iOS 14 Will Allow Developers to Offer Promo Codes for FREE Subscriptions

Apple Subscription Offers Credit: Apple
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Thanks to some new capabilities that Apple is adding to iOS 14, you may soon be able to take advantage of special offer codes for discounted or promotional subscriptions in your favourite apps.

Apple has been gently pushing developers and customers into more of a subscription model over the past few years when it comes to paid apps, since it represents a more steady revenue stream for both Apple’s App Store, and many developers have also eagerly embraced moving from one-time purchases to subscriptions for much the same reasons, as it creates a considerably more stable business.

Not surprisingly, the transition hasn’t been popular with many customers, who have begun suffering from subscription fatigue as the number of apps demanding monthly or annual payments begin to stack up, but it’s also allowed many developers to offer more frequent updates for their apps, giving users some value for the money that they’re paying on a regular basis.

While it remains a controversial business model, it’s also one that didn’t really start with Apple, and it’s arguably been the way the whole industry has slowly been moving for years. For its part, Apple has also been doing what it can with the App Store to try to give developers as many options as possible to smooth the process for its customers.

In early 2019, Apple added some new capabilities in a later iOS 12 point release that would allow iOS app developers to make promotional offers for in-app subscriptions, opening the door to more variable subscription terms with discounted prices to try and win back subscribers.

The move followed the “Introductory Offers” that debuted back in 2016 with iOS 10, allowing developers to expand the free trial periods and discounts that were available to new subscribers to also be applied to existing and former customers. This meant developers could make special offers to encourage renewals or help win back those customers who may have let their subscription lapse.

For example, an app could offer to let a former customer resubscribe for another three-months at a lower monthly rate, or even just for a fixed one-time payment, after which the normal rate would kick in. Developers could also identify those users who had cancelled their auto-renewing subscription in order to offer them an opportunity to resubscribe at a lower price before their current subscription lapsed.

Promotional offers were a great feature, however they suffered from a few limitations that may have hampered their uptake. For one, while developers could create up to 10 different promotions for a given app, these could only be offered to existing and former customers — new customers could only take advantage of the “introductory offer,” of which there could be only one.

Further, the promotional offers could only be made within the app itself, which means if a user had uninstalled the app, they would have to reinstall it to even see the promotional offer that was available to them. Developers who had their customers sign up for a newsletter could of course still communicate that these offers existed via that medium, but they still had to convince the user to reinstall the app and try to find the actual offer within.

Subscription Offer Codes

Fortunately, Apple has come up with a slightly better way for developers to handle this with the introduction of Subscription Offer Codes in iOS 14.

Now, instead of developers having to build logic into their apps to offer introductory offers for new customers and targeted promotions for existing customers, they’ll be able to simply issue one-time use codes, similar to the iTunes Store and App Store redemption codes that have been commonly used in Apple’s own free music and app promotions over the years.

Although developers have been able to create a small number of promotional codes to give away free copies of their apps and in-app purchases for several years now, these were primarily for marketing purposes so that devs could give copies of an app to professional reviewers and other members of the press. Only up to 1,000 codes could be generated in total for a given app, and they were all designed to offer the app or subscription completely free.

With this new program on the other hand, developers will be able to create up to 150,000 Subscription Offer Codes for each of their apps in a three-month period, and much like promotional offers, these can be distributed across 10 different active offers, so, for example, developers could have one set of codes that offers a free three-month trial subscription, and another set of codes that provides a six-month subscription at a discounted fixed price.

What’s particularly great about this new program is that unlike Introductory Offers, which only apply to new customers, and Promotional Offers, which only apply to current and former customers, Subscription Offer Codes can be used for both. This will also allow developers to provide more Introductory Offers for new users; up until now, each app has had a limit of one introductory offer per subscription type.

Customers will still only be able to redeem one code per active offer, but developers will have the option of allowing new customers to redeem a Subscription Offer Code in addition to the app’s normal Introductory Offer, allowing for extended free trials or discounted pricing after the normal free trial ends. Further, since developers can have up to 10 offers active at any one time, a customer with codes for two different offers might be able to stack them for additional discounts or other benefits, such as using one code for a three-month free trial, and then another code to pay only $1.99/month for the next three months.

Unlike Promotional Offers, which have to be presented to the user within the app, Subscription Offer Codes can be redeemed directly through the App Store’s “Redeem” option, or even from a link that can be posted on a web site, in an email newsletter, or in social media. Users redeeming a code in this way will be taken to the App Store to download and install the app if they don’t already have it installed, making the whole process of getting new users and returning users on board much smoother.

What This Means for You

Although it’s obviously still up to developers to take advantage of these new features, hopefully the new process will encourage more developers to jump on board and begin offering these Subscription Offer Codes.

The codes themselves can be distributed in just about any manner, either online via social media, email newsletters, and websites, or offline via promotional cards and flyers.

It’s also a much handier way for developers to offer companion apps with paid subscriptions for physical hardware products — something that’s previously required developers to jump through a few hoops in the past. In fact, if could even open opportunities for cross-promotions, such as offering up a free one-year subscription to a productivity app with the purchase of a day planner, or to a cooking app with the purchase of a cookbook or kitchen accessory.

This could also be a very handy way for developers to facilitate upgrades — a capability that’s been missing on the App Store up until now — by allowing them to issue Subscription Offer Codes with a discounted subscription price directly to those users who had a previous version of the app installed, or even a version fo the app on another platform. Of course, the app would still have to use the subscription model in the first place, so this doesn’t really solve the problem of offering discounts for apps that charge an up-front price on the App Store, but it does provide developers with another tool at their disposal.

Ultimately, however, this won’t solve the problem of subscription fatigue — in fact it could encourage more developers to move to offering subscriptions — but it will hopefully encourage developers to find ways that make the process more consumer-friendly and provide opportunities for rewarding loyal customers and more effectively tying in-app subscriptions in with other products and services.

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