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Pret’s Subscription Shake-Up: A Controversial Decision or Sensible Strategy?

Coffee chain Pret A Manger is making a massive change to prevent customers from sharing their subscription benefits with friends and family.

 


'Pret A Manger, Gloucester Road' by Edwardx (licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)


The high street giant boasts a monthly subscription service—now known as ‘Club Pret’—that allows customers five free barista-made drinks per day and 20% off of all food and bottled beverages. When it was launched in 2020 as a post-lockdown strategy to tempt customers back into stores, it cost £20 a month (with the first month free). Back when I was a first-year, I went through countless free trials—as did most people I know. Once, however, I forgot to cancel my subscription and felt so damaged by the £20 loss that I forced myself to consume 5 Pret drinks each day as penance. 

 

The subscription increased to £25 in February 2023 and rose again to £30 last year due to the surging costs of staff wages and ingredients. To add insult to injury, Pret no longer offered free trials to new subscribers. The majority of my friends fell off the bandwagon around the £25 mark. For those still hanging on, it’ll set you back £360 a year. Nonetheless, according to the chain, the subscription is used approximately 1.25 million times per month.

 

Historically, to use the service, customers had to show a personalised QR code at the till to redeem their drinks, which can be added to Apple Pay or Google Wallet. Nice and convenient, right? Since the code could be screenshotted easily, there was nothing preventing users from slipping their friends or family a copy of the code. ‘Subscription sharing’ has also risen, in which two people split the monthly cost and share the daily drinks limit. This can be tricky considering that the subscription maintains a 30-minute period between drinks ordered on the subscription, but it can definitely be managed and seems harmless enough.

 

Technically, though, under its terms and conditions, users are banned from sharing the perks. On their website, Pret states that:


‘You should keep your QR code confidential, and you are not permitted to share it with any other person. It is your responsibility to ensure that nobody obtains unauthorised use of your QR code, and we won't be held liable for any loss suffered by you (including any lost subscription perks) for any such unauthorised use of your QR code unless it's due to our fault or negligence. We also reserve the right to ban your Pret Account and take further action if we deem it appropriate’. 


Yikes.

 

Now, Pret has caught on to subscription sharing. Since the 18th of March, customers have had to log in through the app to use their subscription–every single time that they want to claim a free drink or food discount. Furthermore, the subscription can no longer be added to Apple or Google wallets. Live QR codes are reissued to all subscribers at the exact moment at which they are requested; consequently, a friend or family member can’t keep your code as it will be different each time. Your account will only let you sign in if the phone number on your account matches the SIM card on your phone, effectively ending codes being available on multiple devices.

 

‘This will deliver a more complete digital experience, so that the Pret App becomes the main digital touchpoint for our customers’, Pret states. Despite the claim that the change supports digitalisation, users have complained about the app being ‘clunky’ and ‘constantly crashing’, favouring the old-style QR code. Subscribers have been flocking to social media to express their fury, with one Twitter user commenting ‘I can’t login on the Pret app because apparently my number doesn’t match (IT DOES). I think this is a sign to cancel the subscription tbh, they are getting too greedy. First price hikes, now this… #pret #fail’. 

 

‘Pret can get in the bin’, another user stated, and I have to agree. In the UK’s current cost of living crisis, something as small as splitting the costs of your daily coffee can help massively. 

And, with five whole drinks a day anyway, what’s the problem? As I’ve proven to myself several times, consuming 5 Pret beverages per day is almost entirely unachievable. Perhaps that’s their aim: without sharing, customers are much less likely to use their full 5 drinks a day, saving the company time, ingredients, and money. 

 

When I had a Pret subscription, coffee drinking became an obligation rather than a treat. It stopped being cost-effective as I grew bored of the same drinks every day. The thought of nervously waiting for my drink to be called out in the Strand Pret and fighting over who ordered their iced oat vanilla latte first now fills me with dread. Let’s face it, it’s not even good coffee anyway. A huge amount of the smaller Pret stores don’t serve iced drinks, there’s rarely whipped cream for shakes and hot chocolates (as they’re advertised), and don’t even get me started on their pathetic excuse for matcha. 

 

If you need any more convincing to ditch Pret, previous employees have branded the company ‘toxic and draining’ and ‘the worst place I have ever worked by far’, via Glassdoor. The site highlights that Pret a Manger has an overall employee satisfaction rating of just 3.4 out of 5, based on over 2,647 reviews left anonymously by employees.

 

Also, according to Pret’s previously cited terms and conditions, the chain must give customers 40 days' notice for any changes (per clause 4.4), which they have failed to do by giving just over a week’s notice, betraying both trust and reliability. At the very least, they could have come up with a friends and family sharing plan, similar to how apps like Spotify and Netflix work, to soften the blow. 

 

With many threatening to boycott Pret entirely unless they reverse the changes, they are sure to lose a huge number of subscribers. Go and get your caffeine fix elsewhere – why not support a small business, for a change?



 

 

Edited by Trisha D. Gupta, Co-Food and Drink Editor

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