Selling Theme Shop Membership: Why It’s Great For You and Your Customers

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A few months ago WPZOOM marked its 10th birthday, and for those of you who haven’t heard about us before, I will make a quick introduction.

Who am I and what is WPZOOM?

My name is Pavel Ciorici, and I’m the Founder and CEO of WPZOOM — a Premium WordPress Theme Shop.

If I look back 10 years ago, I never would have imagined that I would end up running a theme shop that sells more than 40 unique themes.

I started creating WordPress themes mostly as a hobby, and I was very curious to explore new possibilities with WordPress.

Here I am now, running a successful theme shop together with a small team that is as passionate about WordPress as me.

Quick history of our pricing models

In our first 2 years of creating themes, we were so busy releasing a new theme every month that we barely had time to listen to the needs of our customers.

What seemed like a simple thing was actually something a bit difficult for us at that time from a technical point of view. I’m talking about offering people an easy way to purchase all of our themes at once.

However, at a certain moment, we noticed that there were some customers who kept purchasing each new theme we were releasing. So, in 2011 we finally integrated a membership system on our website and took things to the next level.

It might be hard to believe, but this is how a sales log from a single customer looked in our first 2 years:

Theme Shop Membership solved our problem of too many small transactions

Some customers had 18 individual payments for each of our themes as we were releasing them.

Our first attempt to sell Membership for our Themes

Spoiler alert: it went very well.

In 2011 we’ve created 2 new membership plans to allow people to purchase all 28 of our themes with a single payment.

Below you can see how the pricing page looked at that time:

Theme Shop Membership Pricing

Even though the membership plans were very attractive and made a big difference in our revenue, we made some mistakes when choosing what benefits they included and this had a negative impact later on.

A big mistake was our promise of releasing a new theme every 1-2 months. While at the beginning it was very simple to create new themes (as WordPress was mainly a blogging platform) we later struggled to meet this release timeline. When we wanted to create more complex themes for different niches like real estate, photography, etc. sometimes it took us more than 2 months to release something new. Our customers kept asking us when a new theme would be released because we had set their expectations incorrectly

Overall, we had a very good start and experience with theme shop membership. In the following years, we experimented with different changes to see how they would affect the sales of our membership plans.

  • We renamed our pricing plan from “WPZOOM Membership” to “All Themes Package” to make it sound more all-inclusive.
  • We removed the monthly fee when the package started looking less attractive for us. This helped us narrow focus more on the All Themes Package. It made the buying process quicker, as before that we had a “2 themes for $99” bundle, and people were confused at checkout which “bonus” theme to select.
  • During a Black Friday sale we offered a promo for the All Themes Package and reduced the price from $199 to $99, and we had some record sales. After that, we realized that even for people who were ready to buy a single theme for $69 it wasn’t a problem to pay an extra $30 to have access to all themes for $99. In the end, they usually only downloaded one theme anyway.

When is the right time to start selling membership packages for your theme shop?

Learning from other’s mistakes is very easy. However, when you’re the first one to make those mistakes, it may take you longer to realize their impact.

This exact same thing happened to us in our first years of creating themes, when there weren’t any best practices known to theme shops. So, we simply focused on what we knew best: Creating nice-looking and functional themes.

Nowadays, there’s no justification for ignoring important aspects of your business, such as collecting feedback from your customers or having a good marketing plan. Some theme companies even publish transparency reports frequently on their blogs with sales statistics and results of different experiments they’re running. This is a very good way to learn from others’ mistakes and some ideas may be worth trying out in your shop. Theme shops like PixelGrade and ThemeIsle are known for writing these kinds of reports on their blogs.

Pixelgrade’s Transparency Report #9

Pixelgrade’s Transparency Report #9

Current state of theme shop membership packages

If we check the membership plans of some popular theme shops like us — WPZOOM or Themify — you’ll be surprised to see that many established shops are offering a large number of themes for a very low price. For example:

Shop Name Number of themes included
Organic Themes 41
Themify 42
StudioPress 35

Let me explain why many theme shops include so many themes.

A few years ago, it was a common practice to release new themes very often, especially for covering all the popular niches. Many of these themes are still maintained today by their developers, as this is one of the great benefits of membership plans.

In our case, the cost to maintain old themes is almost insignificant, as most of these themes are very simple, so there’s not much that can break.

On the other hand, this is a good way to attract customers who get convinced by the large number of themes included in our membership plans.

If we would have decided to discontinue all of our old themes that aren’t so popular nowadays, this would have looked bad in the eyes of customers using those themes. Moreover, some of them might have stopped using our themes completely, fearing that the other themes they use might get discontinued at any point.

Another interesting aspect of many theme shops is that the rate of releasing new themes has reduced significantly in the last few years. If some theme shops were able to release about 10 new themes per year in the past, nowadays most of them don’t release any new themes at all.

This was caused by changing the focus on flagship themes which are highly customizable and can be used for any purpose.

For most theme developers, it’s more convenient to work on 1 or 2 themes and continuously update them.

Don’t wait until you have 10 themes in your collection!

While in the past it was a common practice to start selling theme shop membership or theme bundles after having enough themes in your collection, but I don’t see any reason today to not start right away when releasing your first theme.

Why wait a year or two to have at least 5-10 themes in your collection, when WordPress is such a popular platform and you can easily get good results having only a single good theme?

It’s much easier to sell a theme membership by using the right marketing tactics, rather than working hard on increasing the number of themes included in your collection.

Focus on creating long-term relationships with your customers, by providing them good support and offering benefits other than just the theme(s) itself. Here’s some good examples:

  • Priority support
  • Access to a community forum
  • Exclusive offers or discounts (if you ever release extensions or have sales on other products)

Gone are the days when 90% of customers who purchase themes are developers or freelancers simply looking for themes to do their job. Today, you have to be prepared to offer your customers more value than just the theme itself.

For a stay-at-home mom running a food blog, it’s more important how you help her randomly with a non-theme related issue on her blog, rather than explaining that you released a new update for your custom framework used in a theme.

So my advice is to focus on providing a great experience with a good product and periodical updates with improvements and new features.

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I’m ready to sell theme membership! Where do I start?

Good question!

While I can’t offer you a detailed checklist to follow for starting to sell theme memberships, I will try to cover the most important aspects of this process.

Choosing the right membership software

Since we’re discussing WordPress stuff, I think that it’s obvious that we won’t look at non-WordPress membership solutions. However, if you need something simple, then you should definitely consider other options as well.

When it comes to selling WordPress themes & plugins, including the possibility to offer membership plans, three big names come to my mind: WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads and Freemius.

Each of these platforms is unique and can offer you advantages that a different platform can’t. For example, if you need an out-of-the-box platform that doesn’t require too much time to set up everything, then I’d go with Freemius. On the other side, there are popular plugins like WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads which may give you more control, but it will take you more time and resources to find different add-ons needed for your website.

It’s all about marketing!

When deciding to sell theme shop membership, you also need to prepare a good marketing plan, including making appropriate changes to your website.

Many theme shops name their memberships something like All Themes Package (we do it too) or Theme Bundle. The reason everyone is avoiding words like “Membership” or “Subscription” is that many potential customers still can’t perceive WordPress themes as products that should have a monthly or annual subscription tied to them.

Another interesting practice is that for many shops theme packages are a good way to increase average order value.

For example, the individual theme price on our website is $69, while for $99 you can get 40+ themes. Sounds like a great deal, right? Well, it is indeed a great deal for the customer. On the other side, this boosts our sales by convincing people who need just one theme to pay a little bit more for the package + other benefits.

Theme Shop Membership Checkout

A simple upsell at the checkout to choose the theme package.

Most people are tempted by this offer at checkout, so they might consider that in the future it might useful to have access to more than just one theme. However, the statistics show us that only about 15% of customers purchasing our theme memberships will end up using more than just one theme. Psychologically, it matters to customers to have access to all the themes instead of having to pay more later.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide the real purpose of your theme shop membership: Are you trying to offer an easy way to purchase all of your themes or to boost sales?

If you manage to find an ideal balance to increase sales and provide good value to your customers, then you’ll have even greater chances of success.

Don’t promise more than you can offer

When it’s time to decide what to include for your membership, my advice is to keep everything realistic and include only features and benefits that you’re 200% sure you can offer.

I won’t recommend you offering everything for lifetime licenses for a low price like $59, just because you’re starting out and need some sales to pay your bills. Sometimes, the customers will understand your business needs their support, so focus on your product’s quality and price it accordingly.

A low priced theme or membership may raise doubts in your customers’ minds, while a lifetime membership may ruin the entire purpose of creating a sustainable subscriptions-first business.

True story: in 2010 we sold several unlimited and lifetime packages with all of our themes included (including future releases) for $449. Since we priced the package based on the quality of our themes at that time, we don’t regret at all that we offered a package like. I’d probably be pretty frustrated if we would have priced the package at a lower level and still have those customers come back to us 10 years later for updates and support.

How Successful is Theme Membership for Us?

Currently, it works very well, but during the years we’ve had to constantly optimize our membership offers for the best results.

A few years ago it was pretty simple to sell the theme packages at the price of $199. In order to get the same results nowadays, we had to introduce several pricing levels starting with the basic one for $99. This is mainly influenced by the strong competition with marketplaces that have a large variety of multipurpose themes at a very low price, but also by the average customer who is not really interested in spending more than $99 for a theme for his website.

Theme Package Pricing

About 35% of WPZOOM’s present revenue is generated by the sales of the All Themes Package, which is the name we use for our theme memberships. This is a pretty good number for us, especially because the average order value for the membership is much higher compared with the order value of individual theme sales. In other words, we’d rather prefer to have 500 new customers every month paying $99 for the membership, instead of 700 customers paying $69 for individual themes. If you do the math, you can easily find out that 500 customers will bring more revenue if we charge them $99 ($49.500 vs. $48.300) instead of having more customers paying less.

The advantage of having fewer customers that pay us more is that this also reduces the volume of new support tickets. It’s pretty common for new customers to have many questions when they first try out a new theme.

The challenges of selling theme membership

Just like all good things, selling theme memberships at attractive prices may also bring you time from time customers which we don’t really want to have.

I’m talking here about customers who will purchase the lowest plan of your membership packages, even though they plan to use a lot of themes for their customers. Freelancers, for example. So, expect a lot of technical questions on your support desk from these customers.

Another type of customers are the ones who will ask for discounts and after offering one they will constantly remind you that they paid a lot of money for the themes, so you need to treat them accordingly.

How to overcome the challenges of selling theme membership

Even if the probability to have many customers like the one described above is very low, you still need to be prepared for the worst.

Having clear sales terms and strict policies will help run your business without spending too much time on situations you don’t want to be in.

  • Make sure to have your refund policy clearly described in places visible by customers before making a purchase.
  • If you have multiple membership levels, make sure to make the differences between the plans very clear and also offer an easy way to upgrade to a higher plan.
  • Prepare a well-written Support Policy page, and make sure to include in it important details about the provided support, number of websites you will support and different restrictions that may help to prevent abuses.

Amazing Customer Support

StudioPress’s easy-to-read Support Policy

Let’s connect!

I hope you enjoyed reading my article, and I would highly appreciate it if you could visit our website to see our WordPress themes or get in touch with me on Twitter if you have any follow-up questions!

Pavel Ciorici

Published by

Duke Devidze

“After moving our theme shop from WooCommerce to Freemius, our conversion rate immediately increased by 15%. Also, we now have more time to focus on creating better themes.”

Duke Devidze - Partner at WP Royal Themes Try Freemius Today

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