16 November 2014

Free Coffee at Waitrose!

A gorgeous cappuccino, created with love, Fairtrade and Organic by My Coffee Stop!

Update January 31st 2015


This blog entry was originally written in November 2014. Waitrose, though, have just recently announced that their Free Coffee offer had ended but the message was confusing. Gunter and myself were told by several customers and even a member of staff at +Waitrose that free coffees would be ending in February of this year. So, it seems that customers are understanding that they can't get their usual free takeaway coffee at Waitrose and even some staff have misunderstood. 

Now, I don't know if this was a deliberate ploy on the part of Waitrose, to give out a confusing message that would be misconstrued, so that most customers wouldn't bother trying to get their free coffee and if anyone did complain, or get upset, it could gently be explained to them that the free takeaway coffee offer is still actually available. So, only the complainers would get free coffee and the others would taper off, which means that Waitrose manage to keep the most vocal of their customers happy and get massive PR and headlines at the same time, perfect manipulation of the media and fogging of the issue. Then, when they announce, later in their game plan, that free takeaway coffees are now being stopped, they will get even more headlines! 

I couldn't quite believe the headlines and the rumours that were being circulated, so I decided to get in contact with Waitrose via Twitter to understand precisely what the position was, exactly. Full marks to a massive company like Waitrose employing savvy Tweeters that do their job well, answering tweets efficiently and politely. A big thank you from us to those Tweeters for making things clear for us, so that we could really understand the situation.

The truth of the matter is this: 

1/ If you wish to sit in a Waitrose Cafe, with a free coffee, you can, as long as you have purchased something else to go with it. 

That seems fair for Waitrose, the customer and for the coffee market, including nearby independent coffee shops.

2/ If you wish to have a free takeaway coffee from one of these cafes, you can, just take it out and it's still completely free.

3/ If you are in a shop that has a self-service machine, then you can still help yourself to a free coffee as normal, I have seen tweets saying that the cups are now 'hidden' and that you have to show your card to get one, so they've put a few more controls up but your free coffee is there for the taking.

4/ If you go to a shop where there is no self-service machine, then you can order a takeaway coffee at the counter and it is still FREE.

This is FANTASTIC news for people that love their free Waitrose coffee, you can still get it, don't worry, unfortunately, it does effect our ability to be able to grow our business.

Luckily for us though, most of our customers choose us because they care about the taste of what they are drinking, they care about the ethics, sustainability, the Fairtrade and organic certification, they care about the personality, the banter and the atmosphere of our little community coffee shop, they come to us because they love our attitude and our damn fine coffee, rather than because we are giving our product out for free!

Our customers vote with the pound in their pocket and they have voted consistently for us over the past 6 years since we opened in February, 2009! Thankfully our customers are a united bunch of people who think carefully about how they spend their money, the bigger repercussions of how much is fed back into the local economy and what they are really buying from us and what they are really buying is a positive change in mood. Our customers come in early in the morning, on their way to work, they want a smiling face, some care and a fantastic coffee, to enjoy on the train! They can feel good that they have chosen to support a local, independent coffee shop and making people feel good, is what we are best at!

All in all, I'm not so sure if Waitrose's free coffee offer is a threat to our business, perhaps it is actually a bigger threat to the viability of their own business. Once they realise the impact on their own success, they will withdraw all free coffees, where there is no minimum spend from the customer. 

PS. If you want to save some pennies at My Coffee Stop in Enfield, please bring in your own mug, for a 50p discount off any hot drink! Or you could even bring in a reused cup from another shop. Putting it bluntly, go to Waitrose, get your cup, with or without the free drink, reuse it in our shop and claim your 50p discount from us!

Original Post from November 2014, starts here....

Ok, ok, I am a coffee shop owner and have a vested intrest in seeing Waitrose stop giving out free coffee. Putting that to one side, I am very interested in fairness, ethics and sustainability when we shop, Waitrose was one supermarket that I actually felt good shopping in. I felt they had strong views about corporate responsibility and sustainability.

I haven't stepped foot in a Waitrose for about 1 year now. Why? I do not like lies or misleading information. Waitrose have claimed in the media, that they give coffee out to grocery shoppers to thank them for shopping at their store. Actually, they don't, they give free coffee with no purchase necessary, as stated in the terms and conditions on their website.

Free hot drink
1. Offer available to all myWaitrose members on presentation of a myWaitrose card in store.
2. One per myWaitrose member per day.
3. Only Americano, Cappuccino, Latte, Tea, Mocha and Espresso (Decaffeinated versions, Mocha and Espresso available in selected stores only) qualify as a free hot drink.
4. Selected stores only, excludes Costa Concessions, online, petrol filling stations, Shell and Welcome Break.
5. Subject to availability.
6. No purchase necessary.
7. Cannot be used in conjunction with other Café or hot drink offers.
8. At any till the myWaitrose card must be scanned to activate the offer. Quickpay customers must scan their myWaitrose card at any point during their shop.

There is also no time limit given for the promotion and no promotion of how good the coffee tastes, or how sustainable and fair that the product is. I wonder where those beans are sourced from. I am sure if it was Fairtrade coffee, they would tell us, as part of their corporate responsibility branding.

Is it fair that a large organisation that claims to be ethical, responsible and sustainable is able to continue to hand out these free drinks and directly threaten or challenge, little independent coffee shops near by and directly effect the local economy, negatively? Well, of course not and yet people are very possessive over that free coffee and if I make whinging, whining negative comments about the lack of ethics, or sustainability behind the scheme, they whinge and whine back at me. Nothing must stand between them and that much needed freebie, that they feel they deserve, especially as the green roots of economic recovery are looking rather brown and withered. Getting something, for absolutely nothing is a novelty these days and who minds taking it from a large corporation? If it is truly for nothing, is another story, seeing as you are inadvertently taking part in market research, each time you receive a coffee, by getting your card scanned and details read and your information and your routine logged.

The dynamics of the Waitrose free drink offering are very interesting indeed, for instance, I have heard several reports and jokes about how awful some people find it tastes. But why would they keep going back to get another one and another one? How long do you have to spend waiting in a queue, diverting away from your usual stroll and taking up your time to walk into Waitrose? How many times have you gone in for the free coffee and come out with other things that you realised suddenly that you 'needed'. How convenient did that feel and you had a free coffee too. Of course you know how it works, the cost of the coffee is a promotional tool, that is paid for from the shopping that you do in there. It's almost like a slight of hand magic trick.

The free hot drink promotion by Waitrose is not doing anyone any good, least of all their own business, which has issued a profit warning. If I were a member of Waitrose staff, I'd feel upset that I had joined a company that calls itself ethical and they had spent my potential share dividends on giving non-customers a reward, where no purchase is necessary. Basic business sense, ethics and a regard for sustainability suggests that a minimum spend would have to be a qualifying factor, for a free hot drink promotion, over such a long period of time.

I am amazed that Waitrose have recently won an award for sustainability, when this promotional activity is unsustainable.

The way I see it is simple, Waitrose are destroying my business's chance of growing, therefore, I cannot support their business practices by shopping there. They have lost hundreds of pounds from me, as I have lost faith in the way they do business and of course their free coffee is an unfair challenge to my business, the free coffee is also damaging their business, not just the cost of giving out the free drinks but the cost of customers boycotting Waitrose because of this economic unfairness. I'd love to know if Waitrose staff had the chance to vote for or against this unprofitable scheme.

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