Why I’m one of the thousands ditching Pret A Manger over its £30 a month loyalty wheeze


Even though I do still love its £4.50 Posh Cheddar baguette!

A Pret A Manger posh cheddar baguette was once my favourite workday treat. The cheese is plentiful, the pickle just the right balance of sharp and sweet, mayonnaise and cress elevate it above its high street rivals. But several months ago, I swore I’d never buy one again — nor anything else from the ubiquitous coffee chain.

That’s because in September last year, it introduced a 20 pc discount on food for subscribers to its Club Pret loyalty scheme. In return for paying a handsome £30 a month, members get up to five coffees a day at no extra cost — as well as the discount on food.

Now, we must endure seeing two prices presented for each item: the reasonable sounding subscriber price and the outrageous by comparison price that non- subscribers must stump up unless we hand over the equivalent of £360 a year.

I couldn’t bring myself to subscribe or pay the higher price. Handing over £4.50 for a glorified cheese sarnie feels rich enough — and a stark reminder that I should make my own at home. But paying that when Pret can clearly make a profit selling the same sandwich for £3.60 puts me off my lunch entirely.

And I’m not the only one to have been rankled by Pret. Its Trustpilot account is riddled with reviews from customers put out by high prices. It’s rated 1.9 out of five at the time of writing. Its page on X, formerly Twitter, is similarly strewn with comments about prices.

And in recent weeks Pret enraged some subscribers by forcing them to log into the app every time they wanted to claim drinks or discounts. This stopped them being able to share their membership with friends and family. And glitches with the system meant some customers struggled to log in.

Co-founder Julian Metcalfe, who sold his stake in 2018, said his heart goes out to ‘customers who feel let down’. Pret said the issues affected a small number of subscribers and have been resolved.

The company is also battling a £700 million debt pile that surged during Covid, higher costs, a decline in office workers — and the challenge of convincing people squeezed by a surging cost of living to pay close to £4 for a coffee. It’s no wonder Pret announced a boardroom shake-up last week and plans to bring back co-founder Sinclair Beecham to help it get back on track.

So what went wrong? After all, when the first outlet — in Victoria, London — was opened by the two university friends in 1986, it was like a breath of fresh air on the High Street.

David Sables, chief executive of Sentinel Management Consultants, thinks Pret has done the maths and decided it is worth slightly annoying customers like me. He says the subscription makes regular customers more committed, ensuring they come in every time they are faced with choosing between Pret and an alternative coffee shop.

The subscription was used 1.25 million times per week in April last year, and subscribers spend close to 30 pc more per transaction than non-subscribers, according to Pret’s figures. ‘Once you have signed up, you cannot justify going somewhere else because you have to make the subscription pay,’ Mr Sables says.

He adds that Pret subscribers spend more because they come in to get their ‘free’ coffee at times of day when they’re probably considering food as well — breakfast when they’re getting their morning coffee, lunch in the afternoon. He adds: ‘The risk is it annoys passersby who came in occasionally but are now put off by the non-subscriber pricing model.

But Pret clearly decided it gains more from encouraging loyal customers than it loses from alienating those who pop in occasionally.’ 

However, Clive Black, a retail analyst at Shore Capital, points out that no other coffee shop use a subscription model. He says: ‘Pret is trying to monetise loyalty and it’s questionable if it’s working.’ He doubts many more people will have the degree of loyalty to a coffee brand needed for Pret’s subscription to grow.

The company aims to have 500 shops in the UK by the end of the year. But Mr Black warns: ‘The Pret brand will only travel so far beyond London and the home counties. It can never reach the level of 2-3,000 stores enjoyed by Greggs, for example.’

Richard Hyman, an adviser to the retail industry, says: ‘It used to be that you could buy a coffee with money you had rolling around in your pocket or purse — it didn’t feel like real money. Now, prices make you stop and think.’

He adds that consumers understand food outlets have had to put their prices up. ‘But there is a sensitivity around prices and an inflection point which retailers go beyond at their peril,’ he adds.

TODAY, Pret’s tuna mayo baguette costs £4.50 for non-members — or £5.40 to eat in — up from £2.99 in December 2021, while a flat white has risen from £2.85 to £3.90, according to coffee manufacturer UCC Coffee.

In February, Pret cut prices on some of its best-selling items following claims it was overcharging. The cheddar baguette was cut by £1 to £3.99 — although when I bought one yesterday in High Street Kensington in London, the full price was £4.50. So, what could Pret do to tempt me back? 

First, show they are not as expensive as we think. After all, they are really not much more costly than say Starbucks or Cafe Nero. Second, bring back the old loyalty scheme — whereby baristas could occasionally give out a free coffee. I’ve rarely felt so warmly towards a brand as when I went into a Pret after a difficult day and was given a free croissant by a barista who said: ‘you look like you could do with this.’ I told everyone I spoke to that day — can you really put a price on good publicity like that?

Finally, Pret has upset people who enjoyed sharing their subscription. This is no way to treat someone as you must wait 30 minutes between ordering each drink. But what about offering subscribers a 20 pc discount on additional drinks?

Source : The Daily Mail

Image Editorial credit: Brian Minkoff / Shutterstock.com

Sentinel Management Consultants deliver sales, negotiation, planning and finance training courses for our clients worldwide.