Waitrose's Free Coffee System (and Why It's So Gosh Darn Clever).

Today I'm going to be delving into a business aspect of the coffee industry, which I find absolutely interesting - Waitrose's free coffee system.

Now, okay, I'm going to put my hands up here and say that yes, I do shop at Waitrose. I like them, I like their products (I mean, they were one of the only companies not involved with that chicken scandal last year), and in the area that I live and work it's the go-to large supermarket. Sure, it's not the cheapest, but it sure as heck isn't as expensive as peope make it out to be.

Oh, and they offer free coffee.

Okay, granted I hardly ever actually get the free coffee on offer. When you're shopping inbetween working all day from a coffee shop to going home to a bedroom which has it's own fully kitted out coffee bar, I don't actually need that cup of coffee whilst perusing the aisles at Waitrose, but I do value it. I also think it's a nice touch, and a very clever move on their behalf, so let's discuss a few reasons why.


The Evolution of the 'Free Coffee' system at Waitrose.

What interests me is how they've implemented the free coffee system at Waitrose in a way which, well, has actually worked. But let's be honest, offering free 'barista style' coffee whilst being at Waitrose, all for simply passing over a few minor details to their system, was pretty much destined to do well.

- BARISTAS - So wow, this was brilliant as phase one, and Waitrose really excelled in increasing their customer's experience through this nifty feature. Although not available in every shop, Waitrose offered the option for free coffee at their instore cafe locations. This was several years ago if I remember correctly, and I was still living in Worcestershire and slurping on pretty terrible vanilla lattes. However, the idea that I could go to waitrose, get a free cup of coffee and only pay the difference in the vanilla shot was amazing. Heck, if you had a really nice barista then they'd even include the shot of syrup for free.

I found this amazing and I know a lot of other people did too. Waitrose was basically combining the whole 'gifting' idea of loyalty with the personal experience of a barista style coffee, even if the quality wasn't anything like visiting a 'proper' standalone coffee shop. However, they rivalled any other cafe style shops out there, such as the famous M&S Cafe (known for being yummy mummy and pensioner hangouts), so the fact that they were handing out the coffee for free was absolutely amazing - and dare I say it - pretty revolutionary in the coffee industry.

- PLEASE STOP HELPING YOURSELF. PLEASE. - Sometimes when I look back, I realise just how crazy Waitrose was with the whole 'free coffee' thing. They used to keep the cups out by their self-service coffee machines so you coud simply take your cup and go - you didn't even have to sqipe your card anywhere. I guess this also worked in their favour though, as this 'honesty box' type of gift made customers feel special.

However, this didn't last for too long, if I remember well, the takeaway cups were soon placed behind the till points and you were then prompted to ask service people at the till for a cup - where they would proceed to scan your card and place a drink token down so you couldn't redeem another.

- NO MORE SITTING, PLEASE - So this was my least favourite part of the free coffee development, but I am slightly biased because I went into a shop once and they started shouting at me and I began to cry (no, seriously, I did - the person who served me really wasn't the nicest). Waitrose sent out an email stating that you would no longer be able to claim your free coffee within the waitrose Cafes, which also meant that you wouldn't be allowed to sit down in the cafes with your free coffee. Obviously they were making way more orders of free coffee than paid for coffee, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that this isn't a great discussion for those board room meetings.

Don't worry though, you still could claim a free coffee once per day when visiting Waitrose, you just had to get it from those pesky little self service machines (trust me, if I see one more 'Empty Grounds Draw' message I'll scream). But heck - you didn't even have to buy anything with it, you could simply go in and request a cup and get a free coffee! Which takes me onto..

- YEAH, YOU REALLY SHOULD BUY SOMETHING FIRST - Now this is the bit which makes it genius. A little while back in 2017, I remember receiving an email about my Waitrose card and the changes with the free coffee system. Even before I opened the email, I knew it was going to be this. Waitrose had changed their structure with free coffee system and how these could be claimed. You were no longer able to simply drop into Waitrose for a free coffee, instead - you were now asked to buy something alongside it, which would then validate your ability to get a free cup of coffee.

Why is this so clever? To many it may seem as a step back. Well, I wholeheartedly believe this step was part of a strategy drafted up from the very beginning of the implementation of the MyWaitrose loyalty scheme. After grabbing the majority of their customers, they would slowly change up the rules (as detailed above) until the point where they would no longer be able to simply grab a cup and get a coffee. Loyalty is a strong thing, even if they haven't paid for anything, and many of these Waitrose customers who enjoyed their free coffee would still want to partake in their small me-time ritual than before. So not only is Waitrose increasing their customer loyalty, they are also increasing their customer spend per head. Glorious.

Lastly, I would just like to briefly touch upon the one downfall to this. When I say downfall, I don't necessarily mean a bad thing for us, the general public. Instead, this is something the big guys at Waitrose will be fretting over. The self service machines at Waitrose have no form of 'logging in' to each customer who asks for a coffee. You can simply place any cup underneath and the coffee of your choice will decant into it. Waitrose themselves even offer non-expensive reusable cups at most checkouts, so what's stopping someone from bringing in their own reusable mug to 'save the world', walk straight up to the self service coffee machine and get a coffee on the house?


Well, nothing really. I guess the only way to get around this is to implement a 'signing in' or scanning procedure on each of the systems, although this would slow down the process and probably put a number of customers off (as having to pay at a till and have their card scanned, then go to a coffee machine and scan again would be too much of a hassle).

But heck, what can I say? Waitrose - I salute you. You grabbed the coffee revolution by the handles and steered it into a way which benefitted you. Hats off to you - no one else did that and what was originally interpreted as a bit of a strange rule has now been embraced by many, converted many a person into a shopper, as well as (probably) increasing your customer spending habits.

Until next time, lovelies.x