What is a recurring payment and how can it boost your business?

The subscription model is huge. All of us have recurring payments of one kind or another, whether it’s TV and movie streaming, music, food deliveries or something else.

The model is growing so much, there is literally a subscription payment service for everything, even cars!

The global ecommerce subscription market size is expected to reach $904.28 billion in 2026.

That makes it a very lucrative business to get into.

That’s why we’re discussing recurring payments and subscriptions. We’ll talk about what they are, what they offer businesses, why people love a recurring bill so much and their key challenges and opportunities.

We’ll also show you how to set up recurring payments on a website and share some top picks for subscription payment systems you can use.

That’s a lot to pack into one post, so we had better get started!

What is a recurring payment?

A recurring payment is a subscription or membership where you pay an amount each month to access certain services.

Even though subscriptions may seem like a new invention, they have been around for decades. Anyone who has paid their utilities automatically has been using this model.

There are two main types of recurring payments:

  • Fixed recurring payments – You pay a fixed amount per month to access a given service. For example, Netflix, Spotify or other streaming services.
  • Variable recurring payments – You pay a varying amount per month depending on your usage. For example electricity or other utilities.

How recurring payments work

Recurring payments are very simple, which is partly why they are so popular.

Typically, you sign up for a product or service and agree an amount as a recurring bill in return for access to the resource.

That agreement will usually include a direct debit or automatic payment to the subscription payment processor for the agreed amount.

The provider’s subscription payment service will handle billing and you’ll see the fee leave your account on the agreed date each month.

Once you pay your first installment, you’ll be given access to the resource you’re subscribing to.

You’ll continue to have access to that resource for the entire length of your subscription.

Once you stop paying, the provider’s billing system will allow access until the end of the billing cycle and then automatically revoke access.

With fixed recurring payments, you’ll be billed a fixed amount per month. With variable recurring payments, you’ll usually be billed in arrears depending on your usage for that month.

The provider’s recurring payment system will handle all aspects of your billing.

Examples of businesses that use recurring payments

Let’s take a quick look at a few businesses that offer subscription payment services..

Utility companies

Utility company subscriptions

Depending on where in the world you live, you will very likely pay for your gas, electricity, water and other essentials using recurring payments.

Some will pay a flat fee per month to access the utility. Others will pay a variable amount in arrears for the resource they used for the billing period.

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime is probably the best-known retail subscription. It charges a fixed amount per month and you get free same or next day delivery and access to other Amazon services such as Amazon Music and Prime Student.

Apple Music

Apple Music

Apple Music is another example of recurring payments. In return for your subscription, you get access to over 100 million tracks and ad-free playlists.

Like the many other music streaming services, Apple Music charges a fixed fee per month for unlimited use, depending on the membership tier.

Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club is an innovative subscription service that delivers good value shaving cream and razors to your home.

It’s one of many product subscription services that provides genuine convenience in return for a recurring fee.

Business benefits of recurring payments

Recurring payments offer significant benefits to businesses, which is one reason every product or service seems to include them.

Benefits include:

  • Recurring revenue
  • Customers pay more but in bite size pieces
  • Easy to implement with the right tools
  • Easy to manage when you use the right platform
  • Can easily scale up or down

Recurring revenue

What business couldn’t benefit from recurring revenue? If you can predict what’s coming in next month, you can invest with confidence. You can reinvest safely to improve the service and feed the subscription cycle.

Customers pay more but in bite size pieces

Subscriptions are usually more profitable than a one-off purchase as you charge more, just in smaller pieces.

Consumers see a small amount leaving their account each month and rarely consider how much it costs over a year.

Easy to implement with the right tools

As you’ll see in a little while, if you have the product or service, setting up the recurring payment system is easy.

Use the right tools in the right way and there’s nothing stopping you from offering subscriptions to customers.

Easy to manage when you use the right platform

Once set up, recurring payments largely look after themselves. The payment system accepts payments and works with your store or provisioning system to provide access.

There’s very little for you to manage, which leaves you more time to improve your offering and grow your business.

Can easily scale up or down

Most recurring payments are managed by systems. As long as your web host or provider system can cope with demand, it’s easy to scale up or down.

Client benefits of recurring payments

Subscriptions also work for customers, which is another reason why they are so popular.

Seems cheaper than buying up front

Subscriptions work for customers because they seem cheaper than buying with a one off purchase. Few people consider how much that recurring payment costs them over the year as the monthly figure is low.

Can stop the payment at any time

Most subscription services use monthly rolling contracts. You can sign up, use the service and cancel whenever you want.

We’re all used to being tied into 12, 18 or 24 month contracts so not having that tie-in offers a psychological benefit in the eyes of the customer.

Inclusion in community – more active than one-off purchase

Some subscriptions offer access to members-only areas, forums, networks and offer a sense of inclusion as well as access to the resource.

Not all recurring payments offer this, but those that do tend to experience less churn (customer turnover) than other services.

Offers flexibility

The ability to sign up or cancel at any time means you can try a service and cancel, upgrade or switch at any time. That’s great news for customers but can present a challenge to businesses.

Recurring payment business opportunities

There are a wide variety of business models that could benefit from using recurring payments/subscriptions.

Here are just a few:

Online course or coaching website

An online course or coaching website could make great use of recurring payments. There are lots of training companies that offer either specific training or access to all courses in return for a monthly fee.

Google’s new Google Career Certificates are a good example. Pay $49 per month for access to extensive training with a recognized provider.

Podcast websites

Most podcasts are offered for free but some prefer to use exclusivity to help build a following. As long as you offer genuine value and enough content to keep members subscribing, there’s no reason to not try it.

Companies such as Supercast have created a business around premium podcasting so it can definitely be done.

Exclusive membership community

Exclusive membership communities are everywhere, from Costco to Discord and everywhere in between. Memberships don’t have to be paid for, but there needs to be some barrier to entry to guarantee exclusivity.

Strava is a popular example of an exclusive membership community. A free account offers basic access while premium adds community features and many more tools.

Software or app

Most software and applications are now subscription-based rather than one-off purchases. Recurring payments means stable income for the developer, enabling them to plan better for the future and support the product.

SureMembers is an example of software that uses annual recurring payments. It allows us to pay people to support the product, develop it and add new features over time.

Food boxes

Food boxes are a relatively new format for recurring payments but have taken off in a huge way. The convenience of having ingredients for meals delivered along with a recipe card cannot be overstated.

Hello Fresh is one of many food box providers that use the subscription model.

How to implement recurring payments online

You have seen how recurring payments can work as a business model and some examples of them in everyday use.

Now we’ll show you how to set them up on a WordPress website.

You will need a WordPress website already set up with a working domain name, but we’ll cover everything else in this guide.

We’ll use:

  • SureMembers to set up the membership side of your venture
  • SureCart to handle the financial side of memberships

Set up SureCart

Set up SureCart

SureCart is a complete eCommerce plugin for WordPress. It integrates with SureMembers to handle the recurring payments and allows you to sell items directly to members.

We’ll use the free version as it can handle recurring payments, but there are premium versions if you want to do more.

Visit the SureCart website, sign up and download the plugin to your computer.

Log into your WordPress website and select Plugins and Add New.

Select the option to upload a plugin, choose the SureCart zip file and upload it.

Select Install and Activate when you see the option.

Follow this in-depth guide on setting up SureCart to get everything else up and running.

You’ll need a working checkout page, payment gateway and all the basics to be able to set up recurring payments.

Set up SureMembers

Set up SureMembers

SureMembers is also a WordPress plugin and installs in exactly the same way. As it’s a separate product, you’ll also need to create an account there to use it.

There isn’t a free version of SureMembers so you’ll need to purchase a plan.

Once the transaction is complete, you’ll be given a license code and a download link. Download the zip file to your computer.

Select Plugins and Add New again.

Select the option to upload a plugin, choose the SureMembers zip file and upload it.

Select Install and Activate when you see the option.

Follow this detailed guide on setting up SureMembers. It will walk you through every step necessary to set up a subscription website.

Even though the guide shows you how to set up access groups and payments, we’ll cover it briefly here so you can see just how easy it is.

Create an access group

An access group is how SureMembers controls who can access what content. Think of each access group as a membership tier and you’re on the right track.

You’ll need to create one access group for every membership or subscription tier you want on your website.

Select SureMembers from the WordPress menu and Add New in the Access Groups window.

Create an access group

Name your access group something meaningful. We usually recommend giving it the same name as the membership.

Add the content you want to restrict to that group using the dropdown menu. It can be pages, posts, categories, taxonomies or anything you like.

Exclude your homepage and any other pages so non-members can see what it’s all about.

Name your access group

Next, you’ll need to decide where you want to send non-members if they land on a restricted page.

We recommend sending them to a landing page to convert visitors into paying members.

Create a new page in WordPress and use your favorite page builder to build something that can convert non-members into members.

Select the dropdown box on the right of the Unauthorized Access pane on the left of the Access Group window and select Redirect.

Add the address of your landing page into the Redirect URL box.

Add the address of your landing page into the Redirect URL box

Select the blue Save Access Group button at the top right when you’re ready.

Once done, you should see the Access Group is active toggle switch to on under Summary on the right. If not, manually toggle it on and save again.

You have now created a basic access group for your recurring payment. Now it’s time to link it to SureCart so people can purchase it.

Create a product in SureCart

SureMembers and SureCart work seamlessly together but we must link the access group to a product in order for everything to work.

Let’s do that now.

Select SureCart and Products from your WordPress dashboard.

Select Add New from the top of the screen to add a new product.

Call the product whatever you like, but for ease of use, we named ours the same as the membership tier ‘VIP membership’.

Create a product in SureCart

Give the group a name, a description and add images.

Select Add a Price in the Pricing box, give it a name and set Payment Type as subscription.

Select Add a Price in the Pricing box

Set a price and a repeat schedule and decide whether you want to include a setup fee or a free trial.

Select Create Price when you’re done.

Then select Add New Integration within the Integrations box.

Add New Integration within the Integrations box

Select the dropdown menu in the popup and select SureMembers.

Select the dropdown below to set up your membership tier as the access group. Then select the blue Add Integration button to create the link.

Complete the rest of the product details page as required to set up your membership tier as a product.

Finally, change the setting next to the Product Page under Publishing to Published rather than Draft.

Select the blue Save Product button at the top right of the screen when you’re finished.

When you go back to Products and select to view the product page, you should see it as it will appear to visitors.

Repeat this for as many membership tiers as you want to create.Then test everything to make sure it works before you invite your users to try it.

We just scratched the surface of recurring payments and subscriptions here.

This video goes into them in a lot more detail:

5 Challenges of recurring payments + solutions

Recurring payments definitely have their benefits, but there are challenges too.

Here are 5 common challenges presented by payment subscription services and recurring payments along with some possible solutions:

Increased churn rate as customers subscribe and quit

The ability to cancel at any time is a benefit to customers, but not so much for businesses. It means you may experience a high churn rate as customers sign up and quit as they want.

The solution

The best way to lower customer turnover is to keep the offer fresh. Continuously adding new content, content dripping, evolving the product or service and offering early access to upcoming products can all keep someone subscribing.

Crowded marketplace

There are subscriptions for everything. There’s more competition in this space than ever before and you will unlikely be the only choice for the service you offer.

The solution

The solution is to come up with a USP and offer genuine value. If there’s something you can do that others cannot, make sure customers know that. If you have the ability to offer better value, make sure they know that too.

Try not to compete on price as that’s a race to the bottom and only the services with the deepest pockets will survive!

Customers tiring of constant subscriptions

Even though recurring payments are an established revenue model, there are lots of them. This is encouraging ‘subscription fatigue’.

Streaming services are suffering this fate right now. There are so many, offering so much programming, for so much money that we are gradually turning against them.

The solution

You can’t overcome how streamers operate but you can control how your service is perceived. Make as much out of your product or service being unique and highlight the features and benefits as often as you can.

Failed payments

Failed payments can impact every business, but those who depend on subscription payments are particularly at risk.

With the best will in the world, things go wrong, banks fail to make the payment or people run out of money in their account.

The solution

You cannot control people’s bank accounts but you can minimize the chances by offering multiple payment options, flexible payments and having clear communication channels with your members.

Can be complicated to implement

Setting up a membership website may seem complicated, which can put people off setting one up.

Creating enough content to retain members is one thing, but if the general running of a membership site is difficult, the experience isn’t going to be particularly positive.

The solution

Use SureMembers. It’s easy to install and set up, memberships are simple to create and you can control access to content using straightforward checkbox controls.

Use SureMembers and SureCart together and they will handle payments, account access and most of the admin related to memberships.

5 best subscription payment services

If we have tempted you into setting up your own membership website, what subscription payment service should you use? What’s the best subscription payment processor around?

We recommend:

  1. Stripe
  2. PayPal
  3. Mollie
  4. Chargebee
  5. FreshBooks



Stripe is widely regarded as the best recurring payment system around. That may be true, as it’s powerful, flexible and supports a wide range of payment options. It also has a global presence, making this subscription payment processor ideal for use on the web.

Stripe uses pay-as-you-go pricing of 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction.



PayPal should need no introduction. It’s one of the world’s largest payment processors and supports recurring payments. We would say it’s the equal best recurring payment system alongside Stripe.

It supports one-off payments, installments and subscriptions and integrates seamlessly with SureCart and other eCommerce plugins.

PayPal charges are complex and depend entirely on where you are in the world. Example prices are $20 per month for the recurring payment tool and 2.9% + fixed fee per transaction.



Mollie is a popular payment subscription service that can handle one-off and recurring payments. It supports fixed and variable payments and a wide range of payment methods, from debit cards to PayPal.

Mollie charges between 1.2% and 2.6% per transaction plus a monthly fee.



Chargebee is another popular platform for recurring payments. It works with one-off payments and subscriptions and has quite the global presence. It’s more suited to established membership sites or businesses rather than startups and new sites though.

Chargebee has a range of tiers, from free with 0.75% commission up to custom pricing for enterprise customers.



FreshBooks is a full accounting platform that does much more than accept subscriptions. While more complex than some of these other recurring payment services, it has the advantage of feeding payments directly into your accounts, which can save a lot of time!

FreshBooks costs from $13.60 but you’ll need at least the $24 per month plan to accept recurring payments.

Recurring payments FAQs

Still have questions about subscription payment services?

What is an example of a recurring payment?

Examples of recurring payments include utility bill payments, phone payments, gym memberships, magazine subscriptions, streaming services and food box subscriptions. Anything you pay for monthly or regularly can be classed as a recurring payment.

Does recurring payment mean automatic?

Recurring payments are usually automatic. Depending on where you live, these will be by direct debit, standing order, automatic payment or via a payment gateway. The automatic element is what makes them so convenient. You can sign up, access the resources and payments are taken automatically.

What are the disadvantages of recurring payments?

The disadvantage of recurring payments depends on whether you’re the business or the user. For businesses, they require specific payment gateways to manage, which can cost more than other systems. For customers, it’s easy to forget you’re paying for something even if you no longer use the service.

Can you cancel a recurring payment?

Yes, you can cancel a recurring payment. You should have the ability to cancel within the account section of the provider website or with the customer services department. You can also cancel through your bank if you need to.


Recurring payments are popular because they benefit both the business and the customer.

The business gets sustainable income that lets you invest with confidence and develop your business.

The customer experiences a low cost service that feels cheap even if it isn’t over the long term. They can cancel at any time too, which is a bonus.

It’s a model we are all familiar with, comfortable paying and is part of everyday life.

It’s also a part of life that can be very lucrative if you do it right. Hopefully, this post has given you everything you need to do it right!

Do you run a subscription website? Is it a success? Have any tips for those considering trying it? Tell us your story below!

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, we may receive a small commission. Read disclosure. Rest assured that we only recommend products that we have personally used and believe will add value to our readers. Thanks for your support!

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