Apple Helps App Developers Win Back and Retain Subscribers Through Promotional Offers

Apple Developers Auto Renewable Subscriptions Credit: Apple
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Code found in the iOS 12.2 beta last week hinted that Apple may be working to tweak the options available to developers for handling in-app subscriptions, with a new API that would allow developers to offer discounts and other incentives to encourage users to renew their existing subscriptions, or return to a service after they’ve allowed their subscriptions to lapse.

Although the new code didn’t make it clear when or how the feature would ultimately be implemented, Apple has now announced the feature to developers, noting that it will be available in both iOS and macOS when the next versions — 12.2 and 10.14.4, respectively — are released to the public.

Apps with auto-renewable subscriptions will soon be able to provide a discounted price for a specific duration for existing or previously subscribed customers.

According to Apple’s announcement, the feature will allow developers to create “Promotional Offers” for their app, specifying a duration, price, and offer type that can help to win back subscribers who have cancelled their subscriptions, or encourage users to upgrade to higher subscription tiers at special prices.

Developers will be able to choose to offer free subscription periods for a specific time period, similar to the free trial periods that are already available for new users, as well as offering both discounted recurring subscriptions for a limited time (e.g. charging $1.99/month for three months before renewing at a full price of $9.99/month), or a single up-front payment for a specific duration (e.g. charging a discounted price for a six-month period before renewing at a standard annual price).

Apple provides additional details in the Keeping Subscribers section of its guide for developers on handling auto-renewing subscriptions. The feature, which is outlined under Promoting Subscriptions with New Offers is still indicated as being in beta, but emphasizes the difference between Apple’s new Promotional Offers and the “Introductory Offers” that have been available for new in-app subscriptions since iOS 10.

Specifically, developers will be able to maintain up to 10 active promotional offers per subscription, allowing them to “determine which offers are the most compelling and useful to customers.” Further, unlike introductory offers, which can only be redeemed once per subscription group, developers will be able to determine how many offers a customer will be able to redeem, allowing the potential for users to take advantage of multiple offers, and providing developers for more options to bring customers back into the fold. Developers can also control where each offer is available, and how to present the offers to existing users through StoreKit.

The new Promotional Offers feature is specifically for existing or previous subscribers within an app, and in fact cannot be made available to any customers who have not already subscribed in the past. Although there don’t appear to be any limits on how long ago they need to have been a subscriber, potential customers will still need to have the app installed and be using it; for obvious privacy reasons, developers won’t be able to directly communicate promotional offers outside of their own app unless they have already established another means of communication with customers, such as having them sign up for a mailing list or newsletter.

Developers will also be able to use “receipt validation” to identify subscribers who have disabled auto-renewal so that they can get a head start with trying to target customers with promotional offers before the end of their subscription period, as well as being able to differentiate promotional offers for users who cancel during a free trial as opposed to those who may choose to cancel after a longer-term subscription.

As with other in-app subscriptions, the entire promotional offer system will be handled through Apple’s StoreKit, and developers will have to abide by Apple’s guidelines for how these offers are shared and promoted to their users. Unlike Introductory Offers, the new Promotional Offers will not be displayed on the App Store, since they cannot be used by new customers.

In order to take advantage of Promotional Offers, devices will need to be using iOS 12.2, macOS 10.14.4, or tvOS 12.2. Developers can begin implementing and testing the new features now with the Xode 12.2 beta and the new StoreKit APIs, and Apple notes that Sales and Trend reports will be also be available once the feature is released publicly.

This is the latest effort by Apple to try and encourage ongoing and stable revenue through the App Store, both for itself and for its developers. While Apple normally takes a 30 percent cut of all in-app subscriptions, two years the company announced that it would drop that take to 15 percent for customers who renew their subscriptions for a second year, thereby encouraging developers to build apps that garner customer loyalty, and guarantee a recurring source of revenue. Promotional Offers naturally expand this by helping developers win back existing customers, but of course end users also stand to benefit from more flexible pricing for in-app subscriptions, and being able to come back for more free trials as developers roll out enhancements to their apps.

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