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Google Checkout Adds Subscriptions

Google Checkout has just moved a “subscription” capability into beta. This is welcome news to many online sellers, as the ability to charge buyers on a regular basis, without the buyers’ active involvement has been missing from Google Checkout since its inception.

The new capability, as described by Google, appears to be somewhat advanced, with two different modes of operation.

  • With “Google-handled Subscriptions”, the seller defines the subscription and then leaves it to Google to take care of each recurring payment. This mode is for sellers that want to charge a consistent amount each period, and need little ability to adjust the ongoing subscription other than to cancel it.
  • With “Merchant-handled Subscriptions”, the seller defines the subscription but then has the responsibility to trigger Google to charge the buyer each time payment is due. While more work, this approach lets the seller vary the amount as needed to reflect service usage during the period or to create interesting service plans. The seller could, for example, provide two months of free service before starting to charge the buyer $4.95 a month.

In both cases, Google appears to have done a nice job of messaging the buyer so things are very clear with regards to what is being charged against their card. And, consistent with the Checkout model, buyers can simply return to their Checkout dashboard — not to the seller’s web site — to cancel subscriptions.

This could be an interesting option for subscription-based services if Google is using best practices in their own backoffice to keep payment card data up to date and to retry failed transactions. They’re not talking about the details, of course, but we’ll keep our eyes peeled for any clues that might indicate what retry practices they have in place.