… in Central London… and the Free Coffee “myth” or legend as some assume.
First of all some Pret shops outside of big cities had Loyalty Cards, because the volume of coffee sales being much less than in London and other busy cities. Not sure if those shops still do Loyalty Cards. Tweets from 2012:
Terms and conditions at the bottom of this below Loyalty Card:
“Redeemable at the Manager’s discretion. Excludes Pret shops within Central London Zones 1 and 2…”
It even has an expiry date on it, forcing the customer to buy coffees before that date to get a free one … and at the manager’s discretion mind you! Pret showing its true “generosity” here!
Link to a 2017 Tweet
So, here I am making free advertisement for Pret, but there’s more than meets the eye… I am not a journalist nor an established writer (although I have one self-published book under my belt with a now bankrupt publisher… out of print), and writers like to peek and copy what they find here, but I am writing from behind the scenes of having worked at Pret for 10 years. I don’t copy & paste articles under lazy journalism.
Pret is next to nothing when it comes to marketing and winning new and retaining regular customers. I think to gain customers, the best thing is to give freebies, and Pret does this fantastically. No business does this as best as Pret A Manger. So far so good.
There’s that hairy but(t) again!
Of course this brilliant marketing strategy has not just one catch apart from the ultimate goal of profit. People don’t realize how cheap the coffee is. If customers knew how much 1 cup of coffee costs for Pret, incl. the milk, cup, lid, labour and then would see the profit margin… people’s stomach would turn on what they pay for a regular latte!
Even while I worked at Pret I always wondered how Pret’s claim to be certified Organic and Fair Trade can even be valid. Not making allegations, just raising questions! To get certified as being organic is super expensive for companies. Pret has been sued for their claim to be natural while the food contains glyphosate for which the mighty Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, currently has 11,000 lawsuits on their neck, with two major lawsuits lost in the hundred millions, due to denial that their main product Roundup causes cancer, which has not been labelled on the product… But that’s another story altogether.
So, if the public is paying attention, I have seen it more lately that Pret signs are changing due to the successful vs. “natural” claim lawsuit.
From the above familiar signage where the “natural” is replaced with “good”.
Even on Pret’s website, the word “natural” seems to have completely disappeared.
Link to Pret USA Twitter
UPDATE 23. May 2019
A customer on Twitter posted this picture confused on why the word “natural” was covered over at LAX airport. In the U.S. Pret has to act while in the UK everything is lenient again.
Link to David Blumenstein’s Tweet
I write extensively on the “Natural” issue in Pret A Manger – Ready to (ch)eat.
But, back to the free coffee marketing. Even while working at Pret I always questioned how Pret can have Fair Trade AND certified Organic coffee while the coffee is so cheap. This may be another area some may be looking into after having looked at the “natural” food claim.
So, all the free coffees (and at times cookies, especially items at the end of the day or when products are expiring…) while being low in price for Pret, someone still has to pay for all these free items. And it is not Pret! Pret keeps raising prices regularly also to cover the cost. At the end of the day customers still pay for all the free coffees etc.
Clive Schlee, CEO of Pret and master of marketing with an approachable smile, his words on the freedom for staff to give free coffees and why:
»We looked at loyalty cards but we didn’t want to spend all that money building up some complicated Clubcard-style analysis.
Instead the staff have to give away a certain number of hot drinks and food every week.
They will decide “I like the person on the bicycle” or “I like the guy in that tie” or “I fancy that girl or that boy”.
It means 28 per cent of people have had something free. It’s a nice, different way of doing it.« *
(*cough* while 72% go empty handed… see below)
Yes, the “having to give away” is even a pressure point for managers that push team leaders when the targeted percentage of freebies for the week has not been reached. It was part of my job as a shop team leader to keep an eye on the numbers and encourage teams to keep giving freebies OR stop giving, when we reached the percentage for the week, before the new week’s budget started again.
On a side note, when the two customer deaths became public and the outcry was loud for a while, there was also an increasing Twitter “storm” on freebies where customers went online to post with enthusiasm about their free coffee or cookie…
And here is how that “fancying” is out of proportion with Clive Schlee’s admitted 28% as well as my experience as a team leader:
~ MULTIPLE FREEBIES at times within 1 WEEK & DAILY ~
~ vs NOTHING for YEARS ~
Link (I love typos on Twitter… from devotion to devolution!)
Link (Another lovely typo: Pret as in looking for “Prey” >:-] )
Link (And Pret having a laugh!)
… and so on….
Needless to say that those customers who get free coffees regularly, even daily, will not spill the beans on Twitter. 😉
As a team leader I had to “re-adjust” my teams’ choices to give solely at their own “discretion”, especially flirting baristas giving free coffee EVERY TIME to specific (to them) attractive customers. Or one team member would give free coffees every day to a customer who was an editor of a weekly celebrity tabloid magazine bringing that TM a free magazine every week. Company policy would be dismissal to “exchange” services for private purposes. But that’s how it works and Pret would never admit how discriminating the give-aways are in the name of “random acts of kindness”. That’s why staff are not allowed to have friends and family members eating on the 50% rebate WHILE staff are on the shift working.
Staff also are not allowed to ring up the 50% rebate on their staff discount themselves on the till while serving customers, as some customers make friends with staff for freebies and rebates. So, this was always a struggle to shake up the “policy”. I loved to give freebies, it was my favourite thing giving whole lunches on the house. But I often gave it to the moody and even rude customer to “kill them with kindness” or “heap burning coals on their heads” or just be kind to someone who looked pretty down…
I looked for the “underdog” to give freebies as we never know what hell they may be going through!
And another reason why Pret aims to have Taxi parking spaces in front of shops… Cabbies move around London being the BEST advertisers, especially to tourists looking for a coffee place!
CONTROL (of the carrot)
And this is how the psychology works that Pret is so cleverly using. A Loyalty Card system, apart from costing additional money for Pret as Clive Schlee rightly said, would give the customer control over the timing of free items. And as Pret whips out coffees like no other coffee chain (the 1 minute Mystery Shopper pressure <- YouTube slide – on workers for fast service is another reason for high profit in Pret via Emotional Labour) a Loyalty Card system would guarantee customers free coffees at their chosen time, especially all the regular customers who go to Pret EVERY DAY.
For staff to give freebies at their discretion (or discrimination!) gives Pret the control on when customers get freebies AND serves like a carrot in front of the donkey that keeps going to Pret like a gambler, spending money and hoping to get that free coffee or cookie or whole lunch …
To shorten the already long blog entry with more customer tweets on freebies, I mainly put journalist tweets here. Only a few tweets by a host of journalists who are supposed to be neutral, reporting on events rather than making free advertisement for Pret, while not looking deeper as one would expect from “investigative” journalism. Mainstream media for you:
Link A boost in self esteem with a free cuppa!
One journalist even goes a step further and plays Job-center for Pret, recruiting low-wage workers:
Makes you wonder if they are paid under the table or are so infatuated with the cheap free coffees, and then being blinded to do real neutral journalism. Kind of sinks your heart how the majority goes with this freebie scheme so easily.
Staff hope the Mystery Shopper is nearby or even serving the MS when the staff member is extra generous.
A customer’s observation most people are blind to:
A Mystery Shopper tweet:
And the psychology of “group incentive” is actually peer pressure and what a recent reviewer called “blame culture” which I totally underline. I spent a lot of time building my team member UP when they messed up the Mystery Shopper after our manager put them DOWN, because putting down is counter productive and leads to mental health problems. If I had buckets of the tears that were flowing after the harsh telling off when the Mystery Shopper wasn’t happy …
A Pret employee’s review on the Mystery Shopper pressure:
Or the “happy family” trap and the pressure on ONE person who loses the bonus for the whole team turning the team against that one person. Again, I had to many times step in-between the 1 person to protect them from the group and the bullying mentality Pret encourages.
Another of the many reviews along those lines:
So, the marketing of Pret is simple:
- Give LOTS of free coffees (& cookies, lunches, but mainly coffees) that costs very little for Pret.
- Lure customers in with the free items and 99p coffees (& now free water tap refills) carrot so they’ll spend on other products they never intended to buy (reason for the oven in the shop vs kitchen is the smell of freshly baked croissants entices to purchase…)
- Don’t do freebies on a Loyalty Card system to have the control over customers, luring them in with the freebie carrot while they keep spending and hoping for that free coffee like a gambler waits for the next win.
- Raise the coffee and product prices as someone needs to pay for all the freebies. And it won’t be Pret.
- Give staff the feeling of power over their decision whom to give freebies, but deny that it is done discriminatory (take my word as a former team leader, it IS discriminatory).
- In return just watch how customers from street-smart cabbies to text-book polished journalists flock to Twitter giving FREE advertisement on behalf of Pret.
- The free advertisement of free coffees, as well as now free water taps for non-paying “customers” also, brings people in who then spend money they didn’t intend to spend …
- Lean back and watch the profits rise, doing the math in how much money people spend before getting that free coffee… if at all!
- Good luck to all the customers paying it forward for the other customers to get the freebies while faithfully waiting to crack that jackpot one day! 😀
Why staff in every Pret shop smile so much and ALWAYS seem so happy and “generous”. In a nutshell: Weekly Mystery Shopper visits that test staff on several points like how much selection is in stock, how clean is the shop, how is the overall atmosphere etc. But the MAIN thing staff are tested on is service. Do individual AND all staff smile, give eye contact, make small conversation with EVERY customer!
Details in below YouTube slide with Mystery Shopper excerpts that I’ve put together, but I left out a lot of other issues and concentrated on the smiley, “happy” facade.
I also write extensively and collect articles on “Emotional Labour” in the service industry that hurts and harms low-wage employees: —> The Dangers of Emotional Labour
And there’s a reason why Pret and its leadership have such poor scores on Glassdoor & Co as staff always speak out in anonymity while at work pretend towards customers to be happy to keep their job having kids to feed and Uni tuition to pay. People fall for the friendly facade, but staff know how it really is.
And customers who go on Twitter complaining about non-smiling staff, even when it’s quiet, just do not realize how EXHAUSTED staff are, having come out of coffee/lunch rush, or working 7-10 days straight without a day off!
And those customers who do commend staff on Twitter, often their recommendation and praise is NOT passed on to staff. I was told by customers several times over the years if I received feedback from my boss as they commended me to Pret HQ or social media. But I never received the feedback from managers. So, dear customer, please praise the worker INSIDE the shop IN FRONT of the manager and team, because many managers bully staff, and THIS would help the worker to get some much needed feedback and “vindication”, so to speak.
I found only 1 Tweet where a customer not only bothered to ask the staff if they received feedback, but then confronted Pret on it:
Mystery Shopper Slide:
Clive Schlee’s “retirement” exit on Glassdoor:
Pano Christou, New CEO:
A long list of reviews and complaints from current and former Pret Staff underneath the Interview section in this LINK.
UPDATE May 2019
TWO Pret staff have died.
More here > Why is Pret not being Investigated?
I worked at Pret A Manger for almost 10 years and survived systemic workplace bullying during bereavement that involved HR, the top leadership, HQ and even the now “retired” former CEO Clive Schlee. I declined 4 settlement offers if I am silent about my ordeal. But I rather starve and speak out to help others. For an overview of important blog entries of my experience with Pret, please visit “My Ordeal with Pret A Manger”. The little arrow to the right next to each heading will lead directly to the post.
I also tell my story for the first time verbally in this >>> podcast interview based in California, and wrote an article in the Scottish Left Review.
Thank you for reading/listening.
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