pret a manger subscription app phone mockup

Club Pret is Pret’s subscription scheme. It has been seen as an important factor in Pret’s improved performance post-Covid. The scheme asks consumers to pay £30 a month in return for up to five free drinks a day and 20% off all food. In Pret stores I’ve visited recently, I’ve seen two prices for every food item – the “standard” price plus the Club Pret price.

You have to admire Pret’s boldness. But what it is doing may carry risks. Here are three of them.

First, there is a danger of alienating non-members. They can see they’re paying 20% more for food than members, who may be standing nearby. Supermarket shoppers can experience something similar when confronted with member-only pricing, but normally only on less than 5% of all SKUs. On the rest, everyone pays the same.

It would be interesting to know how many occasional visitors have walked out of Pret, unhappy to pay 20% more than others. The risk of alienating non-members may be a reason why Tesco does not make much noise about Clubcard Plus (its scheme which offers 10% off two large shops a month, for an £8 monthly fee).

Second, the scheme changes the nature of the relationship between Pret and its best customers. Yes, scheme members enter by choice, but there is a very different relationship once the subscription starts.

To maximise the value the scheme offers, members need to visit Pret as often as possible. In one sense, this is great news for Pret. But it can mean members visiting when they’d ideally prefer to visit somewhere else. Cost becomes a primary driver, potentially at the expense of convenience and variety. For a company all about great food, that is quite a change.

Third, what to do about lapsed members? It must be galling for someone who has got used to the 20% cheaper food to then return to paying full whack. Customers who decide to leave the scheme – to cut a monthly cost, or because they just fancy a change – may go from regulars to very occasional users.

Pret has talked about the scheme working for the business. If so, well done. But it’s hard to imagine subscription schemes taking over in grocery.

The loyalty schemes common in our industry – a simple sign-up process, points for spend and often member-only pricing – seem to work well. Most shoppers happily surrender their data for the benefits provided. Retailers are happy with the data and what they can do with it. The idea of locking in shoppers via subscriptions has basic appeal, but would be very difficult to make work at scale.