New features to acquire and retain subscribers

Posted by Angela Ying, Product Manager, Google Play

Subscription continues to be one of the fastest growing business models for apps in Google Play. As your subscription business evolves and becomes more sophisticated, our platform continues to evolve to better support your needs. Today we’re excited to tell you more about the new subscription capabilities we announced at the Android 11 Beta Launch, including promotional codes to help you access new subscribers, new opportunities to remind users of your value and win back churned users. Many of these capabilities are built on top of the Play Billing Library version 3.

In addition to the new capabilities, we are also making improvements to our existing platform. Over the past few years, we have launched many features, such as account hold, restore, and pause, which have been highly effective in reducing your voluntary and involuntary churn. We want to ensure that everyone can take advantage of them, which is why we are planning on changing the default settings for these features from optional to either mandatory or on by default starting on November 1, 2020. Additional details on these features and implementation requirements can be found at the end of this post.

Here’s everything that is changing about the subscriptions platform:

Subscriptions platform

More targeted promotions

Promotions and deals are an important way to grow your business to acquire new customers. That’s why over the last year, we have invested in new promotional code capabilities for subscriptions that you can use to send promotions to a more targeted set of users.

Last year at I/O 2019, we launched subscription one-time promotion codes, unique alphanumeric codes that can be distributed to individual users for redemption. Now, we have launched a new frictionless redemption flow which allows users to easily redeem the code, purchase the subscription, and install the app in the Play store in a few simple steps. This greatly simplifies the user experience by reducing the friction users go through to use your code. Since this subscription is started outside of your app, it is only available to developers who are using Billing Library 2.0 or higher.


example mobile displays

In addition to one-time codes, we are excited to officially announce the launch of custom codes (also known as vanity codes), which can be redeemed by multiple users and can be used for marketing campaigns to drive acquisitions. For example, you can post custom codes in advertisements or in social promotions to creatively engage with potential new users. Users can redeem a custom code in your app by entering it in their payment methods when purchasing a subscription.

Remind users of the value of your subscription

Retaining your subscribers is crucial for the long-term health of your subscriptions business. The reason why users stay subscribed is because they perceive ongoing value from your subscription service. To help you communicate this value, we recently launched a module that will remind users of the benefits gained from a subscription when they go to cancel. To take advantage of this module, add a short list of up to 4 subscriber benefits in the Google Play Console.

Win back churned subscribers

If users do churn from their subscription, we want to make it easy for them to restart it whenever they want. To help you do this, we have launched the ability for users to resubscribe to recently expired subscriptions directly from the Google Play subscriptions center. You can enable your SKUs for resubscribe in the Google Play Console. Since this subscription is started outside of your app, it is only available to developers who are using Billing Library version 2 or higher.

Price decreases without opt-ins

Finally, we’ve heard your feedback that requiring users to opt in to subscription price decreases was too restrictive. We are happy to announce that subscription price decreases will no longer require users to take action to opt in to keep their subscription. Users will be notified of an upcoming price decrease and be able to see the upcoming change in the Google Play subscriptions center.

Updated platform retention settings

Over the past few years, our platform has made strides in helping you keep your subscribers, through features aimed at decreasing both voluntary churn and involuntary churn (churn due to payment failure). For example, account hold has helped developers achieve 8% lower involuntary churn and 35% higher payment decline recovery rate compared to developers without account hold. Although these features are effective, retention may not be something that you are thinking about when starting out for the first time.

That’s why we are announcing updated defaults for several subscriptions features that have been up until now optional, which will take effect on November 1, 2020.

  • Account hold and restore will both be mandatory for all developers.
    • Account hold is a state the user enters after a renewal fails due to a payment issue. During account hold, the user loses access to the subscription while Google notifies the user and retries the payment method. Learn how to integrate account hold
    • Restore enables users to resume auto-renewals after they have cancelled the subscription but before the subscription expires. Learn how to integrate restore
  • Pause and resubscribe will be turned on by default for all developers with subscriptions enabled. You can opt-out of either feature in Google Play Console at any time, in case you are unable to implement the changes by November.
    • Pause enables users to pause their subscription for up to 3 months. At the end of the pause period, the subscription will auto-resume. Pause requires Account Hold to be enabled. You can disable the feature by selecting “Disabled” next to Pause in the subscription settings of the Play console. Learn how to integrate pause
    • Resubscribe enables users to resubscribe to a churned subscription within 12 months of subscription expiry. This feature is only available to apps that support Billing Library versions 2.0 and above. You can disable the feature by changing the setting to “Disabled” for each subscription product in the Play console. Learn how to integrate resubscribe

You may have to make modifications to your app or your server to handle these new features. Specifically, your app should:

  • Recognize when a user loses access to the subscription and when the user regains it later
    • If your app relies on the Billing Library and not the Google Play Developer API Purchases.subscriptions to maintain the latest state of your subscriber, then your app should automatically be able to handle this.
    • However, if you rely on the Google Play Developer API, which is common for developers whose subscription is accessible across multiple platforms such as web, it is important that you always have the latest status of the subscriber in your server.
    • To ensure you always have the latest subscriber status, we strongly recommend implementing Real-Time Developer Notifications. Learn more.
  • Gracefully handle out of app purchases (Billing Library 2.0+ only)
    • When a user opens the app after resubscribing, make sure you acknowledge the purchase and show an in-app message recognizing the new purchase. Check out our best practices for handling out of app purchases.

Although not every feature will require you to make engineering changes, we highly recommend that you test each feature before November 1. To make the transition easier, Google has enabled Account Hold, Pause, Restore, and Resubscribe for all license test accounts. Learn more about testing for subscriptions.

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