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Episodes > Season 2 Episode 15

How LOLA leverages memberships to heighten the subscription experience

Anna Stearns, Senior Director of DTC at LOLA

What's in this episode?

On this episode guest hosted by Callie Hawley, Recharge’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, we’re chatting with Anna Stearns, Senior Director of DTC at LOLA, makers of feminine and reproductive care products. Anna takes us behind the scenes of LOLA’s recent switch to a headless build and shares why they made the change to better serve their customers and the challenges they faced along the way.

Anna also gives us insight into LOLA’s various subscription membership offerings and how they incentivize these plans with rewards like free shipping, early access to products, donations and discounts.

Anna also tells us about LOLA Gives Back, the brand’s charitable donations program and how they empower their customers to provide donations to those in need of feminine care products.

So let’s get started!

Connect with Anna on LinkedIn. Check out LOLA.

Episode transcript

Callie Hawley: I am so thrilled today to be joined by Anna Stearns. She's the senior director of DTC at LOLA. Anna, welcome to the podcast.

Anna Stearns: Hi. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Callie Hawley: We are so excited to have you, so let's just jump right in. Go ahead and tell us a little bit about LOLA and then your background with the company, how you got there, sort of what you do now and just give us some insight.

Anna Stearns: Yeah, definitely. So LOLA's the first lifelong brand for reproductive health. We're really trying to redefine the category and the goal is to really deliver a better experience through a variety of products for every reproductive stage of someone's life. And we're trying to make it less confusing and less lonely. We right now offer a variety of period care products, and we've also expanded into sexual wellness and vaginal health. And through that, we offer both online and on the shelf. I manage our DTC business, and then we also have a retail business through a multitude of different retail partners where you can find us actually on the shelf in real life.

Anna Stearns: LOLA was really founded upon both transparency and access; delivering the utmost transparency of what's in our products and getting healthy ingredients essentially to the consumer, but also delivering access. So if someone wants to shop online for convenience or if they would rather go in store, we're there for them when they need us. And then my role at LOLA; I'm the senior director of DTC. I oversee our DTC business, which is essentially our e-commerce store that is mylola.com, where we also partner with Recharge to run our subscription business. And I oversee our CX team, our lifecycle team and the digital and engineering team. And I've been at LOLA for two years, really found myself drawn to LOLA, really around the mission of kind of wanting to be part of a female empowered group with part of a company that is really providing and giving back to the community versus just selling a product. And I think LOLA's values really shine through in both our products, but also the people who work for the team.

Callie Hawley: Yeah, that's so amazing. And I think LOLA's mission also drew me to the brand. It's just incredible as a woman and having gone through puberty and all of the things that happen with that, being able to have a brand like LOLA is just incredible. So I'd really love to kick this off with something really exciting that you all went through recently, which is converting your entire website to a headless build. So why don't you go ahead and tell us a little bit about how that started, why you all decided to make that decision, and kind of what happened since then?

Anna Stearns: Yeah, definitely. I think it feels like the decision came fast and furious, but also it was a decision that I thought on quite a bit. I think it really goes back to the customization for our customers. So not only did we want to deliver convenience from the beginning, but we really sought to deliver customization. When we first launched back in 2015, we needed to have delivered a product that was fully customizable. I think that was what we really found was broken. And part of the period care world was that you could get a customized subscription to just about anything these days, but not your tampon. So you go to a store and typically find one absorbency or a mix of absorbency set for you, where with LOLA, you can actually choose the absorbencies for the tampons that you might want to get so it fits specifically to your cycle because no period is the same.

Anna Stearns: So really that's shown true throughout the years for our customers is it's not just about our tampons that need to be customizable, but it's about our business that should be customizable. We really want to allow the customer full control over how they manage their subscriptions or their deliveries. We also opted back in October 2012, sorry, 2020, when the pandemic was really changing the ways consumers shopped, we changed some of our sizes and offerings to offer value packs and one time products in addition to our subscription products. So it really was a lot of learnings around what the customer wanted and what was best to really customize our business. And we found that kind of staying within the bounds of theme engines wasn't necessarily working for what we needed to build as a forward thinking digital product. The more and more we kind of stayed on theme engines, the more, I guess, tech debt or slower our site got because we wanted to customize so badly.

Anna Stearns: So a lot of these custom builds were actually hurting the performance that was actually the performance for the customer who was utilizing our website. So really I came to a decision, I guess it was end of last year, that we kind of needed to make a change. Are we going to stick with themes? Could we go headless? There was a potential to maybe re-theme our store but at the end of the day we're a business that runs both on Shopify and Recharge and we have a lot of different types of customers. And as I mentioned earlier, we are omnichannel. So we're in retail stores as well with retail partners. So how can we best support that customer who is both an online and in-store shopper?

Anna Stearns: So headless really kind of came about because it offered us the option to really fully customize our business and website to meet the customer's needs and it lets us take ownership over the entirety of our website. It married the Shopify and Recharge experiences together, so now both of our account pages and our I guess front end Shopify pages are headless and we host those pages. So the transition for the consumer is a lot more seamless and it's much faster and it allows for more shopping and more discovery. So really comes down to being able to customize and have full accessibility for this customer. And that's really where the decision came from; wanting to build the best type of product for the consumer out there.

Callie Hawley: Yeah. And the site is so beautiful. For those listening, if you haven't been to mylola.com, definitely go take a look. It's really fast and there's just so many different facets to it that are really cool. I've had a lot of fun poking around there. So, I mean, for a brand of your size, this is a huge undertaking, especially for a site of your size with the complexity and the customization. So what challenges did you guys face going through the headless build?

Anna Stearns: Yeah, definitely. I mean, first and foremost, we're still a small team. So our company, I think we're a well known brand, but the people behind the scenes we are a small tight-knit team and we don't have that access to a large engineering team that others might. So I think just manpower to get the job done. I will say my engineering team was amazing. They finished this project in a couple months, which was a huge undertaking. So a challenge there, is really managing the time.

Anna Stearns: It was very much a focus on this headless build, of setting the stage for the future of mylola.com, and taking that sacrifice for the next three to four months. This will be our focus, to get this done, versus building backwards. So I was really looking forward. So that was a big challenge there is; just to be the manpower it takes a headless build is not for the faint of heart. It is definitely challenging. And we came across many challenges on the way. You find bugs and while you're fixing that bug, you uncover more bugs, and the deadlines get pushed back because you don't want to release an unfinished product that just isn't working.

Anna Stearns: But really, I think the cautionary tale is to definitely do your due diligence beforehand, build in plenty of buffer time. And I think the challenges are always just the manpower, but knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel is there and it's definitely worthwhile because I think putting in the effort earlier has opened up many doors for us after. I will say also partnering with a company. We actually did our headless build through a company called Nacelle. Partnering with a company like that, they provided a lot of support as well. So we were able to find support through other teams and we leaned on the support of Recharge through their API team and even Shopify when we were moving off of them. So I think we've really appreciated a lot of our B2B connections we've made throughout the process because we're such a small team and it's been so appreciated to have these different vendors that we utilize to run our website, help us out in that process.

Callie Hawley: That's so great to hear. And I know there's a lot that goes into making the decision to go headless, but what's one piece of advice that you could give a merchant if they're thinking to go headless.

Anna Stearns: I think it's definitely to assess the before and after. So I really had to assess; yes, there is a shiny bow on going headless of the after, but you also have to take into account that you still need an engineering team to help run your site. There are some give and takes with this process so I would advise really doing the due diligence to sit down and understand, one, how much work it really will take. It took a lot of my time just from a project management standpoint and then as well as our engineers time. So that is putting a lot of other efforts in the back burner, potentially if you have a smaller team. I think also is understanding what the benefits are.

Anna Stearns: So I think for LOLA, we really were looking for that full customization and that is something that is truly part of our brand's mission and values. And I felt like that was the shining, guiding light to do this, but there's other companies out there that might not be fully cut, that don't need that level of customization, and theme engines can work for, that are the same size as LOLA. So this is definitely not one size fits all, which is totally what LOLA believes in, is there's nothing out there that's one size fits all, especially for our consumers. So yeah, I think I would say is just really weighing the pros and the cons and understanding what you have in your current tech stack, that you're not getting, that headless could give you.

Callie Hawley: So I want to switch gears off of headless a little bit, and it's actually kind of goes hand in hand. So the site being so complex, one of the thing I found so interesting about LOLA is you have multiple subscription business models happening at the same time. So you offer a replenishment subscription for a lot of the products. You also offer one time purchases, but then you also now have this membership, this access subscription business model. So can you tell us a little bit about both of those and how they work together and why you chose to do multiple?

Anna Stearns: Yeah, definitely. And we actually have another level of another subscription that you didn't mention, which is our prepay too. So we have the monthly replenishment and then our prepay options, one time and the membership. Our prepays actually came about a lot of these changes with COVID, just from us seeing how consumers change their shopping habits, and really wanting, again, wanting to be there for her when she needs us. So one of our traditional offering, which we started with was our monthly replenishments; tampons and period care products.

Anna Stearns: When we started expanding into new product lines, like sexual wellness, and vaginal health, we realized that a lot of those products might be more one time purchases than monthly replenishments. And then also when the pandemic hit the country and the world in 2020, we realized that people really started wanting to get less shipments with their products up front. So we came out with prepay, which is essentially for some of our core products that are typically purchased in a subscription cycle is getting your three months worth of tampons or period products up front in one shipment, and then three months later getting that same shipment. And we actually offer discount for that because you are shipping up front, it's a little bit more eco-friendly, and especially during the time in the early pandemic, when we weren't sure where terms were coming from and also shipping issues.

Anna Stearns: So that was really just kind of rolling with what the world brought to us and just changing our business model for our consumers; what they wanted and how they shopped. And then earlier in 2021, earlier this year, we launched our membership program, which is LOLA+. It plays really well with our loyalty program, which we also launched at the end of 2020. And LOLA+, for $20 a year, sits kind of separately from our monthly replenishments, because what a large piece of feedback we got, before we launch any product we always ask our consumers and our core customers what they want, was that they didn't want to have to, I guess, pay or have to be part of a membership to get access to their products. And truly that goes back to what our brand mission is- accessibility, so we didn't want to put that barrier there. But again, shopping habits are changing; we want to reward our very loyal customers.

Anna Stearns: And also during this time, we had to start charging for shipping due to a lot of our shipping costs rising. So due to this, we wanted to be [inaudible 00:15:18] a lot of our customers into the free shipping that we used to be able to offer. So the LOLA+ membership was able to do that for us. So for $20 a year, you get free shipping, double the loyalty points, 5% discounts on some select products, and then we also donate a product for each purchase of the membership. And then we also give early access to some of our new products to these members. And the membership community, actually, is our core set of customers that we find to be our really LOLA loyal subscribers that we utilize for product surveys, and they really drive decisions around where, what we're doing with our products. So they provide a lot of insight into what we can build LOLA into.

Anna Stearns: So that is a monthly subscription that kind of just, or, sorry, it's a yearly subscription that we do power through Recharge that kind of just provides ultimate access to LOLA. And actually, if you're a power shopper at LOLA, you would be saving around $60 to $80 a year by going into the LOLA+ program. So we did definitely want to make it worth it for those consumers.

Callie Hawley: So you mentioned something and I'd love to switch gears to this, about the donations for your members, but then you also offer this really amazing donation program. So we'd be totally remiss if we skipped over this, and I'd love to give it some time. So could you tell us about that donation program and where it kind of started in its inception, how it has evolved since then and what the community of LOLA sort of does to give back?

Anna Stearns: Yeah, definitely. So LOLA from the beginning, we have always been about giving back and just being committed to kind of changing the way people perceive feminine care and feminine care products and wanting to really break the mold there. So in 2016 we founded a program called LOLA Gives Back. Over the years with three of our main partners, we've donated over seven million products. And what we really saw in the past year from the pandemic was that homelessness, the domestic violence really had an increase. And one of our main partners, I Support The Girls, received many requests from shelters for period products. So we actually ended up donating an additional million products, I think it was last April, to support that cause.

Anna Stearns: And kind of through that, during the time, we were thinking about some of the common feedback we've gotten from our consumers was that they also wanted to give back. So if they wanted to pause their subscription one month, they donate their product instead. So we really wanted to find a solution to allow our customers to kind of give back with us. We've, in the past, had run sales where if you bought a product we will donate as well. Or as I said, with our membership program, we'll donate a product for each membership purchase. But what we saw was that customers really wanted to get involved with this. And that was very overarching feedback that we've continued to hear over the years which is great because I think that is just the community that we've built at LOLA.

Anna Stearns: So back in the holidays of 2020, we were trying to figure out a way that we could allow the consumer to donate as well during the giving season. So what we did was built through our checkout, and we're on the Recharge checkout, so through the Recharge API, we built out a widget, that you can still see today in our checkout, that allows you to add a donation product onto your purchase for $5. And this is essentially going towards a month's worth of period supplies for someone in need. And then we'll donate that directly to our partner I Support The Girls. So it's kind of, we're kind of, I guess, cutting out the middle hand; we're doing the direct donation for you, that the consumer is able to add. So we added this charge checkout last holiday season and just saw a lot of traction on it. We saw about a 30% take rate and people really wanted to be involved.

Anna Stearns: So with that learning, we decided to keep it live ongoing, and then we also added an entire subscription portal so now consumers are actual subscribers. You don't have to check out to donate. You can actually add it to your monthly subscription and donate as you wish, through our donation products on site; they actually live on our top bar of the navigation as well. So people can go and choose to donate as well, but you can choose from different products. So we've chosen to highlight some of the products that I Support The Girls really typically sees a need for in their shelters. So tampons, pads, liners, even some sexual wellness products like wipes and condoms are also needed. But yeah, it's been really great. I'm actually just super proud of that. That's something that has proven out and it's truly just good for everyone. And I'm happy that it's been able to continue on.

Callie Hawley: Yeah, absolutely. It was one of the things that drew me to LOLA. First and foremost, I know we actually wrote a blog post about LOLA late last year. And it was about- LOLA solicits the charitable contributions of their community to really get involved, and ever since then, I've just been like, oh, it's just so special. And it's such an incredible way to provide products that everyone needs, but doesn't have access to, which is just insane to think about. So just on behalf of all of us at Recharge, a huge thank you for doing something so amazing and being so creative by adding it into the subscription's checkout. It's really super cool. All right, I'm ready for our two fun questions of the podcast. They're always the same for all of our guests. So the first one is, what is something you subscribe to that you love, and it can be anything, anything you subscribe to that you just really love?

Anna Stearns: Well, I mean, I'd be remiss if I didn't push a LOLA product here, but I will say that my favorite product that is in every one of my monthly subscriptions is our cleansing wipes. I subscribe to both our, we have a pouch form and packets form, and they're great for, the cleansing wipes pouch, next to your bathroom, on your bathroom counter and the packets, I keep in a purse on the go, some in my car. They're really great for anything, even after the gym or after a meal, it doesn't have to be just for feminine care, but I love our wipes. And then this is not a subscription product on our website, but it is one time, that is one of our newer products that I just love. It's our pleasure gel. And I highly recommend it to everyone. It's part of the sexual health line or sexual wellness, and I'm obsessed with it. And many of our consumers are too. Yeah, those are my favorite LOLA products. And I'm a monthly subscriber for at least the cleansing wipes and buy the pleasure gel pretty regularly.

Callie Hawley: Yeah, that makes total sense. I mean, it's LOLA and if you didn't subscribe to your own products, that'd be pretty crazy. Our last question is for those who are kind of newer into subscriptions, or maybe haven't started subscriptions, or really haven't started on their DTC journey, what advice would you give to them? Kind of, you know what I wish I knew, just do this thing or these things. What would you tell them?

Anna Stearns: That's a tough one. I think, really, don't stress over the small stuff. I think it's easy to get wrapped up in what's causing customers to churn, what's causing cancellations. I'm trying to understand them, I think really what we've learned with LOLA comes down to customers. What would they want? And if you create a brand that consumers are brand loyal to, and is there for them when they need you, they're going to come back.

Anna Stearns: So I think it's not so much about making a subscription business that is impossible to cancel and is, I guess like the perfect wheel. It's going to be an imperfect wheel and you kind of learn to build your business around what their consumer wants and needs. And I think we've proven that, I mean, especially with us, we are a subscription business, but we're also now an e-commerce business because we offer these one time products. But we're really a product that consumers come back to us again and again for, because it's that repurchase, it's something you use over and over again. And we've been able to do that with Recharge. I think it's also looking for a partner, that's not just a subscription partner, but someone who can really support the e-commerce business as a whole too.

Callie Hawley: Such great advice. And aww thank you for the shout out. Yeah. You said something and I just want to touch on it really quick about not making it hard to cancel. We had a guest, actually Eli Weiss from OLIPOP, a while ago and he said the same thing. If you make these walls so high for people to cancel, they're never going to return because it was so hard to cancel in the first place. So coming back is that much more of a chore for them. So making it easy to cancel makes them really more apt to come back when the time is right for them or even recommending them to other friends. So I love that you mentioned that too, because it's definitely near and dear to my heart as a consumer myself, I don't want to have to like jump through hoops to cancel if it's just, the product is done at that time for me. Just love that sentiment.

Anna Stearns: Yeah. Back in 2015 when our founders Jordana and Alex really founded LOLA and started the subscription business their two absolute musts were ingredients transparency and ease of cancellation because those were the pain points they found in the business model when they were really trying to understand the business and kick off the company. And it's something we still feel is true to this day, six years later.

Callie Hawley: So that's all the questions we have today, Anna. It was so awesome talking to you. We really appreciate you coming in and telling us about LOLA's headless build, your membership and replenishment opportunities, and of course, obviously the donations that LOLA and the community give back. Thank you so much for joining us and hopefully we'll talk soon.

Anna Stearns: Of course. Thank you for having me. That was great.

Chase Alderton: We'd like to thank Anna once again for joining us. If you're interested in LOLA, head over to mylola.com. If you're looking for more of our episodes, check us out at rechargepayments.com/hitsubscribe and to get the latest episodes, remember to hit subscribe on whatever platform you're listing from.

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