If you're running a membership site or online course using WordPress, you've likely noticed that installment plan support is kind of missing…
What are Installment Plans?
If you've ever wanted to buy something that cost more than you could afford, you've likely interacted with or been offered a payment plan. It's a plan that lets you make payments over time— like weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
Another word you hear a lot is “financing.” That's another way to talk about deferring the full payment to some sort of installment plan.
And for large ticket items – which today can include online education—installment plans make a lot of sense.
If you've read any of the posts I've written about membership plugins and sites, then you know a monthly or yearly model is often what is supported by those plugins.
Why should anyone care about Installment Plan support?
Monthly and yearly plans are fine, but those aren't always what you'd consider an installment plan. In situations where you're protecting content, a monthly or yearly plan may work great for you.
But what happens when most of the value you're delivering happens shortly after the first payment?
Consider this kind of scenario.
You're buying access to a system that will look over all your email and find (and unsubscribe you from) email newsletters that you're subscribed to that you've not opened in a while. It's an awesome system that costs you $5 / month. But once you run the first scan and it removes the first batch, what's the likelihood that you would keep paying in month two or three?
Yes, you want it to work for the whole year. And yes, the company offering the solution would like $60/year instead of just your first or second month's payment. But they also don't want to put the full $60 in front of you at once for fear that it's too expensive.
Consider a second scenario.
You are enrolling in a course that will teach you how to build an online course. (I know, very meta.) The reality is that you'll likely get the most out of the course in the first two or three months, even if you get access for a full year—simply because once you understand things, it will still take you time to gather and create all the content you need.
So you want access for a year, and they want to give it to you, but they're worried you'll take off after you get a good look at everything.
Yes, you can solve part of this by dripping the content. But that will only solve one part of the issue.
The other issue is how you align the collection of funds with the delivery of value.
The best answer for that is installment plans. You give access to a person for a year, but charge them over the first three months.
Imagine if your gym did that? You paid for the full year, but only in three installments in Jan, Feb and March (when everyone decided they were going to get fit). When you stop going in July, you don't feel bad because you're not getting charged. And the gym doesn't feel bad because it got the maximum it was going to get from you, sooner.
The problem is that today's online store solutions and courseware solutions don't really support installment plans. At least most of the solutions I've looked at. And I've looked at a bunch.
Are there work-arounds for Installment Plans today?
Take a look at the final product.
As I said, it's not perfect. Because you can't get the three installments in the first three months. But you can create options.
How do you do it? It's pretty simple, actually.
1. Create a simple subscription product for each payment option.
2. Create a grouped product.
3. Link the simple subscription products to the grouped product.
4. Create a membership plan and link it to all the simple subscription products.
5. Hide the simple subscription products from catalog & search.
This is the only step that needs a bit of explanation. See, if you don't do anything but the first four steps, when you go to the shop page (where all your products are listed), you'll end up seeing four products (the three simple and one group one). To only see the group one (and to remove the product link like you see below), you need to alter the simple products visibility. Once you do that, you're golden.
As I said, it's not perfect, but it's better than nothing!
Here's some good news…
The really great news is that both Prospress and SkyVerge, the folks behind the Subscriptions and Memberships plugins for WooCommerce, are working on creating a solution that will actually give us installment plan support.
I honestly can't wait!