflow and inventory reasons it’s necessary for Kate to charge her customers before their subscription boxes ship. While this sounds simple in theory, in practice the seasonal nature of her subscription model introduced a great deal of complexity.

For example, Summer boxes ship on December 1st. If a customer happened to buy a quarterly subscription three months prior on September 20th, their next charge would fall on December 20th, which is after the Summer box ships. What if there was existing inventory available when that new customer subscribed? Should a box be shipped to them immediately? What if there wasn’t any inventory? When would they get their first box? Could they be charged twice before receiving their first box? How would we prevent that? What if they paid yearly in advance?

Migrating an ecommerce website is a difficult and time-consuming process. There are a million things to consider, and a thousand customers to keep happy.

Faced with this complex scenario it was obvious that the rules for this subscription model had to be thoroughly worked through—and all before deciding upon the best subscription platform for Shopify, of which there are several.

One box to rule them all

Tracking inventory was the last piece of the puzzle in planning this project. Retreat Yourself offers several different subscription products: a recurring subscription paid quarterly, a recurring subscription paid yearly in advance, and a one-off yearly subscription purchased as a gift. It’s also possible to buy a one-off single box without a subscription.

The challenging part here is that Retreat Yourself only has one product: a single box. If the warehouse sells out of boxes, then inventory is effectively zero for the entire online store. The only way to manage inventory across several products which shared one ‘master’ product, was to synchronise inventory levels. If a customer buys a new subscription, the inventory should be reduced for all subscription products automatically.

Shopify doesn’t have this ‘master product’ feature out of the box (so to speak)—nor does it natively support inventory syncing, so it was clear that some Shopify customisation would be necessary.

Where to from here?

Migrating an ecommerce website is a difficult and time-consuming process. Even migrating a business with just a handful of products like Retreat Yourself is no small undertaking. There are a million things to consider, and a thousand customers to keep happy.

My aim for this series is to uncover the full scope of a real world migration of an online subscription business. There’s a lot to learn from this case study and I hope it’s useful for entrepreneurs like Kate who are looking to level-up.

Future articles will cover:

  • Choosing the right Shopify apps for a subscription store
  • Choosing and customising the best Shopify theme
  • Configuring custom subscription rules
  • Migrating content and customers

If you’d like to be notified when each new article in this series is released, you should subscribe to the mailing list below, and if you have any questions or feedback please leave a comment.

Up next: Shopify apps

With some complex requirements mapped out for Retreat Yourself, the next step is to plan how to piece it all together. Spending some quality time browsing the Shopify App Store is the focus of the next article in this multi-part case study.